Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Mary Murphy who wasn't my sister

When I heard about Newsweek's plans to scuttle its print edition, I thought of Mary Murphy.

Mary wasn't related to us, but she was a friend of the family. She was from Ireland and worked for many years as a private nurse. By the time I knew her, she had retired and, having never married, lived alone in an apartment up in the next block.

Once a week, weather permitting, she would walk down to our house to visit for a while, often bringing her copy of Newsweek, which she would leave with us.

At the time (I was a kid), she was probably the oldest person I knew.

I particularly remember one time when we visited her in her apartment. I noticed a paperback book on a stand in her living room. It had a maroon cover and an odd but intriguing title:

“The Catcher in the Rye.”

I didn't open it. I figured it was a book for grown-ups, perhaps especially for elderly ones.

Some time later, my Aunt Helen was shocked to learn that my older sister, also named Mary and then a teenager, was reading the same book.

Leaping to my sister's defense, I told my aunt that the other Mary Murphy also had a copy of the book.

Aunt Helen, turning the full force of her indignation on me, said, "Mary Murphy is eighty-aughty years old!"

Yes, she actually said "eighty-aughty."

I wish I could say I learned a lot from the senior Mary Murphy. I had the impression that her career had taken her to many places. And of course she'd lived in Ireland.

But at best I just sat around bored while she chatted with other family members. She was usually kind enough to try to involve me in the conversation (and seemed to actually believe I might have some insight into the world’s problems), but although I was polite I could never think of anything to say.

At worst – and I'll always be ashamed of this – I sometimes quietly resented her visits when they delayed or interrupted a family game of Jeopardy.

If I were really as bright as so many people said I was, I would have paid attention, asked questions and remembered whatever she told us about her past life and surroundings.

One thing I do remember:

Once she was talking about how she worked for someone in Dayton, Ohio.

She said she knew a little boy in the neighborhood who spent a lot of time by himself.

He was an only child. His family had money, but his parents didn't get along, and he often seemed sad.

Years later Mary was on vacation somewhere, and the little boy, who had grown up and entered show business, was performing nearby.

She thought about going to see him – she was obviously happy for his success – but she decided against it. Too shy, I guess.

The chances that he will ever read this are probably next to nil at best, but just the same (and because I somehow feel I owe it to her), I’d like for him to know that my friend Mary Murphy always remembered Jonathan Winters.

1 comment:

Leo Wong said...

Hi Mark this is the other Mary Murphy - I'm writing this not Leo. I liked your piece a lot. I remember Mary Murphy of course - even a little bit what she looked like but I have never thought about or remembered at all what her conversations were like.

I remember the Jonathan Winters story but from you not from Mary.

I too regret stories I didn't bother to listen to or didn't seem to involve me. Those are exactly the kind of stories I now sit enthralled by while some older person who probably hasn't really been listened to in years, spins outher youthful adventures.

I hope I am in some measure making up for youthful not caring. I'm glad you did and that you remember so much. Thanks for your article. I loved it.