Thursday, May 3, 2012
My cousin Calvin lived three doors down from Charlie Murphy himself, that oil giant who founded Murphy Corporation, producer of all that gas Wal-Mart sells today. Calvin’s daddy, my uncle Otis, worked for the competition, Lion Oil Company, as a salesman and apparently did very well indeed. Calvin and his friends had swimming privileges in Charlie Murphy’s lovely, cool and well situated pool on top of the hill behind the Murphy mansion and we spent many a hot summer day there splashing around, getting our appetites up for Baby Ruths and Cherry Phosphates, our snacks of choice. My mother used to think kids needed plenty of sugar for energy. Calvin didn’t like our other cousin, Monroe very much. In fact, he avoided him as if he had cooties. I liked both cousins, but Monroe didn’t have a free luxurious swimming pool in his neighborhood, so I preferred to spend time with Calvin and that bothered Monroe. To be honest, Monroe was a bit overbearing. He bragged a lot and tried to make himself look superior to Calvin every chance he got, but ended up looking petty. He hated it when he called to invite me over to his house and I was up at Charlie Murphy’s swimming pool with Calvin. Monroe’s daddy, my mother’s brother, was a “keep-up-with-the-Joneses” kind of guy. If Uncle Otis bought Calvin a model train, next thing you knew, Monroe had one a little better, putting out real smoke and making the realistic noise of a locomotive. If Calvin received model airplanes for Christmas, Monroe got better ones for his birthday. When Calvin set up a tropical fish tank, Monroe’s dad helped him fill his room with an extravagant aquarium containing the most expensive and beautiful fish you can imagine. When Otis bought a boat with twin outboard motors, Monroe’ daddy bought an expensive speedboat. I tell all this to point out that I was stuck in the middle of this rampant and complex competition. I only had a sick gold fish and I only had one of those hornet airplanes with a rubber band you wind up and the rubber band was broken. I only had a Lionel train, the cheapest model on the market. And, I had a boat, a toy one I treasured, a little tin boat you put a birthday candle in to make a tin membrane vibrate for locomotion. It could really scoot. One summer afternoon I was playing with my little boat in a number two washtub when Monroe came by my house. He said somewhat snarly, “Why ain’t you swimming in the big pool?” I replied that I was enjoying playing with my boat. “How does that thing work,” he wanted to know. I showed him and he took it out of the tub and stomped it flat. So I guess he was jealous of expensive things as well as humble ones. After I retaliated physically and he went home unhappy, I called Calvin. “Are you going swimming today?” “Heading out. Come on over.” Thus I was drawn to wealth but not to greed and its ever-present ally, competition.