Get Out The Vote: Community Mural Aims to Motivate

By Sarah E. Murphy

A colorful call to action illustrating the importance of voting will be on display at Falmouth’s Peg Noonan Park on Main Street through Election Day. The project was spearheaded by the Falmouth League of Women Voters, which hosted a community painting day on Saturday, October 10.

Conceived by Falmouth resident Sarah Pring of the LWV and designed by Sandwich artist Jackie Reeves (pictured above) the three-panel “Be a Voter” mural is a sign of our times, spanning the long, hard battle for women’s suffrage to the mail-in voting that has already started across the country.

The public was invited to contribute to the mural at a paint-by-numbers style event. Participants signed up for a short time slot, and after selecting a color, the community artists filled in the corresponding block. Social distancing and masks were respectfully enforced at the event.

Tucker Clark of West Falmouth starts filling in the border of a section showcasing the time-honored tradition of casting a ballot in-person at the polls.

A few hours later, the finished product…

Oliveann Hobbie, longtime member of the League of Women Voters, serves as the organization’s publicity manager. The LWV is a non-partisan organization open to women and men, which encourages informed and active participation in government.

In keeping with the LWV’s mission, the mural directs voters to the LWV website, in addition to vote411.org, a comprehensive resource by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

Jackie Reeves’ hope is not only to inspire a wave of young voters, but also to remind citizens of every age that every vote matters.

Falmouth is lucky to have the vision of this thought-provoking artist, who co-created the profoundly beautiful James Baldwin mural on Route 6A in Barnstable Village with fellow artist Joe Diggs.

The completed banner is inclusive and inspiring, showcasing the many faces of the American voter, reflecting our nation’s diversity.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. Mail-in ballots can be dropped in person in the gray mailbox in front of Falmouth Town Hall. Visit http://www.falmouthmass.us/655/Election-and-Voter-Information for additional info on polling locations for casting your ballot in-person, and more. Your vote counts; make your voice heard…

September 27: Five Years Later

By Sarah E. Murphy

It seems impossible my father has been gone five years. Since I watched “It’s A Wonderful Life,” or willingly listened to Celtic music. Since he enveloped me in the comforting scent of after shave, soap, and wool. Since I went from being a Daddy’s Girl to a Fatherless Daughter.

Dad never liked Sundays. He always got the blues. But he loved Indian Summer. Therefore, it was somehow fitting he died in the early morning hours of Sunday, September 27.

It all happened so fast. After an excruciating year in and out of hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency rooms, he seemed to be getting a little better. A bed had just become available at Royal Nursing Home in Falmouth, and his team at Brigham & Women’s thought that would be the best place for him, considering he had already received such excellent care from Royal. Despite the circumstances, Dad loved it there, charming all with his twinkling blue eyes and genuine interest in anyone who appeared in his doorway.

My older brother, Ted, and I had recently met with the director, pleading Dad’s case like helicopter parents trying to secure a spot in the most popular preschool, hoping the sepsis diagnosis wouldn’t hurt his chances of being re-admitted. 

On Monday, September 14, we got the news for which we had been desperately waiting. The infection was under control. Dad could come home. 

Little did I know as a child that some of my happiest memories would later derive from pulling into the parking lot of Royal to see my mom’s car already in a spot near the door, the Marty Walsh and Elizabeth Warren stickers slightly askew on the silver bumper. At the time, I was working at Museums on the Green, right down the street on Katharine Lee Bates Road, so I could jump in my car at a moment’s notice to visit him.

No matter how much he adored his six kids, no one could lift Dad’s spirits quite like Mom – a testament to fifty-four years, spanning courtship, marriage, and enduring friendship. Growing up in a large Irish family, it was rare to get one-on-one time with either of my parents, or even better, time with them together. 

Walking to Dad’s room at Royal, through the lobby, past the nurses’ station, around the corner, and down the hall to the right, I always felt the same peaceful anticipation as I did walking up the brick path at my childhood home on Grand Ave.

Feeling safe. Cherished. Loved.

They’d be deep in conversation, and Dad would act pleasantly shocked to see me. He’d always say my first and last name, stretching out the syllables as though incredulous and overjoyed that I was actually standing before him. 

“Sa-rah Mur-phy! Where the hell did you come from?!” 

Seeing Mom sitting by his bedside filled me with serenity. On the tray table would be his coveted Boston Globe, along with one of his favorite meals she had prepared or, later, when eating became a chore, a homemade frappe Rocky Balboa style, full of raw eggs for the much-needed calories. 

It was the same way he’d always greet me when I moved back home to Falmouth in 2003, after living in our family house in Newton for eight years after college. Now two minutes away from my childhood home on Grand Ave, on the other side of Falmouth Harbor. 

I’d knock softly on his office door, once a bedroom I shared with Courtney. He’d be sitting at his desk, hunched over the latest manuscript he’d soon be asking me to type, his elegant penmanship spread horizontally across the white copy paper, a space heater running near his feet, sometimes even in summer.

Or down the hallway, in the room my parents dubbed “The Love Nest,” because of its cozy ambiance, where they sat and talked about everything from Irish literature to politics to patriarchy. Usually when I opened the door, one would be on the phone, the other on the computer, while Rick Steves, Oprah, or occasionally Dr. Phil could be heard offering commentary in the background. Or Dad would be on the futon, hunched over while checking his blood sugar. 

