The Deliberate Agrarian Blogazine
July 2011

Dateline: 31 July 2011

July was the month for fresh raspberries around here. Marlene and I picked berries almost every day for three weeks. We heaped them into our morning bowls of oatmeal and drizzled maple syrup on top. A great many packages of just-berries are now in the freezer.

My 5-month hiatus from blogging continues.... 

Well, sort of.....

I want to express my sincere thanks to those of you who commented at last month’s blog post about the death of my stepfather.

Since then, we have been focused on dealing with all those things that  must be done to settle an estate. We have met with the attorney, an auctioneer is scheduled to come and cart away anything of value, and we have sorted through a lot of stuff. I will be very glad when this chapter of my life is over.

Going through the family papers of my stepfather has been a revelation, especially the letters and pictures of his parents. The remaining ephemera of their lives is all packed into a couple of cardboard boxes. I knew almost nothing of these people, and now that I do, I feel compelled to briefly share their life story with you...

One Family’s Story
A young Marion Andrews with her father, the Rev. George Wakeman Andrews. The Rev. was a Congregational  minister in Dalton, Massachusetts for many years, and a man of some acclaim. He was a director of the Massachusetts Total Abstinence Society and the Anti-Saloon League. The book page with inscription (click the picture to enlarge) was evidently saved by Marion all her life. One would assume the page came from a Bible, but only the page (and the fatherly advice) survives.

Marion Andrews (above) was my stepfather's mother. She was born on April 1, 1899.

 My stepfather’s father, Earl Murphy was born in 1901. He was actually born Lawrence Vincent Fitzmorris. His mother died of medical complications a few days after his birth and, unable to care for the baby, his father dropped little Earl off at the home of one of his wife’s relatives in Charlemont, Massachusetts. They renamed the child Earl Lawrence Murphy and raised him as their own. This was done without any government notification or social services involvement. 

Earl learned of this story and his unoffical adoption after he was grown and had trouble getting a passport.

Earl Lawrence Murphy as a boy in Charlemont Massachusetts.

This next picture shows Earl and Marion around college age. We don't know how they met.

Marion Andrews and Earl Murphy circa 1921

Marion graduated from Wheaton College and Earl from Boston University. They were married July 31, 1926 (a month after Earl’s graduation) at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston.

In this next picture we see Earl and Marion shortly after they were married. Earl was a tall  (6’2”), good looking man. He found work as a traveling textbook salesman and did that for 26 years. The couple soon settled into a nice home at 60 Garfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts.


Earl and Marion Murphy circa 1927. Marion called Earl “Jack.”

In December of 1929, their first child, David, was born. Later in her life, Marion compiled a chronicle of her and Earl’s life together. The highlights of each year, from 1926 to 1960 are in a 5” by 8” spiral notebook. The way the excerpts are written, I would guess they were transcribed from journal entries. In the notebook for 1929 she describes David as “Our lovely baby—all golden curls at three months—happy and a joy.”

Marion, David, and Earl, circa 1930.

My stepfather, Richard, was born in December of 1931. It appears that the Murphys got through the Great Depression without much difficulty. They even went on a European cruise in 1934, touring Germany (Adolph Hitler became Furher in 1934), Austria, Switzerland, England, and France. They put together a detailed photo scrapbook of that trip, and others they took. In this next picture we see the happy family. 

The Murphy Family, circa 1939. Richard, Marion, David, and Earl

In April of 1949 David died suddenly of a heart attack while a student at the University of Massachusetts. He had just won a music scholarship to Syracuse University. Two months later, Earl wrote a reflective three-page synopsis of his son’s death, the events that followed, and his feelings. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“It’s surprising—or perhaps it isn’t—what a hole it makes in our lives. I guess Dave was all tied up with our hopes and dreams. He was doing so very well. He was smart, popular, seemed healthy, was doing excellently in everything at school. We had such hopes for him.”
“David is lucky. He will never live to have his dreams inevitably changed by time nor feel the sorrows that are a component part of even the happiest mature lives. He was sitting on top of the world and was very happy....He was a joy as a son. He was bright, companionable, clever, and had a delightful sense of humor. I think I miss more than anything else our little jokes together...”

The Murphy family received over 700 cards and letters of condolence after David’s death.

