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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Contrary Mary

Mary Murphy, my grandmother, was a study in contrasts. She escaped the economic devastation

of the Glasgow shipyard closure that forced my welder grandfather to seek a new life in

America. Braving the sea journey in steerage to Ellis Island, Mary was accompanied only by her

two small children. Arriving, she soon felt the wrath of the Great Depression, so frugality

became an innate skill. Yet, she gladly gifted my family with its first color television later in life.

My grandmother was a strong supporter of bettering oneself. Financially unable to attend school

beyond the sixth grade, she repeatedly advised, “Work hard in school. They can never take your

education away.” To broaden our cultural experiences, she would take my brother and me to the

NYC Museum of Natural History. She also paid for accordion lessons for my sister and me.

Things she could never have afforded as a coal miner’s child.

Calling to me, “Wee one, help me get that bowl off the top shelf.” Regardless that I towered over

her by at least six inches, to her, I would always be ‘wee’ no matter my size. Despite living in

America for 43 years, she had such a heavy Glaswegian accent, my friends would ask, “What

language is she speaking?” I’d reply with a shrug, “English.”

My grandmother often criticized me for never being home. I was a busy teenager heavily

involved with the Church’s youth theater group. Yet when she was together with her sisters, she

would brag about how popular I was, involved with parish activities. Something significant to

this devout Catholic.

My grandmother was my strongest supporter and my harshest critic. Her words have often seen

me through the tough times in my life. When disheartened by slights from others, she would

promise, “You are just as good as anyone else, and a damn sight better than most.” Such support

gave me the confidence to believe in myself, to achieve things I never thought possible. Yet,

when I became too full of myself, she also gave a lesson in humility, reminding me, “You’re not

the only pebble on the beach, dearie.” Thank you, Mary Murphy. I love you and miss you even

after all these years.

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