BITS and PIECES # 42

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January 23, 2014 by palamow

BITS and Pieces # 42

Hello again from Luquillo,

I trust you all have spent a pleasant, relaxing and rewarding holiday season, and that you are looking forward as we are to enjoying a tranquil and constructive 2014…

I am hard at work writing (and editing) my next book, another charmingly illustrated rainforest ‘critter’ tale describing the adventures of two tree snails who journey from the rainforest to far-away Hollywood as stowaways in a tourist’s camera bag, in hopes of finding fame and fortune…

Regrettably, this flurry of scribbling has prevented me from adding a new BITS and PIECES story to the list — so, here is an ‘old’ one, revived from my 2011 book of memories ‘Snapshots from the Road’ — I think you’ll enjoy reading it, especially if you haven’t seen it before…

FATHER MURPHY, BEIGNETS AND A BORDELLO

When I had completed technical training at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi in January 1953, I awaited orders that would send me off to the war in Korea. With nothing much to do while I waited for my orders to be processed, I made plans to spend a long weekend in nearby New Orleans. When I wrote to my parents about my plans, they suggested that I contact Father Edward Murphy, an old family friend who was the pastor of a Roman Catholic Church in the city…

Father Murphy, a New Orleans legend, was a gentle, silver-haired, soft-spoken bear of a man, with a perennial stoop-shouldered gait. He had formed a lifelong friendship with the articulate, urbane Fulton Sheen while they were studying at St. Paul Seminary in the 1920’s. Father Murphy had recently written a fictional account of the life of Mary Magdalene that quickly became a best-seller. He was revered by the New Orleans locals because he selflessly donated every penny he received from his publisher to the poor, mostly black members of his parish or to other needy New Orleans charities…

I wrote to Father Murphy to tell him of my plans and he wrote back immediately – he would meet me at the bus station on the appointed day and arrange lodging for me at the New Orleans Athletic Club! 

I was excited – the opportunity to see Father Murphy again and to experience New Orleans was certain to relieve my boredom…

Father Murphy was waiting at the station when my bus arrived from Biloxi. He was wearing his typically threadbare black suit with ecclesiastical collar, topped off by an equally tattered black fedora…

A favorite local legend described Bishop Sheen’s visit to his old friend a few years before. The Bishop had insisted that they spend the morning shopping for a new hat to replace Murphy’s tattered fedora. That afternoon, as they were enjoying lunch, Sheen spied the old threadbare fedora resting on the seat between them – Father Murphy had absent-mindedly left his fancy new hat at the store, clapping the more familiar, well-worn one on his head as they departed!  

I tossed my duffle into the back seat of his ancient Dodge sedan and we wheezed our way from the bus station to the Café du Monde across from Jackson square in the Vieux Carre.  where we had café au lait and beignets. As a first-timer, I had the powdered sugar blown off the top of the pastry onto my blue Air Force uniform by our laughing waitress, a delightful local custom…

The pastry and coffee were delicious. When we finished, we got back into the creaky Dodge, and drove to the New Orleans Athletic Club, where I was introduced to the manager and given a guest membership, good for a week…

Unfortunately, all their rooms were spoken for, so we had to look elsewhere to find accommodations.

Father Murphy thought for a moment, and suddenly snapped his fingers – “I know just the place – it’s only a short distance from here and it’s owned by a nice lady who is a faithful patroness of our parish charities – she never misses Sunday mass”.  Back in the Dodge, we wheezed slowly to the outskirts of the city, arriving at a slightly seedy motel on a side street.  I looked around and began to get a sense that this was no ordinary hostelry – it was around noon and there was no evidence of occupancy or activity of any sort – the place seemed to be waiting for nightfall to perform its designed function… 

The proprietress, a cheerful matron, wearing a silk dressing gown and heavy makeup, greeted Father Murphy effusively, if somewhat guardedly.  When he informed her that his good friend’s son was looking for a week’s inexpensive lodgings in a nice motel before departing to Korea, she looked me over carefully and seemed to decide that I wasn’t one of her typical clients, but seeing my shrewd smile and noting my military uniform, she soon realized that I suspected who her typical lodgers might be… 

As Father Murphy described at length the unfailing faithfulness and fiscal support of ‘madam’ proprietress and her lady friends, she stood behind him signaling soundlessly to me not to spill the beans – apparently, this gentle, soft-spoken priest wasn’t aware of the nature of the business that allowed these good hearted ladies to give so generously to the church… 

That was my signal to snap my fingers – I suddenly ‘remembered’ an Air Force buddy whose family lived in New Orleans – I would call them straightaway and ask if they could put me up for a few days…

Father Murphy agreed that that would save me some money (he had no idea!) and the proprietress gave me a wink and invited me to stop by whenever I found myself in New Orleans with nothing better to do. I thanked her politely, adding “I’ll keep that in mind.”

As years passed, I often wondered if Father Murphy knew more than he cared to divulge about his lady friend and her nocturnal establishment. Could he have been more worldly than his detached celestial demeanor seemed to imply ? At this late date, I’m not sure I wish to know…

© 2011 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 42

  1. mkhulum says:

    Yep. I answered a question whether our church would accept lottery winnings. Sure, I said. That would be celestial money laundering. When in N’olens, due as the Romans do. Thanks Captain.

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