Marion and Earl were educated, erudite, and cultured people. It appears that David was much the same as his parents. But Richard, my stepfather, was none of those things. Among the old papers are carbon copies of letters from Earl to his rebellious second son during the boy’s late teens and early 20s. They reveal great distress about his fast lifestyle, excessive drinking and disrespectful attitude.

After a stint in the Marine Corps came Richard’s first marriage and a divorce. His two young sons ended up in foster care for awhile. Earl and Marion were heartbroken. There is sadness heaped on sadness in the story of this family. And it gets worse.

Judging from the photos, you would think that Earl and Marion really had their lives together, but some of the surviving letters reveal a different story, especially later in life. Earl, a drinker from his youth, evidently became an alcoholic. In one letter to Marion, Earl apologizes for his drinking and his “hedonism.”

On top of this, the family experienced economic hardship (which Earl blamed on his irresponsibility) in the late 1940’s. It appears that Marion came to the marriage with some financial resources but, in time, they had dwindled significantly. 

Earl left the sales job and managed a hotel. Marion helped him in that job. They rented their house in Springfield out to another family. Then Earl got a job as director of public relations for Goodwill Industries in Springfield.

There was marital stress and a separation for a little while. Then, in 1958, at 57 years of age, after a couple of unsuccessful surgeries, Earl died of rectal cancer. Marion struggled on, working as a house mother at a college dormitory, before dying from a stroke in 1962.

When I told Marlene that I was going to briefly tell the story of Earl and Marion, she said, “But it’s not a happy story. It’s so sad.” That is true, and I haven’t even told you what I consider the saddest part of all...

Conspicuously absent from Earl and Marion Murphy’s many letters is any indication that they had a sustaining religious faith. They were actively involved in a large Methodist church for practically their entire married life, and it is evident that they were very social people, but there is not one iota of evidence at all in their personal writings that their Christianity had any depth; that it was anything more than a skin-deep “Churchianity.”

It appears that Earl and Marion were so close, yet so far away from the wellspring of hope, peace, and spiritual strength that a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ as Lord can and will bring into a life, no matter what the circumstances. That is, to my way of thinking, the ultimate sadness in this story, and it is all the more poignant when you consider that admonition from Marion’s “Papa” on her 9th birthday...“Search the scriptures.” 

I should note that the story for Richard got better. He settled down, ended up marrying  my mother, and they had a good marriage, though they had their share of difficulties. My mother matured into a godly woman who did search the scriptures. It made all the difference in our family and in my life. I'm thankful for that.

On The Purpose Of Life

Marion Murphy's spiral notebook, open to the date David died, is in the center of the picture. Adjacent to that is a letter from Earl to Marion shortly after they were married (He begins it: "My dear little wife,"). Earl's obituary is to the right. A larger picture of Marion is at the upper right. David is pictured in the center. (click to enlarge)

When you die, and the record of your lifespan is reduced to some papers in a box, what will be the story those papers tell to those you left behind? Will your children and grandchildren be blessed, inspired or encouraged by such a legacy? Or will they be saddened by it? That is the question I am asking myself these days.

One thing is for sure— life is short. If you live to be 100, life is still short. Generations come and generations go. We all play our bit part (and everyone’s life is only a bit part) in the grand history of the world. Then we are gone. We may be remembered fondly (or not) in the hearts and minds of some who knew us, but only for a short season. In time, they will be gone too. If a picture of you happens to survive more than a couple of generations, anyone who sees it will look at you as a stranger.

The prophet Isaiah stated this all very well in the Old Testament:

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.”

All of this could be an inducement to melancholy, but only if one were not cognizant and attuned to the highest purpose of all human life. Unfortunately, very few people in this world know this highest purpose. Even less understand it, believe it and take it seriously.

The answer to this great question of man’s being (like the answers to so many other great questions) is found in the Bible, and the essence of it was beautifully distilled into a simple question and answer by a group of Christian scholars 354 years ago.

Millions of youngsters once memorized the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the years since it was put together (1647). It was widely known and understood in early America (when we were a Christian-agrarian nation). The Pilgrims and the Puritans knew it well.

Nevertheless, it is a rare modern Protestant evangelical that is familiar with the Westminster Catechism. Personally, I’ve attended a variety of evangelical Protestant denominations since I was a teenager and never recall ever hearing of this catechism, or, for that matter, any catechism.

