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By Bill Murray
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Bill Murray
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Chapter OneBorn a Military Brat - The Fires Begin
"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." Abraham Lincoln
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart" Jeremiah 1:5
Today is September 29th, 2007 - my older daughter Rosemary's birthday - she's 29 years old on the 29th of the month - the stars have come together. They say the hardest point of a long journey is taking the first step, and so I begin to put pen to paper to write my first book.
I was born in San Antonio, Texas on May 3rd, 1952 at Lackland AFB, Texas. It was on a Saturday and I was known from that day forward in the family as the "Derby Boy", because I was born on the day of the Kentucky Derby horse race. Many people have said they broke the mold when I was born but I'll let you be the judge after you've read this little memoir. Neither of my parents had a college degree, so out of financial necessity my Father enlisted in the Air Force. He was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma December 16th, 1930, rode bulls in his spare time, loved boats and the water and worked at a jewelry store for his Father in his younger years. My Mother was born in Springfield, Missouri June 29th, 1929 to a fairly affluent family. Both my parents' fathers died prematurely.
The story is myGrandfather, William P Murray II, came from family in Minnesota and fell off a roof and was killed in a construction accident. Mom's Dad fell out of a window from their two-story home in Springfield and died in 1948. His name was Warren Bartlett Hedges, born Dec 20th, 1999. Nanor who was born in Pleasant Ridge, AL on November 6th, 1902, my Grandmother on my Mother's side was one of the dearest person's I've ever known. She married James Fred Newton. Newt was a WWII Navy veteran. They both lived into their 80s until Newt, like most men, died first. Nanor died a few years later.
Warren Bartlett Hedges had an older brother Frank and two sisters, Rolla and Jeanette. Frank had a colorful past - He always wanted to be a diplomat and had secured the promise of an ambassadorship to Japan when unfortunately one of our Senators failed to get re-elected. As a gesture of good will, President Calvin Coolidge moved Frank aside at the eleventh hour and made the Senator who failed to get re-elected the Ambassador to Japan. Frank loved the Far East and eventually became a journalist in Japan. The story is told that after attending a very important tea for some high ranking Japanese leaders, he collapsed on the steps of an important government building and died. But the rumor is that someone might have put something in the tea and poisoned him because of all he knew about the Japanese and they wanted him silenced. World War II was about to begin.
Dad's Mom was Ruby Waugh. My Dad had one sister Mary, who was the daughter of Willis and Ruby Waugh. She was born on Aug 4th, 1934 and has three daughters.
Ruby, my Grandmother on my Father's side, married Willis Waugh after Dad's Father died from the construction accident mentioned above. I met Grandmother Waugh a couple of times on visits when we were real young living in Oklahoma. I don't remember her, but she must have been a character. Dad described her as a "ringed-tail tooter". That was a description Dad reserved for people of extraordinary flare!
Something unusual about my Father is his name - he was the son of William P. Murray II, so for years he thought his name was William P. Murray III. Imagine his shock when he went to enlist in the military and discovered from his birth certificate that he was born Billie Francis Murray. Apparently Ruby, his Mother, didn't really like him being named William P. Murray III, (I suppose that's what his Dad named him) so she changed the birth certificate and didn't tell anyone. I was born William P. Murray IV and just kept the designation; although I guess technically I'm not the Fourth. And since I didn't have any sons, I guess it's a moot point anyway.
Dad's Step-Father was Willis Waugh. Willis Waugh was in the jewelry business and had two stores - one in Okmulgee and one in Vinita, Oklahoma. My Dad ran the store in Vinita before he left to go to Drury College in Springfield where he met my Mom.
Mom had 2 sisters and a brother. Jenny Moon was born on May 5th, 1933 and had 5 children; Jim Hedges was born in Springfield, MO on October 13th, 1936 and had a son and daughter; and Vic Creed was born in Springfield, MO on January 4th, 1938, and she didn't have any children.
I was the oldest child, followed by my sister, Cindy, who my Dad used to call Sweet Pea. Cindy was born June 9th, 1954 in Savannah, Georgia and thus is two years younger than me. Following Cindy came my brother Jim, who I've always called Jimbo, because Dad always called him Jimbo the Elephant. Jimbo was born April 23rd, 1956 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Jimbo is four years younger than me. Finally my brother Bob arrived, the sibling most like my Dad in his characteristics but spent the least amount of time with him. Isn't that unusual? He was born April 10th, 1959 in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is seven years younger than me. My sister is fairly stable, but all of us Murray boys are ring-tailed tooters.
