Six Little Stories

Mary Cornelia Brown Murphy

© Copyright 2020 by Mary Cornelia Brown Murphy

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

A Little Story of the Four, Sterling Silver, Coffee Spoons.

When my father was called up during WWII, the family left Alabama for San Diego, California to be near where he would be stationed. At first, we crowded into a motel; my mother, my dad's mother, my older brother Bobby, my younger brother, Jack, then a toddler, and I. I was around five years old when we moved.

So many soldiers were leaving the west coast that places to live were non-existent and so my mother advertised Gramma's and her services as housekeeper/cook in the local press. They were inundated with offers and decided to take up one from a riding stables in La Jolla, California. We would live above the stables while Mama and Gramma assumed their duties.

The stables were owned and run by a Dr and Mrs Lyford. She was a snob and he a somewhat cruel little man who had been a veterinarian and insisted on the title. He wore a goatee, and often made Bobby and me run out into the ring to pick up any objects he noticed (which we suspected he had put there) while horses cantered and galloped around us. He shouted orders over a microphone, often rubbing his goatee against it to make a frightening sound.

Unusually, the Lyfords decided to have a little holiday and told my mother to clean their quarters while they were away. She was not happy about that, as she was not a servant, but an employee, and had enough to manage with cooking for all the stable hands, as well as caring for us children.

When they left she headed to their quarters only to find astounding filth everywhere. One item upset her terribly...a rotting pig's head left in the oven!! She did the work in a bad temper and when she came across four, badly tarnished, sterling silver, coffee spoons, she took them. Yes, she stole them. She hid them with her things - feeling, with a sense of pride and daring and deservedness, that she was owed them. They were never missed.

When I moved to England she gave them to me, along with this story. I love them dearly. They give me an insight into my dear, daring mother, getting her own back on two, awful people. Where did that person go? Otherwise, my mother was loving, caring, honest, faithful...a never ‘standing up for herself’ person when she needed to…when we wished she would.

A Little Story of the Dogwood Shuttles

In 1963 Barry left England for America at the invitation of Ralph Rinzler. Having made friends through a love of folk music, Ralph wanted Barry to accompany him into the Appalachian Mountains in search of traditional musicians whom he hoped to introduce to the wider world.

Barry duly arrived, besotted with the Statue of Liberty and the idea of travelling in the states. He and Ralph left New York City for Deep Gap, North Carolina to meet up with Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, Clarence Ashley, Clint Howard and Fred Price, as they were going out to California to perform at colleges. Due to a lack of space in the car, Barry accompanied Clarence Ashley by train, a long journey and another story altogether.

While in Deep Gap Barry visited with Willard and Ora Watson on Wild Cat Road. Willard was Doc's cousin. He 

Photo of shuttles.

often worked as a lumberjack in the forests of Montana and,other timbered areas. He also made wine, a garden, raised his own meat and made toys from local timber and scrap metal. His favourite being car springs. Ora tended an orchard, made jelly and jams, made her own soap. She fashioned patchwork quilts that were sold to dealers in New York. While there, Barry got his name: 'The Ancient One'.

Barry and I met in the winter of 1964 and that spring we journeyed to the mountains for me to experience all that he had seen and done. After a day with Wade Ward we visited Doc and Rosa Lee, Merle and Nancy.

Then, to Willard and Ora's. While I admired her store of quilts, Barry went with Willard to the little workshop, just across the road. There, he purchased two toys, a dancing doll, two little carved chickens, and one automaton – a farmer driving a mule – where a turn of the handle raised the farmer's arm, brought up the switch, pulled the reins and the mule walked on, ears flapping. Willard also had a cache of 'naughty' toys that I was told about. Willard gave Barry a fine, sharpening stone, simply plucked from stones beside a little stream. He also gave him some Appalachian dogwood blanks.

Some time later saw us in our own home in Nashville, on the Cumberland River. In his workshop Barry made me these spool shuttles and extra spools out of Willard's dogwood. Soon after, he made me a four harness loom, a much bigger story.

A Story of Two Little Chickens

When Barry and I visited with Willard and Ora Watson in deep Gap North Carolina in 1964, Barry purchased these two little chickens, carved out of a naturally divided limb from some unknown tree or shrub. The taller one of the two is no more than five inches. Willard fashioned toys of every description from his natural surroundings.

That day, I was introduced as Barry's intended and this is how that introduction went... 'So,' said Willard, as we stood in the front room full of his and Ora's relatives, 'You are the feeancy, are ye? Tell me, 'Are ye funny?'

Here I was, standing in the middle of the room with a dark and wiry man, slightly shorter than I, who was looking me in the eye. The room got quiet, everyone seemed to be waiting to hear my reply. Even the two, red bone hounds, just outside the screen door on the open porch, stopped snapping at flies.

Photo of chickens.

I was the fiancee, alright but what to say about being funny? Would my reply make a difference? I don't know about you, but I have always understood that in many rural, rather closed communities, one is either 'in' or 'out' and once that is decided it takes a lot of effort, rarely rewarded, to change the result. What to say?

'Well, Willard, I don't know how funny I am,' I said. 'But I do know I'm funny looking.' I held my breath.