Perhaps you are like I was. If so, let me introduce you to it...

Q. 1: What is the chief end of man?
(this question is also phrased, “What is the primary purpose of man?”)

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

That answer is the key to living a “successful” life; to playing your part well in the history of the world. There is no room for philosophical confusion and melancholy in this foundational doctrine of Christianity.

Implicit in this matter of glorifying God is an attitude of humility before Him, and submission to his laws. According to the Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson (1620-1686), glorifying God “consists in four things: 1. Appreciation, 2. Adoration, 3. Affection, 4. Subjection. This is the yearly rent we pay to the crown of heaven.”

There is, of course, more to this subject, and I dare say it all boils down to Papa’s advice (see above)... “Search the scriptures.”

One Pastor’s Sorry Example

NASCAR preacher

We can oftentimes understand better what something is by observing an example of what it clearly is not. That said, you can see a remarkable example of not glorifying God by listening to the above pictured Baptist pastor’s recent invocation at a NASCAR race in Nashville, Tennessee.

CLICK HERE to see an example of not glorifying God

God is in no way, shape or form glorified by that pastor's performance. His public prayer served to bring glory to himself. When you use prayer to amuse, to entertain and to advertise products, you make a mockery of God and the Christian faith. This example of apostasy brings to mind Neil Postman’s excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he states...

“I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

On The Other Side Of My Family

Among my mother’s papers were a couple of old photographs I had never seen before...

(click to enlarge)

That picture looks like it was taken in the front yard of my Great Grandfather Elias Moses Philbrick’s farmhouse in Easton, Maine. My grandfather, Percy Philbrick, is in the center and my grandmother, Gertrude, is beside him. The smiling girl at Percy’s right shoulder is my mother, Mary, their youngest child. I would guess she is around 16 years old. 

I find it interesting that the picture was taken with everyone on the ground, not in lawn chairs or on the front steps of the house.

My mother's father, Percy Orlan Philbrick, of Fort Fairfield, Maine

The above picture shows my grandfather again. Are those rutabagas? Whatever they are, he evidently grew the roots and I suppose they went into the cellar to help feed the family through a long, cold Northern Maine winter. Have you ever eaten rutabaga? My mother cooked mashed rutabagas once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Fort Fairfield Maine high school class pictures from the 1950s.

What does a son do with the inherited photos of his mother's high school friends (as pictured above)? I will probably throw them away. But I will keep the two pictures at the bottom. The smiling young man with the glasses (class of '54) would marry Mary Philbrick a few years after high school, and I would be their only child. The pretty girl in the picture beside him is my Aunt Carolyn (class of '56), who reads this blog and occasionally comments (she probably knows who all the people in those pictures are).

Eating From The Garden 
In July

A down-to-earth homegrown meal.

By the time July rolls around, we are eating entire meals from the garden. The picture above is exemplary of a July meals here on our humble homestead.

The potatoes in the bowl of peas-and-potatoes are Russian Banana Fingerlings. After growing two hills of the fingerlings last year, we planted a 50ft row this year. They are delicious. The peas were Alderman, grown on a trellis (for easy picking).

The salad has romaine lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomatoes, all from our garden. I grew the beets too. Only the apple pieces and sunflower seeds came from away. The salad dressing was a maple syrup and vinegar recipe, both ingredients made here on our little homestead.

Marlene and I delight in such food, picked fresh, as we need it, just a few steps out the kitchen door and across the driveway. It is meals like you see in that picture, and quiet moments together eating such meals, that  underscore the wholesomeness and simple beauty of a deliberately lived agrarian lifestyle.

And there is always the next crop to anticipate, like the Concord grapes that are doing so well this year....


My Concord grapes in July. They will darken to purple and be ready to pick after the frost comes later in the fall.
One More Thing

Her name is Pepper
We now have a cat. It just showed up and we fed it, so now we own it. This is a first cat for Marlene and I in our 31 years of marriage. 

Our previous dog would (and did) kill cats. But our current dog, the beagle, runs away from cats. 

You longtime readers may recall that we planned to get a Blackmouth Cur pup this past spring. Well, that didn't happen. We had too much going here to take on a cur dog. And we still do. But I think it will happen one of these days.

I could write more but I'm still on a five-month break from blogging.  :-)

I hope you will stop back here for a brief update on the last day of August. See you then.