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StoryCorps Mobile Tour: Frances and John Murchison on childhood in a different era, and lessons learned there

Father and daughter John and Frances Murchison.
StoryCorps Mobile Tour
Father and daughter John and Frances Murchison.

From StoryCorps Mobile Tour’s stop in Wilmington last year, we bring you a conversation between Frances Murchison and her father John. John describes a childhood during a very different era — when parents trusted family and friends, not smart phones, to keep track of their children. John also reflects on the lessons he’s learned over the course of his long, richly lived life.

The conversation comes from the StoryCorps Mobile Tour visit to Wilmington — the first in-person interview sessions since the Pandemic hit over two years ago. Since its founding in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded countless intimate conversations across the country – all of which are archived in the Library of Congress, and many of which you’ve probably heard on NPR.

Frances Murchison: So we call you Poppy. And you were born the youngest of five children in 1929. It was just a few months before the great stock market crash beginning of the Great Depression…

John Murchison: I would have begun to realize that we were in a depression, or the country was in a deep depression, when I was seven, eight years old, and I always realize that we were hard-pressed in our family. My father was a doctor, he was earning money, but a lot of his earnings would be in the form of food from his farmer friends. The Depression had an effect on our family just like it did many. I can remember most fondly that people who were hungry would come to our door and sit – mother would direct them to the back of the house sit down on a set of steps on a chair –and they always ate something. Whatever we were eating, she shared.

FM: What was it like growing up as a child? What did you do for fun?

JM: Well, that's all it seemed I had was fun. I grew up in a neighborhood of several boys. We spent so much time playing football and basketball.

FM: When you were young, the only way to get to Wrightsville Beach was via the trolley. What are your memories about riding it?

JM: It ran from Wrightsville Beach, or Harbor Island, and it ran came to Wilmington and parked around Second and Princess. At some age, a very early age compared to other children, my father knew all the drivers of the trolley cars. And he entrusted them to pick me up at like Third and Princess take me to station four, which was the Carolina Yacht Club station. And there I would stay all day with older boys. And at that point seven, eight years old, I had a boat sailboat. And we got on the sailboat and sailed most of the day to islands and favored little spots up and down the waterway. And that's the way we spent our days in the summer.

FM: So you were going down to the beach, and third or fourth grade spending the entire day on the boat, parents knew nothing about your whereabouts. There were obviously no cell phones, no way of tracking you. Do you have any sense at all that your parents were concerned about your well-being?

JM: I think by that time, my family - my mother was worn out with children. So she was probably glad to get rid of me. But they had confidence that the streetcar drivers knew me and took me and let me off where they knew I was supposed to go. It was all because of family relationships that they allowed me to do this.

FM: You have seven great-grandchildren – from your very full life experience, what would you most like them to know about you?

JM: I suppose that I would want them to know that I was — started with a couple of hardships, that I worked all my life at becoming more informed. I work at being somewhat acceptable in the things that I do. I want them to know that it's in giving, that we also can receive the joy out of living. And sometimes finances are not the greatest thing in the world – but friendships are the greatest thing in the world. And that what you do will follow you and how you do it and the people you run with will be with you the rest of your life.

FM: That's beautiful. Thank you, Poppy. It's been wonderful.