Willard stepped back, threw up an arm, (usually employed to fell timber in Montana), clapped me hard on the shoulder and called out to everyone, 'She'll do! She'll do'.

My sigh of relief must have been heard by the dogs, as they immediately stood up and loped off the porch steps to chase a couple of chickens.

A Little Story of a Small Sculpture

My younger brother, Jack, working in Kansas at the time, made acquaintance with a Lakota Sioux. When our mother passed away Ron noticed Jack's sorrow, closely related to his own, as he had recently lost his mother. They spoke of many things. A few days later my brother received a surprise visit in his office; Ron rarely came upstairs. He gave Jack a little parcel roughly wrapped in a sheet from a yellow, legal pad. 'Here is something I want to give you. Not knowing your beliefs I leave it to you to decide. If you decide you don't want it, put it next to a tree and it will take care of itself'.' Ron briefly placed his hand on his heart, as he left.

Photo of a sculpture.

Jack was moved by this gesture and opened the little parcel to find a votive figure fashioned of what looked to be grass, sticks and cloth. Some of the cloth resembled shapes he recognised as small pieces one would use to make a quilt. (Quilt making was one of our mother's talents). Sewing thread was wound around to hold it all together. Jack sent me a picture. It did, indeed, look like a little old woman.

At this time, Barry and I were friends with Richard and Hilary Hook. Richard was an illustrator and a fine guitar player. He also collected American Indian artefacts and had journeyed to the states more than once to visit auctions and had also made connection with a tribe in the mid west. His friendship with this tribe led him to gift portraits of members in their native dress. Naturally, he was the first person I thought of who might explain the elements in the votive figure and I asked Jack to post it to me. Barry and I took it to Richard, leaving it for him to examine over several days.

A couple of weeks later Richard called and invited us to tea. While there, we were invited to see his work, as well as his extensive collection and to learn about the Lakota Sioux's gift. The grass was sweet grass, an important, spiritual item in the lives of the Sioux and other tribes, the sticks were to form the figure and in a small, closed bag was a sweet smelling tobacco, sacred to the tribes and used in honoring others and making peace. Peace with the present and with the hereafter.

And the little sculpture? During our visit we noticed this small carving in greenstone. I told the story of Barry's visit to Nova Scotia where, on his return, he brought with him a man's face of greenstone as well as a palm-size bird shaped in black stone and decorated with white indentations. We spoke of the loss of the little bird to people we suspected of stealing it from our home. They collected Inuit artefacts and following that visit never invited us to their home again. It was all too obvious and upsetting. Upon hearing this Richard handed us this Walrus.

Not too long ago I met Hilary in the town and told her I wanted to give it back, a thank you for Richard's kindness. He, as Barry,now deceased. She wouldn't let me return it. I treasure all that I learned that day.

A Little Story of a Plate

In February, 1976 Barry flew to England to look for a house while the boys and I stayed with my parents in Alabama. Once he had found Dormers Farmhouse he walked about the area, getting to know the lay of the land. Just down Joes Lane, adjacent to the driveway, he discovered 'Rocks'. There, he saw a lady in her workshop, a potter, Elizabeth Smith. Elizabeth had been a teacher before she and her husband, Graham, moved to Herstmonceux where he was director at the Greenwich Observatory.

Following the boys' and my coming over in May we were invited to Elizabeth and Graham's house one evening to meet some of their friends. All such nice people!

Gradually, Elizabeth and I became friends and spent time setting the world to rights over cups of coffee. All her children were grown and making their ways in the world.
Photo of a plate.

Our boys were in Herstmonceux C of E School and Barry away, working in Kent at Finchcocks making Spinets and Harpsichords.

Most of my time was spent, on my own, either working on the vegetable plot or trying to remove rotten plaster or scraping black paint off of beams but mostly trying to stay warm in a very cold house with no heating and the sky visible from the attic!

One day Elizabeth invited me into her pottery and for almost a whole day we worked on decorating with slips. This plate was the best of my efforts. A shallow bowl I liked had the misfortune to lose its glaze in flakes, having been left outside as a birdbath. I kept this one indoors, on display.

Eventually, Elizabeth and Graham - appointed Astronomer Royal - and now Sir Francis Graham and Lady Elizabeth Smith, moved away. We have kept in touch each Christmas and while they are in their nineties, continue to be busy and involved with life.

I treasure this plate and the time I had with a wonderful woman.

A Little Story About An Old Wooden Toy

One weekend, when Barry and I first moved to Pennington Bend, we decided to have a ride out into the countryside, near Nashville, to visit an antique shop he had visited on jaunts with our friend Richard Hulan, (antique buff extraordinaire).

Inside the little shop was this handmade, wooden toy. Having very little extra money to spend we just couldn't see ourselves buying this when we needed furniture, more than anything. I think we purchased a pot trivet we could set inside the fireplace in case we needed to cook on an open fire!

That very evening we were visited by Doug Williams, a man about town who had encouraged us to make, display and sell our creative work – Barry's woodwork and my paintings and drawings.
Photo of a toy.

He was in a hurry but made the excited excuse that he wanted to show us something, right then, that he had found that very afternoon and had thought to himself was just the thing we would love. 'It's yours,' he said. 'I can't see anyone else enjoying this like you will.'

He handed us this little wooden toy. Our mouths flew open.

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