Updated: Dec 9, 2019
By Tim Murphy:
When I was growing up, the Vocks lived across the street. Jimmy was my brother’s age, Jannie was my age, and Jeff was my sister’s age. They were fun kids that I spent the first thirteen years of my life with nearly every day. Mrs. Vock taught me how to hit a baseball. She was the best baseball coach I ever had. Whenever I went into a hitting slump, even in high school, I went to her to turn it around. She always corrected it. She also tried to teach me the accordion, but that didn’t go so well.
Mr. Vock was the nastiest dad in the neighborhood. He was mean. He had a filthy mouth. The moms didn’t want us to spend much time around him, which was okay with me because he was always in a rotten mood. Too much exposure to Mr. Vock usually led to us repeating something he said, which would end in trouble. Whenever we would play in the Vock’s yard or driveway, we would have to clear out fast when Mr. Vock came home, otherwise he would start yelling bad words even before he got out of the car. He never seemed to like anything.
Back then I lived for baseball. Every morning in the summer, we had a neighborhood game in the street or in somebody’s backyard or in the prairie (until the weeds got too high). As soon as I woke up, I would pull my glove out from under my pillow, put on my ball cap, run out the door, grab my bat from the carport, and head out to the designated spot.
I remember one sunny Saturday morning we were to meet in the Vock’s backyard. It was a good "morning field," with just enough shade but no trees, electrical wires far enough away, and a fence out in left field that was reachable for a home run but short enough that home runs could be robbed with great catches.
I got there early and sat down on the first base line. As I soaked in the sun, breathing in the summer morning air, I scoped out the field, imagining great catches, timely hits, and crafty base runs. I was shocked out of my daydream when raindrops hit the bill of my cap and glove. Disappointed that we would get rained out, I looked up to see the sun still shining, not a cloud in the sky.
Suddenly I heard a noise from inside the Vock’s house. I turned to see Mr. Vock laughing hysterically. Mr. Vock never laughed. It scared me—which was not unusual, because Mr. Vock always scared me. Mr. Vock started yelling at me, and I thought, What’s the big deal? I’m just sitting here not bothering anybody. What’s he yelling at me for?
Mr. Vock now laughed as he yelled—which was weird. Creepy. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. He opened the window and yelled, “Hey, Irish!" (At the time, I liked to think it was his affectionate nickname for me, but looking back I think it was just an ethnic slur.) "Hey, Irish, that bird just sh#$ on you!”
I didn’t understand. Why was he swearing at me? The day had started out as a great, sunny Saturday, perfect for baseball, but now I was getting rained on with no clouds in the sky and Mr. Vock was creepy laughing and yelling bad words at me for doing nothing!
Mr. Vock finally registered the confused look on my face and said, “The bird sh#$ on you. It pooped. It pooped on you, and it’s all over your glove!”
Keep in mind that I didn’t know sh#$ was a thing, I just thought it was a bad word that I was not allowed to say. But I did know what poop was. I looked down at the glove on my lap and realized the raindrops were in fact a yellowy, chalky, whitish crud that formed a web on my glove. I threw it off. It was POOP! I pulled off my cap and saw the same chalky crud.
I turned to see Mr. Vock laughing so hard he could hardly stand up. I picked up my poop-stained glove and my poop-stained hat and cried as I walked home.
What a crappy day . . .
So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Mr. Vock, who taught me the power of words and how words with multiple meanings can be used to layer a story to give multiple outcomes—and how it could lead to a surprise. It was a bad word. It was a noun. It was a verb. It was an adjective, and if you work it right, even an adverb. It was one of life’s extraordinary lessons that came from someone I least expected. One of those situations that we most want to forget.
As Thanksgiving approaches and you turn on the news and everybody is yelling and the world seems full of mean and naughty people and the only laughter is the creepy kind and the language is foul and the words all seem bad and you get ready to sit down with your least-favorite uncle, whose politics even your mom doesn't want to hear, and your mean aunt doesn’t appreciate your bird (and you’ve got another bird for her) and the crabby in-laws drop in out of nowhere to spread some love . . . just sit back and take a deep breath. Try to find the sunshine. Scope out the beautiful table and all its possibilities. Glance around at all you hold dear. Note the side dishes. Gaze upon the bird in the center that leaves behind such endearing memories in its wake. Look for the absurd and laugh.
This is life, and life’s valuable lessons come from surprising characters who can be remembered and honored in our family celebrations. So wipe back those tears and give thanks—No Sh#$.
Tim Murphy grew up on the south side of Chicago in a home filled with Catholic Irish traditions. He has kissed the Blarney Stone and been given the gift of storytelling. He attended Catholic Grade School, public high school and a Lutheran College—which perhaps has shaped his somewhat irreverent style. In his sixty-four years, he has received many blessings, and despite his misbehavior, they seem to keep coming.