Trippin’ With The Murphys’

The crazy thing is, of all the Murphy kids, younger son Chrissie was the one sibling I really disliked.  I thought he was mean, hateful, and angry at the whole world all the time. 

I recently asked Chrissie, who’s now closer than a lot of my family, what he thought of me all those years ago.

To him, I was an annoying friend of his little sister.  An interchangeable mosquito.

My feelings were very different toward oldest son, Mike.  I had a huge crush on the boy who was always sweet to me.

The patriarch of the family was Bear.  He was commander of the base in Puerto Rico where we all lived.  He was a no-nonsense military man. 

He was strict with all the kids.  But with his sons, he was tough and cut no slack.  He had very high standards and accepted no excuses.  None of the kids would ever dream of back-talking or sassing that man.

Bear’s attitude manifested in anger with Chrissie.  His defenses were always up.  Most emotion was hidden behind a mask of aggressive apathy.

Kitty was the same age as me and my best friend.  She was smart, funny, proud, and had a very full inner life that was never shared.  Her defense against the world was a comic flakiness.  Teachers and parents, and even friends had a hard time holding her accountable when it was clear that she had full knowledge of her shortcomings and they made her far more disappointed in herself than anyone else ever could be.

Min was all of these, and more.

Minnie was the oldest daughter.  I’d never before or since met anyone like her.  She was a comedian/tomboy/secret agent/big sister to the sister-less/rebel/Dr. Dolittle/business genius/magical wood sprite.  Almost fifty years later I still think about conversations and adventures we shared.

The family matriarch’s smart and sophisticated is Mama Cat.  She showers her children and their friends with warmth, affection, and humor.

Lighthouse Beach, where we often went.

 Often, Bear and Mama Cat would take us all to nearby beaches.  Michael, Minnie, Kitty, and I would bodysurf and Chrissie surfed.

Many of the older kids surfed.  Lawns were mowed, children were babysat, dogs were walked, all in the pursuit of the cash to purchase their own boards. 

One afternoon we were on our way home from the beach.  Chrissie’s surfboard was partially in the car, with about a quarter of it out the window, like an exuberant dog on a ride.

The garage was a two-car with no doors, but with a four-foot-wide supporting pillar that divided it.  Bear pulled into the driveway.

The house on the right is the Murphy’s actual home in Puerto Rico.

I saw it coming, but didn’t have time to say a word before it happened.

As Bear pulled into the garage, Chrissie’s hard-fought surfboard was still sticking out the back window.  Never noticing, never slowing, the inevitable happened.

The board hit the pillar and a huge gash was neatly excised from the board, instantly and forever rendering it useless.  Except as modern art.

Actual Modern Art.

The care went completely silent.  I was watching Chrissie.  His face was red and his jaw was clenched.  If anyone else had destroyed his board they would already be begging for the sweet release of death.

Bear, sat as a stone—immobile and unreadable.

Actually Grandfather Mountain; it’s a metaphor.

Something was coming.

We just sat there—nobody opened a door.  We were waiting for an explosion, but couldn’t tell which Murphy man would be the catalyst—Chrissie to scream at his dad, or Bear to blame and berate.

Actually part of a movie.

Finally, after what seemed like eons, there was a slight clearing of throats.  One of them would speak!

Bear, with an unfamiliar sheepish look on his face, said five words I’ll never forget.

“I’ll buy the new one.”

An actual highly embarrassed bear–not the patriarch of the Murphys’.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

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