All Before Six

by M. Murphy ©2019


He reported that these moments manifest clearly and succinctly as vibrating looped still images; little movies a fraction of a second in length. They are his first memories.

marty kid
photo of the author 1965

He said that it began in Greenbelt, MD. He was one and a half.


He was sitting on the kitchen floor, underneath the Formica topped aluminum table. The view looked huge, but closed in like tunnel vision.

In front of him, the cabinets seemed to glow pale-yellow white. To his right, a white door to the outside was open, filling the room with light.

Clinging to the metal storm door, he held himself up and looked out. A concrete sidewalk directly in front, and a little patch of grass just to the right. There was a fence, and a gate.

Through the door, he could see his brother and sister outside playing. His brother was riding his tricycle on the sidewalk. His sister was sitting on the patch of grass. Half of her face is covered, wrapped in a bandage.

Once outside beyond the storm door of the kitchen, he felt the sidewalk, the fence, and the gate. The sidewalk led to a ribbon of sidewalks. The sidewalk was very significant.


He didn’t know that doctors were about to cut him open and remove the two growths that had attached themselves to his lower descending colon.

His sidewalks led to New Carrollton, MD. He was two.


The Carrollton house had a basement with several rooms; a laundry room, a work room with a table that had a large scale electric slot car figure eight track set-up, and the main room. The main room had a couch, ironing board, television, and a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor where he was molested. He was molested by a babysitter. A teenage male that lived down the street masturbated in to his mouth. Everything about the whole act remains. However, it was not verbally articulated until thirty years after the fact.

His older brother was called James. He followed James everywhere. While visiting his grandparents, he followed James outside, down the brick sidewalk, and across the street. James hopped up on a wall and sat, but he couldn’t get up to join him. James helped him up and together they sat. James teasingly pretended to hop down and run. But, his little brother didn’t pretend and ran out in front of a speeding taxi-cab. He can still feel the impact, and then waking up in the hospital, the whole right side of his body broken.

He had to crawl now to get around, and needed assistance while his body healed. His mom would feed him as he sat in a high chair. She burned his tongue with a hot spoon feeding him chicken soup. He still has a scar on the tip of his tongue.

He fell off the couch, convulsing, not breathing, hitting his head on the basement floor. When he woke, the world was pink. His parents would wrap him up inside a blanket like fruit in a paper bag whenever this happened. This time, he was on the way to the hospital. He woke again inside an oxygen tent. The doctors didn’t seem happy when they found poop shoved in to the ventilator.

He liked his playpen. He liked that his legs could fit through the bars, and his toes could just reach the ground; mobility and independence. When it got warmer, his mother would place him in the wheeled playpen and take him outside. He was able to commandeer the playpen off the front porch, down 3 stairs, down the driveway, and off down the street before his mother caught up to him. It was exhilarating.

He followed two older girls walking their dog. The shape made by the girls rear-ends inside tight blue jeans created distinct lines that made two flowing waves as they walked; a hypnotic pattern. The shape, movement, and color held great interest for him. As he reached out to touch the flowing waves, the dog, a standard poodle, had other plans. In the blink of an eye, the poodle bit him in the face, nearly taking his eye. There was blood everywhere.

He was standing in the kitchen because he heard a noise coming from the basement. His father ran up the steps yelling; “Get in the tub!” Moments later, sirens. From the bathroom window, he could see fire engines. They parked in front of the house, the flashing lights reflecting back off the bathroom mirror lit up the small room. The bathroom door was opened by one of the firemen that were now inside his house. The house was on fire. A faulty outlet in the basement.

The new home in Bowie was twice as big as the Carrollton house. He’d just seen it, and the room he would be sharing with his brother. It was a big deal that he got to sit in the front seat of the new Pontiac Tempest. In the back seat, his brother and sister fought while mom sped everyone back to the Carrollton house to finish packing. A drunk driver made sure that process would not go smoothly by running through a stop sign. The Pontiac Tempest versus a Ford Galaxie. Seat belts and car seats were not mandated at this time. People can, and did, get hurt.

By summer, the family had settled in to the Bowie house. Even their dog, Bee-Gee had adjusted without incident. But sometimes, it’s hard to see small dogs at night, and that is how Bee-Gee got run over by a car. She didn’t make it, and the car got away.


School started in September; kindergarten. He was five and a half now.

That’s when the voices began.

