Grandma Honey Bun and Mom

The affable, easygoing Irish heritage that Helen Antoinette, my mother, nee Murphy, and known to my kids as “Grandma Honey Bun,” passed on often conflicts with my father’s reserved Swedish demeanor.

Though my parents were divorced when I was 5 and I never got to know my Swedish father Einar Axel all that well (he died in 1955), my mother routinely insisted that I shared many of his traits, most notably my penchant for keeping everything in its place.

In the Irish/Swedish conflict of personality traits, I’m certain the Irish has won more of the skirmishes, mainly due to memories of Grandma Murphy (born Grace Cecilia and called “Mom” by her grandkids) and her younger daughter, my mother Helen, and their love of jokes, stories, witty rejoinders, and laughter they greeted the ups and downs of life every day.

A few examples:

Mom Murphy, a fervent Catholic, had a best friend who was a Baptist. In one of her timeless lines, when her best friend was leaving after a cup of tea and a homemade donut, she would say as her farewell: “See you in church if they keep the windows clean.”

And Helen telling me jokes I didn’t get until I was much older.

And Grandma Murphy dropping in to the neighborhood Baptist church now and then with me in tow, explaining that “the music and singing are much better than at St. Rita’s.”

And Helen telling me: “Life is bound to break an Irishman’s heart before he’s 40,” when I was in a down mood.

And Grandma Murphy wiping the kitchen table with an ever-present dish rag she kept in the hand she wasn’t using to sip her tea. She also mopped the basement floor with the soapy water from the wash machine. Only we veterans of life, sometimes called seniors, remember the washing machines that had to be emptied by hand.

And the time I watched Helen listen to a pitch by a door-to-door salesman offering life insurance with weekly premiums (now I’m really dating myself). When he left without making a sale, she remarked: “There goes a man craftier than a landlord’s agent.”

And Grace Cecelia musing about her five children: “Wouldn’t take a million for any of them but wouldn’t give a nickel for another.”

And Helen teaching my kids to play poker for nickels and dimes when they each reached the ripe old age of six: “Remember, the money has no home.”

And Grandma Murphy exiting the movie theater and taking me by the hand and saying: “Back to reality.” Many years later I took her to see the film “A Thousand Clowns.” I wanted her to see Jason Robards answering his brother’s plea to get back to reality with the words: “Back to reality? I’ll only go as a tourist.”

And Helen singing and dancing around the kitchen at 342 W 61st Place in Chicago to the song “Singing in the Rain,” and splashing us with water each time she went by the running faucet in the kitchen sink.

With all that and more, is it any wonder I love jokes, tend to see the humor in most everything, and consider myself more Murphy than Swede?


To My Friend Nick Sweigart of Crown Point, Indiana

(The following is a letter I sent to Nick in January of 2014. I had learned that the cancer he had fought for many years had returned, and I wanted to document our friendship one more time…..)

My capability for travel is limited at the moment and that, as the kids say, is bumming me out. What I’d prefer to do is show up at your doorstep to share the memories I have of a great friend, but this letter will have to serve that purpose for now.

Just a few examples of great memories……

Sharing lots of laughs.

Driving to the Beauty Spot for lunch.

Observing Rick Curran and Jack(?) Chidsey in action.

Watching Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus and all those other great Chicago Bears.

Cataloging the Fanta bets.

Getting through the door (you first, Laurel & Hardy style) at Lew Wallace.

Chuckling over the Pollizato(?) “Straight Finger” painting in the hallway at Lew Wallace.

Playing at golf, especially with Ed Metz and watching you launch a golf ball into a trailer park (a baseball swing with a putter, as I recall).

Attacking the Lake Michigan waves at Miller Beach.

Being your best man and getting to know Connie, Patty, Mike, David, and Suzie (and to a less frequent but no less pleasant extent, Shirlee).

Welcoming you and Connie and infant Suzie to our home in Falls Church, Virginia in April of 1969 (recall that my younger daughter Valerie was born that weekend, but we still got to see the cherry trees).

Joining you, Connie, and Karen in Manhattan for a Broadway show after a few days of touring in Washington.

Hearing about the adventures of Lucky the Basenji, terror dog of Crown Point.

Having great times with Ken Chaney, Mike (“Home of the Whopper”) Jennings, Howard Jones, Wally Webb and other Lew Wallace denizens.

Officiating basketball with you.

Watching you officiate at a regional in Ft. Wayne.

Hearing about the kid you had watch your house across the street from Lew Wallace while you were on vacation, and your adventure with the Gary PD when you came back early.

Watching in horror as you poured milk on my famous popcorn.

Botching a call umpiring a baseball game you were coaching. (Would like to have that one back…..)

Catching your nifty passes for layups, especially the backwards no-look one in the faculty-student game.

Enjoying and (mostly) agreeing with your philosophy of life.

I often tell this Nick story to illustrate the humor I always enjoyed so much:
At a teachers’ meeting in the auditorium at Lew Wallace, when a strangely dressed and barely presentable guy walked down the aisle and up on the stage to be introduced as a guest speaker. Your comment as he went by us: “This guy has to be part of the hot lunch program.” Of course you made me laugh at an inappropriate time. Again.

Thanks for interrupting your review of the Cardinals’ spring training to drive across Florida for a visit with Karen and me and our friends Joe and Karen Mollahan in Estero Beach.

All the best my friend. Your pal forever,