I am trying to adjust to a world without Jimmy Murphy in it. I am doing a lousy job. So I can just imagine how hard it is for his wife and family.
It’s been months, actually, since I last saw Jimmy. Months since he was hospitalized. But, you know, you always hold out hope. No matter what you hear, you pretend it’s not that bad. You’re sure he’ll show up out of the blue. “There,” you’ll say, “I told you he’d be okay.”
Now I have to let go of all that. Jimmy’s gone. And little seems right.
I was about to say my relationship with Jimmy Murphy goes back close to 40 years, to the days when he’d show up late Saturday night with the Sunday Dispatch presses rolling and the crew, which included his brother-in-law Leo Moran and an Eddie Ackerman with hair, sitting around enjoying a well-earned beer. Jimmy never walked in without a few trays of pizza. He would have been just as welcomed with empty arms.
I was going to say that’s how far back we go, but it’s actually much longer. Back to when Jimmy was just a baby and I nearly two decades away from being born. That’s when my mom, still Claire Strubeck and a young teen, was his babysitter, along with my Aunt Dorothy. Jimmy loved telling me that. And he told it just about every time he saw me.
It’s a Hughestown thing. Natives of that tiny borough have a bond (dare I say love?) that’s lifelong. How many times did Harry Schmaltz tell me my mom was his first girlfriend, even though I’m sure they never even held hands let alone gone on a date? How often did Paul Rostock tell me when they were seniors in high school he thought my mom was as pretty as a Dresden China doll?
Then there’s my late Uncle Eddie, my mother’s brother and a confirmed bachelor. How many women have told me how they chased after him, including one who said she was a young girl sitting on her front porch and when Eddie Strubeck, a teen a few years older, walked by, she turned to her dad and said, “That’s the boy I’m going to marry”?
That’s the Hughestown of Jimmy Murphy and his three brothers and three sisters, the only survivor of which is Mary Ellen Moran, widow of the Leo Moran mentioned earlier. It’s the Hughestown of the Strubecks and the Schmaltzes and the Rostocks and the Tigues, Tom and Dianne, who left us all too soon, and of the Adonizios, of whom Father Joe, who conducted Jimmy Murphy’s funeral Mass, is the last survivor.
By birthright I have been the recipient of that Hughestown love. I’ve seen their faces light up at the very sight of me. Although I look exactly like my dad they saw only my mom in my countenance. And no one saw that more than Jimmy Murphy.
With Leo Moran no longer with us and I long gone from the Dispatch, where presses no long run and the building itself is shuttered, my most recent meetings with Jimmy Murphy have been primarily in church on Sunday mornings and at Tony’s Wine Cellar on Wednesday nights. Jimmy and his lovely wife of 62 years Lorraine (a better looking couple you’d be hard-pressed to find) were typically already there when I arrived at the Wine Cellar and still there after I left.
That’s because their grandkids, Rob and Tim Husty were performing. They are two-thirds of the band Three Imaginary Boys and they are fantastic. A CD of Tim’s original music, on which he plays every instrument and does all of the singing, is often playing in my car.
My standard quip with Jimmy was that because of him I always knew I could stop in the Wine Cellar and not be the oldest guy there. That won’t be such a sure thing now.
A recurring theme of this column is how intertwined are the lives of those who live here and my connection to Jimmy Murphy is just part of this story. As Jimmy was being laid to rest last Friday, an uncle of his daughter’s husband Nick Lello was being viewed at the same funeral home. Also named Nick Lello, his funeral took place the following day. Many who attended Jimmy’s funeral Friday went straight to the Adonizio Funeral Home to pay their respects to Nick. And encountered several of the same folks from which they had accepted condolences just the day before.
Nick Lello, too, was a friend. He and I go back 50 years to my sports writing days when he was a high school football official and I a young reporter on the sidelines. A highlight of going to the Lincoln Inn (and let’s not get started on how we miss that place) for a bowl of tripe or plate of rigatoni and hot sausage, was seeing Nick and his darling wife Elizabeth at their usual table. His laugh was infectious.
Father Joe Adonizio officiated at Nick’s funeral mass too. He’s called upon to do far too much of that these days.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.