About Pancakes

ptg 1 Ant
“Ant” M. Murphy 2003. 18×24 acrylic on canvas panel

by M. Murphy ©2009

Well, to tell you the truth, I sit here feeling just a wee bit melancholy. Not gloomy, rather, a small amount of pensive sadness which leads me to reflect upon a moment in which I am compelled to measure a pervasive lust and desire for pancakes.

The moment of which I speak came about in a small town in Florida known as De Leon Springs. De Leon Springs has the distinction of acquiring its namesake from the legend of “Ponce De Leon and the Fountain of Youth”.

As history goes, Native Americans visited and used these springs as early as 6,000 years ago. In the early 1800s, settlers built sugar and cotton plantations that were sacked by Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War. By the 1880s the springs had become a winter resort, and tourists were promised “a fountain of youth impregnated with a deliciously healthy combination of soda and sulphur.”

The history is really quite interesting, here is a link to a quick, easy to read and digest, bulleted history synopsis just for you – http://www.floridastateparks.org/deleonsprings/History.cfm

Now, back to pancakes.

I was in De Leon Springs back 1996 visiting my Father, whom I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. I was in Florida by way of New Orleans; it was my first time experiencing Mardi-Gras, and I recommend being there during Mardi-Gras at least once in a lifetime – along with experiencing Las Vegas, watching any Top Fuel Quarter Mile Dragster Race, swimming with a dolphin, or paragliding. Sorry to drift off topic but pancakes will do that to you.

In De Leon Springs, the State Park to be exact, there is this little place affectionately known as the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. Now here’s the thing, at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant, guests can make their own pancakes right at the table.

I am not just talking some kind of packaged powder pancake to feed a modest stream of tourists, oh no! I’m talking about a thick, smooth, home-made batter. A pancake batter that transcends time and space to bring you back to the mornings sitting at your Grandmother’s porcelain topped kitchen table, shining ever so brightly under the diamond etched, opaque, banded, round milk glass light fixture that emits an ever so soft hum while the whole ceiling seems to vibrate from the fluorescent bulb … It’s that kind of pancake batter.

In their own words;

“Each of our tables are equipped with a griddle and we bring you pitchers of homemade pancake batters (both a stone ground mixture of five different flours and an unbleached white) and you pour them on and flip them over right at the table. You may order blueberries, bananas, peanut butter, pecans, chocolate chips, apples or apple sauce to create whatever sort of pancakes you choose. We have sausage, bacon, ham, eggs, homemade breads and an assortment of other treats to accompany your pancakes”. http://www.planetdeland.com/sugarmill/sugarpage2.htm

So, today as I write this, I am sad I couldn’t get pancakes, but I’m happy I did eat here once. I drove from Annapolis, Maryland in a Toyota Tercel nonstop to New Orleans; down through the valley spine of the Appalachians in a torrential downpour all through the night and in to the early morning hours; through the red dust of an Alabama dawn where the median was scarred repeatedly with the checkerboard patterns of tire tracks which were undoubtedly horrible car crashes; then on through Mississippi to New Orleans for a 3 day visit. I departed New Orleans, again in the middle of the night.

I drove through the coastal towns not yet ravaged by hurricanes many years off and no way for me to know about it in advance and warn them. But then again, people choose to live where they want to sometimes, and sometimes life chooses for them.

I drove through the Florida Panhandle in the wee hours of the morning. The now accursed Tercel, which made my legs go numb after so many hours of subjecting myself to factory seating, was running on fumes and it was one of those moments when you find yourself praying out loud “come on little car I love you I know you can make it don’t run out of gas now”.

Well, I didn’t run out of gas, and I didn’t beat the car with a hammer or a tree limb either. I made it to my destination, Deland FL, although I wasn’t sure of the time; perhaps sometime around noon.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I experienced what my Dad had talked about the whole night; pancakes at the Sugar Mill. It was fantastic, or course. Everything one dreams as the prefect pancake, and pancake experience; ambiance has a lot to do with it. But, I couldn’t help think about some of the other places I have eaten, especially over the past few days in New Orleans. I had eaten so much food, things I never knew was food!

Decades before, I had been on a family trip to Florida. We ate at a place in St. Augustine that sits out on a pier, a restaurant that markets itself as “Feed the Fish While You Dine”. It was such a metaphor. The huge, fat, overfed ocean catfish that probably spend their entire life living around the piers of that restaurant, never meeting other fish to hang out with and go fishing, or something, and, the sea birds that circle the place and snatch food right outta your hand before you can even toss it to the fish in the water; greedy opportunistic bastards.