I had only been around about six weeks when I nearly made a quick exit. It seems I wasn't digesting my food very well, and soon I wouldn't eat. Mom and Dad were very concerned when they took me to the emergency room on the air base. Fortunately for me the doctor diagnosed the problem right away and rushed me into emergency surgery - the cause - a pyloric stenosis, a particular medical condition common to first born males that shows up at about six weeks. If not caught right away, little babies die of this condition. The basic problem is that the muscle that lets food travel down to your stomach freezes up and won't let anything pass. It's a fairly simple task to cut the muscle open (some joke that they cut mine a little too much) to let the food pass. I still have the six inch scar on my stomach which doesn't seem big now, but back then it ran the entire length of my little body.
My first recollections of childhood began when I was about five years old. My Mom agreed to let me go visit my wealthy Uncle Sonny Sterling in Aliceville, Alabama. The rumor was that he was the largest landowner in the state at the time. I have no idea whether that was true or not, but I'm told today he has some money. I had the time of my life seeing horses for the first time and feeding them grass through the fence. I couldn't pull more grass than they could eat! I still remember the fear I had of getting my fingers bit off when I thrust the grass palms up to their munching thick lips. It's funny what your first memories are as a little human, isn't it? Being five and cute - at least they told me I was - I was the hit at most of Aunt Katherine's tea parties. They would dote on me, and I loved it!
I was always active and never seemed to tire. I was 100% boy, but I'm sure if I were starting my boyhood again today, I would be labeled as having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and given a double dose of Ritalin everyday just to keep me calm.
A couple of memories of my childhood came when we lived in Colorado where Bob was born. We generally had dogs in the home and I loved dogs. I still do. We had a Boxer dog named Chena. Dad wanted to breed her and when she came into heat. He emphasized that we could not let her out. Mom was very conscientious about this, but I wasn't sure what it meant that she was in "heat". All I remember is that I opened the front door one time and Chena squeezed out the small crack. Another dog was waiting outside and soon they were playing piggy back. Dad came home that night and found out. He was hopping mad. He went right for his bow and arrows. The other dog was across the street and he shot two arrows right at that dog. Fortunately the dog ran away and we never saw him again. I loved the little half-breed puppies.
Another time my friends and I decided it would be great to get up on this high mountain and throw rocks on the cars below driving on the highway. We would chunk the rocks and laugh. Unbeknownst to us one of the cars exited the highway and slipped around behind us. He escorted us by the collar back to our parents and I got the whipping of my life. Dad didn't take kindly to me throwing rocks at cars. Parent tended to discipline their kids back then instead of making excuses and defending them like they do today.
I remember being about in the second grade living on Ft Dix when Dad was stationed at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. His job had something to do with missiles, but I never understood it. He would always say, "Well, I guess I have to go babysit my missiles now." I was never really interested in the Air Force. I just wanted to play with my friends and enjoy recess.
*** King of the Marble Hill ***
My expertise back then was marbles. I was the best marble player on the block. I had the best "shooters" and the best knuckle grip to shoot them. I had "steelies", "clearies", and "paints". And we used to play for "keepsies". In our little world, this was ultimate fun. We would gather in the afternoons following school and on Saturday mornings, draw a large circle in the dirt with a stick and put cats-eyed marbles in the center. The first shooter would try to knock one of the marbles out of the circle while making his shooter marble "stick" inside the circle. If he (no girls allowed) could make his shooter sick, then he could shoot again from the position where his shooter landed inside the circle and try to knock another marble out. It was great fun and when it was my turn to shoot, I could nearly clear the pot.
I had so many marbles that I won from playing these games that I filled up the entire window sill in my second-story room in base housing. I think I remember having over 500 at one time. And when the window sill was overflowing, I would announce to the neighborhood a "marble throw", where I would open my window, remove the screen, grab all the marbles from the window sill and throw them out in throngs to my eagerly-awaiting buddies anxious to get their cats-eyes back again.
Then just when everyone was comfortable picking up these little gems off the ground, my sinister side would emerge and I would start launching the marbles by the handfuls on the tops of their heads, nailing them with every heave. It was so funny to see them caught between wanting more marbles and feeling the pain of being pelted by these mini-bullets. Anyway, after the marble throw, we would return to our normal games where I would win back the marbles I had just thrown. Life was simple back then.
