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Everlasting gratitude to - The Heroine of my Childhood

Posted: May 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.

September the first, 1939 is my own day that will forever live in infamy. I was 12 years old. Thousands of London school children had boarded trains in a mass exodus. It would be a weekend in the country – or so we had been told. Alas, the whole world soon knew that two days later we were at war and there was no returning to our homes for the foreseeable future.

Dividing us into smaller groups we had walked two-by-two along Field Street Avenue with only a billeting officer in charge. My school mates had been discharged into each of the homes as the officer consulted her list. At the garden gate of the last house, stood a matronly lady wearing a flowered apron over a clean dress, her gray hair neatly combed. It was into her care in those dark days that I was assigned.

Outwardly, she was a very formidable lady who frightened me a little. She welcomed me into her immaculate parlor where a Boston fern, with small delicate leaves, shimmered and fluttered in the glow of the setting sun. On a cloth covered table, the tea tray was set with a hand-embroidered cloth, the teapot covered by a knitted cozy, the cups quite delicate. The sandwiches and cakes that she had baked earlier were a welcome sight after many hours on a dusty train.

When the niceties were over, I was shown to my room under the eaves at the top of the house. Two older girls from another high school, 16 years old and soon to graduate, would be my roommates. I was four years younger and they too took me under their wing.

No one ever became familiar with Mrs. Murphy. She was Mrs. Murphy the day I met her and has remained so to this day. Her depth of feeling, respect, love and kindness toward us, was easily apparent. No outward show of affection was necessary, her deeds and actions said it all. Though now thousands of miles away, I kept in touch with her until she died.

The toilet was at the end of the garden, next to the chicken coop. The house had no running water. A well of collected rain water was used for laundry and cleaning. We carried cool sparkling water from the outside pump to our bedroom daily, and brought the dirty water down for the garden plants. We washed, dressed, made our beds, dusted the room, mopped the floor and even dusted the stairs as we descended to the dining room for breakfast. Mrs. Murphy presided at the table and dispensed tea along with polite conversation. Only then were we dismissed to go to our respective schools while she scrubbed windows and floors, cooked, baked, and spent her afternoons by the fire knitting socks and sweaters for the troops overseas.

The house was immaculate; meals were nutritious and plentiful despite the meager rationing of wartime days. She cooked delicious meals without the benefit of a thermostatically controlled oven. Her thermostat was her fist which she thrust into the oven to test. If it felt very hot, she would bake cookies. If the fire was dying and the embers low, she would cook food that needed slower cooking. I learned to darn my own stockings, sew freshly-starched collars on my uniform daily, helped with the shopping and stood in endless queues to buy any food that was available.

Mrs. Murphy was not a highly religious woman but a sporadic churchgoer. Religion was personal and not discussed. Of paramount importance to her was respect for the religions of others and the way in which they chose to practice it – or not. One of my roommates was Catholic, another a 7th Day Adventist. Mrs. Murphy was a Methodist and my school espoused the Church of England faith. Harmony ruled under her roof.

There are hundreds of little things that she taught me, too numerous to mention. She has influenced my entire life. My love and gratitude to this wonderful lady needs no special holiday by which to remember her. At war’s end, she was awarded King George’s Recognition for Wartime Services to Children. My own children grew up knowing and loving her in spirit, if not in fact. She is forever on my lips and in my heart, while I feel I am a better person for having known her.

Everyone should have . . . .

and I am most fortunate to have had . . . . .

Mrs. Murphy.

Editor's Note: Veronica Pinckard responded to a call from the Editor asking people in the community to share their story of people who made an indelible impression on them in their lifetime.


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