But, Florida being so full of attractions, I had expected no less by way of pancakes, I was skeptical, at first. After all, Florida was/is a kind of marketing experiment, given all those glamorous billboards advertising fairy princess castles in the middle of a swamp …

Well the point is this; Best pancakes I’ve ever had. And, if you have a story about a favorite food and the journey you undertook to create the synchronicity between your taste buds and some kind of harmony with the universe, then the world needs to hear about it. It may be about the tastiest Blintz, or finest slice of pie, or perhaps even the best fish fry from somewhere in upstate New York. Let’s hear of it.

Effects of Religious Affectation

sinner
“Sinner” M. Murphy 2012. Digital composite collage.

by M. Murphy ©2010

I remember when I was a young child (late 1960’s & early 1970’s), and my Mother insisted on sending me  to catechism school on Saturday mornings.  I did not like this for a number of reasons, one of which being I would miss out on the fabulous cartoons being aired on television. Back then, television was a bit more innocent, and the choices for wasting time through televised entertainment were slim to none but momentous nonetheless. Unlike today, where ten thousand channels show nothing but crap. Oh sure there are educational programs, but I’m not going to pay any amount of money to receive pointless broadcasts along with educational materials that should be given for free. The infectious disease that is television is a whole different monster altogether and not really part of this little story.

With regard to being sent to catechism school, and attending church, Catholic Church, I felt early on that it was nothing more than a sham, a tool of control, a means to persuade individuals into a certain belief system that was fundamentally opposed to attaining spiritual freedom – It just didn’t feel right!. So, I skipped pretty much all those classes and hid out in the tract of woods at the end of our street where I grew up. Being close to nature was my church, and I spent my time observing all I could in that environment.

Now going to church on Sunday was another chore in and of itself. And, I would have to be extremely inventive with my reasons for not going. Nothing was sacred in terms of an excuse – from stomach aches to smallpox, and bee stings to snake bites. I utilized all my skills to avoid sitting in a huge, sterile room with some guy uttering nonsensical, deeply ominous babble. Whenever I did end up going, I just wanted it to end. So, I amused myself observing and admiring the Stations of the Cross sculpture reliefs hanging on the wall. I would pretend to know all the words in the hymnals by humming loudly while mouthing out words; I lip-synced. Sometimes I would fart, and since the church pews, no pun intended, were made of wood the sound would resonate, and the pew would vibrate. Many are guilty of this.

One thing my Mother was successful in was getting me to attend classes that prepared me to receive my first Holy Communion and Confession. I remember that quite well, and to this day for the life of me can’t find any relevance to the natural spiritual grounding within my being, other than the practice of affirmation of belief. We practiced with corn flakes and tea or cherry soda for hours, weekend after weekend, listening to the instructions on what to say, and when to say it, how far to stick out our tongues, to crunch and chew or not to crunch and chew – all of the things that were deemed appropriate in receiving the Eucharist, seriously. We were told that the very last thing we would want to happen is to slip up in our little ceremony and commit a mortal sin right there in front of the whole Catholic Church. Indeed, if we said the wrong line at the wrong time or whatever, we would be committing a sin. Yeah, no pressure there.

Needless to say, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Everyone said a proper Amen, and instead of cherry soda the chalice was filled with grape juice (not sacrament wine). When it was all over the adults herded all the kids outside in their little white robes and satin sashes for a group photo. It was hot; the kids were miserable, sweating, and ready to go home. The one thing that really stood out for me as the most endearing part of the whole ceremony was that the priest presiding over the ceremony looked exactly like Jonathan Winters; I kept waiting for him to do some shtick, like the ones I had seen the real Jonathan Winters do on Laugh-In. This guy was like a stand-up priest, not part of the regular rotation of rectory fathers.

The second part of this ceremony was first Confession. No kidding, you had to be there to experience the hypocrisy first hand, because I’m sure I won’t eloquently convey to you just how ridiculous it really was. I was totally prepared though with a long list of lies and general bad behavior I had committed, quite ready to spill my guts to the priest when my turn came to be ushered into the dark confessional booth. For weeks I was told how my mortal soul would be tormented in hell, or worse, limbo and purgatory if I didn’t come clean with the truth regarding all my sins to date. I feared being secluded in some dark confessional chamber booth with some old man whose face was all wrinkled and contorted. I never knew exactly what went down once a child was sequestered behind the wooden paneled door of a closet sized box without windows, and, was it sound-proof? I always saw people going in, but never coming out. Maybe I just never noticed that part? The group of kids I was with all sat in the church pews waiting for our turn, but I was surprised to see each child being led not into the confessional booth, but into a different door altogether. My fear doubled upon seeing this.