Well, it's one thing to be king of the neighborhood in marbles, yet quite another thing to go into real competition. After winning the elementary school championship in marbles, I was selected to play in the District Championship at school.
This is where I got my first lesson in marble expertise, because unlike the neighborhood competitions, where we played on dirt, this time we played on the hardwood basketball floor. I swear nothing would stick on that surface. The circle was bigger and just to knock one marble out of the center was a huge feat! I got my clock cleaned by the other school champions - where they learned to make a marble "stick" on a hardwood floor. This meant your shooter would stop when it hit another marble, even on the slick wooden basketball floor. How they did that, I'll never know. But as I was to learn later in junior high, high school and college football, when you reach the next level of competition, the players are bigger, faster, stronger, and more talented. Being king of the mountain gets tougher at each level of competition.
Now that I'm a little older and a little bit further down the road a life, I think about the saying that boys never grow up - only their toys get more expensive. These days I love to play golf and find golf balls in the rough. I find them, clean them, sort them, sell some and give some to friends just the way I used to fool with my marbles, but now I don't throw the golf balls down on their heads from my window sill!
Our lives were filled with excitement and adventure as little boys. We used to play Army constantly, fully decked in our "uniforms" taking our toy guns out to the fields to play. We had special foxholes for hiding and all kinds of Army tactics. We even had a fort where only our gang was allowed.
One day we dug a huge hole in the ground. I remember it being about four feet deep and about five feet wide. We found an old car hood out in the field and that became our roof. We had a secret entrance and we fixed up the inside with old carpets and our best memorabilia.
We covered up the car hood with dirt so no one could find us in our hiding spot. Because Ft Dix used to be where actual Army training and live ordinance was exploded, we came up with all kinds of treasures. One day we even found a live unexploded shell. It's a wonder it didn't kill us all! Of course initially we didn't know what we had, but when we took it home several of the Fathers became quite concerned. They called the MPs (Military Police) who questioned us extensively about where we had been playing, what we had been doing over there and where we found this shell.
I also remember going to the gym to watch boxing. Because many of the Army personnel at Ft Dix were minorities, there was a great interest in boxing. The Army and the Air Force had great boxing teams and boxing matches. In fact one time Joe Lewis came to box at our base. That was a big deal. I used to fool with the punching bag, but I was never much of a boxer being only seven or eight years old. My next boxing experience in life was at the Air Force Academy, and it wasn't a pleasant one.
*** Rats in the Shed ***
We lived in a four-plex in base housing and each four-plex had a shed behind it for storage. We had all kinds of junk in ours. My Dad had a large, thick waterproof tarpaulin that he stored in one corner of the shed.
In time a whole nest of rats had taken up residence in the tarpaulin. We would see them from time to time and tried to trap them without success. So one Saturday morning my Dad got out his gun - a 4-10 shotgun. He and a couple of our neighbors were going to have a little rat target practice.
Word among the kids in the neighborhood spread like wildfire. Although we had to stand way back, the adults allowed us to watch the shooting gallery. They flung open the doors and the rats scampered everywhere. That's when the shooting began. Rats were being blown to smithereens and the shells were flying everywhere. I don't remember what time it was, but it was early. In no time the whole neighborhood was out watching the show. Blood and guts were all over the shed and the tarpaulin had holes all over it. Soon the Security Police showed up, and they weren't too happy this was going on in base housing with all the children around. I guarantee it wouldn't happen in military housing today without a federal investigation. But it was just the kind of thing little boys thrive on and we talked about that experience for months.
*** My First Lie ***
About this time I remember telling my first lie. My Father was a stickler about coming home for dinner. He had a deafening loud whistle that the whole base could hear when he let it go by inserting his thumb and index finger into his mouth. I can do the same whistle today but not as loud as he could. There was no doubt it was time for the Murray kids to come home for dinner when his whistle shocked the evening air.
My only problem was that we ate earlier than most of my play friends, and it was such a downer to hear that whistle just when we were really starting to have fun. So one night I ignored the whistle. Everyone encouraged me to leave and get home, but I had made up my little mind that I was going to play until I wanted to go home. What a mistake!
About dusk when everyone else had to go home for dinner, I trotted home. I knew that I would not be able to use the excuse that I hadn't heard Dad's whistle given it was so loud, so I made up another story to tell my parents.
Excerpted from Renegade Colonel by Bill Murray Copyright © 2009 by Bill Murray. Excerpted by permission.
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