My stomach was in knots as I sat waiting. I just wanted it to be over with, as I sat there thinking of the items on my list and which things I would omit; I would lie in order to guarantee my salvation. This is what they taught me! And, when my turn came, I was led through a door, down a hall, and to my surprise I was led into a regular classroom, told to sit in a chair, and wait. It was one of those older, polished plywood school chairs. And, there were at least 30 of those chairs piled up like a mountain in the corner of the room. There were other chairs arranged in a messy half-circle, and a few desks. I sat down. After a minute or two, the priest came in, pulled up one of the chairs and sat down directly across from me. It was a different priest, not the stand-up priest from before. This priest was older, pale white, and shiny from sweating. I started to reach into my pocket for the list of lies I had prepared for this occasion, but before I could even get them out of my pocket the priest said a few words, and then pronounced that all my mortal sins were absolved. Then I was told to leave. Just like that. No Hail Mary’s or whatever else I had imagined I had to do to be cleansed of the black spots on my mortal soul. Indeed, I had envisioned my soul as one big black circle, especially because of all the previous smack-talk I had heard from the nuns, the priests, my Brother and Sister, and my family. I said nothing as I left, and nothing more did I speak concerning this matter of confession. I felt duped and relieved at the same time, but I still did not understand why I had to compile a list of transgressions against an omniscient being. I had spent days and days making that list, adding to it, all the time becoming more and more afraid.

So, what does all this mean? This is what I experienced. Moreover, was my innate spirit informing me that all this ceremony and performance was completely unnecessary, and that the whole religion thing was not real? At the time, it seemed they all just made it up. I will freely admit, I was fascinated by the stories being told of the magical Jesus who defied the odds and cheated death; disappearing after three days, leaving a warning that one day his return would be imminent, and judgment would be dealt out like grades at school, or cards in a high-stakes poker game.

Now that I am an adult, little has changed in how I perceive religion, dogma, the ceremony, and the circumstances surrounding all of it. Indeed, many stories have surfaced as of late detailing sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, and as I make attempts not to judge, I can’t help but feel so very unclean to have had any association with this hypocrisy. What seems worse is how the mainstream religions around the planet continually vie for top honors; who has the best God, and who will offer the best deals in salvation and redemption? This kind of seems like a giant pissing contest. But, I am no different than anyone else on the planet, right? I need salvation and redemption, right? Yet, I made the choice to reject all notions of resting my faith upon the shoulders of an invention just so I can pass blame on to some construct when I sin.

So then, what is faith? Faith is that which is believed as truth and fact, but can never be proven by any means, like the scientific method, for example. Heck, it seems anyone can claim to have had some sort of revelation, visitation, or communication with God these days, and then invent some dogmatic structure of morality to dress it up, like fancy ribbons on a birthday present. With all of this mass confusion, it would make sense that a messiah, prophet, or divine holy person would exert their will and manifest as living proof for all people to see. But, this is not the case. It is all a matter of faith. Religions have existed for some very specific purposes, constructed and invented by humans to answer many of life’s unexplained or unanswered questions, like: Why are we here? What happens when we die? How shall I live my life? And so on. Only you can answer those questions, and that’s your responsibility and not some construct’s burden.

If you need religion in your life to give you balance or a sense of purpose, community, belonging? Then, yes! By all means. Regardless of what construct or method gets you there; regular re-affirmation of that which gives you meaning in your life is essential for survival.

The Journey Begins Now

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.

car1
“Valiant Effort” B&W photo 1998. Digital compositing 2011. M. Murphy

Welcome to my Blog: The Spiral Saint


It really doesn’t matter where you start, just as long as you begin.

I created this blog to present my writings about art, artists, and the critical analysis of human creative expression. Also, I created this blog to document my journey becoming a certified teacher in the state of Maryland, and beyond into the classroom.

Even more, I provided convenient links for you to explore my other art media; animations, paintings, and graphic arts, stained glass, and poetry.

So, just hang on and enjoy the ride. Peace to you.

Marty Murphy