No matter what he was doing, he’d always offer that same excited greeting. 

“Sa-rah Mur-phy! How the hell are ya?!” 

I was in a meeting at Museums on the Green on Tuesday, September 15, when everything changed. We were on the second floor of Conant House, where my office was at the time, sitting around the table brainstorming plans for Christmas visitation, one of the signature events for the organization. Back then, I still loved Christmas, just like my dad. I was excited just talking about the prospect of transforming the historic homes into a yuletide yesteryear. However, the middle-aged voice in my head kept nagging at the eager little girl reminding her not to get ahead of herself. There are some things Santa can’t bring, and so much could happen between then and December. 

And with that came the texts from my sister, Courtney, who was living in Lexington at the time and spending all her free time visiting Dad, while we “held down the fort” on the Cape as much as possible. We started a sibling text chain when Dad first got sick, in the fall of 2014, when he initially checked into Royal. 

The texts kept coming, becoming more urgent, filled with medical jargon I couldn’t even follow. They no longer thought Dad’s condition was related to his diabetes, which had resulted in some of his toes being amputated. Now it was talk of bone marrow and cancer. I couldn’t process the words, and was trying to discreetly read them, until I couldn’t keep the emotion in any longer.

His doctors wanted the whole family to meet. We needed to get to Boston immediately. It was time to make decisions. 

I got up and left, barely able to offer an explanation.

Later that afternoon, when we had all gathered, the head doctor explained our options, using a six-month timeline. It was the day before Ted’s birthday, forever changed, and I quickly did the math, desperately holding on to the possibility that Dad might still be here for mine in March. One more time for him to sing me Happy Birthday.

He kept describing Dad as “the patient,” outlining the symptoms of Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a form of early leukemia, and most likely the reason he got so winded whenever we tried to get him to put down his pen and go for a walk. It was probably why he was always so cold.

Blood transfusions would only work for so long, and would only be partially effective, until he could no longer breathe on his own. I listened to the best of my ability, until a visceral sound escaped. Dr. Kristin D’Silva, a young doctor on my dad’s team, rushed over and held me as I sobbed. I will never forget her kindness. In that moment, everyone in my family was trying to process their own grief; I couldn’t expect anyone to be able to comfort me in mine.

Dad refused further tests or treatment. He was ready to die, and he wanted to die at home. 

He was discharged on Thursday the 17th. I had driven up with Joanna and Mom, and I was elected to ride back to Falmouth in the ambulance with Dad, while they went home to get the hospital bed ready in the Great Room. I never thought I’d be the one to watch Dad sign a Do Not a Resuscitate order, or that I wouldn’t try to convince him otherwise.

The team told Dad what an honor it was to care for him, respectfully referring to him as “Professor Murphy.” I tried to remain focused on the good news. Dad was coming home. 

I don’t remember how the topic came up, but he regaled the EMTs with tales from his few run-ins with Whitey Bulger, the older and infamous brother of Dad’s college friend, Billy.  He had an inordinate amount of energy, because he was so excited to be going back to Grand Ave. I had to keep telling him to relax and enjoy the ride, without reminding him the reason for his labored breathing. 

I’ve never known the joy of bringing home a newborn baby, but it was what I imagine to be a similar feeling, and it was one of the happiest days of my life, despite the reason for the journey. 

One of the EMTs was from Quincy, and in typical Murphy fashion, I had to at least try to make a small world connection. “You wouldn’t happen to know…?” referencing one of the few Quincy people I did know. A fellow English major at Bridgwater State College, she was the third roommate when my friend, Damian and I rented a house in Port Clyde, Maine the summer we did our senior seminar, a requisite for graduation. 

Not only did he know her, he had married her. 

My dad had driven me all the way to Maine, because I couldn’t take extra time away from my summer job to get a ride with Damian the previous day. We left the Heights at the crack of dawn, or probably more like 7 am. Notorious for never being a morning person, I was in a terrible mood, even though Dad was the one chauffeuring me there on a stifling August day, only to get right back in the car and drive all the way home. Long before cell phones, he probably didn’t even have working AC in the car. And he couldn’t have been happier to do it. 

Dad got “really mad” so few times you could usually remember the reason for the occasion, and my senior year of high school, he got totally fed up with my miserable attitude every day, as I sulked over my coffee.

“For Pete’s Sake, if you’re going to sit at this table, the least you can do is not be such a GD pain in the ass!” Signature Jimbo speak.

Therefore it was only fitting that I’d be the last one to wake up on the morning of September 27 to see everyone sitting around Dad. The house had become quiet sometime between three and four am, and I naively took it as a good sign, that he was finally sleeping soundly.

“He’s gone,” Courtney said gently, although I already knew.

Dad had been calling out for Nana and Papa all weekend, with shocking intensity, in the plaintive voice of a child, as though calling up a staircase, or yelling up to Heaven. He no longer sounded like my dad. He was Jimmy Murphy from the Lake, telling his own dad he was heading out to Boyd Park or the Paramount movie theater. I later learned from my cousin’s wife that my father’s sister had a similar experience in her final hours. Her feet wouldn’t stop moving under the covers. 

“She’s running through her life,” the nurse explained. 

Later, I went up to my parents’ room, and stared out the front window, overlooking the ball park and Falmouth Heights Beach. Sea and sky were flawless, and it could have been any summer day in my youth. Ted was in the driveway talking to Suzie O’Connor, Mrs. Grant was doing yard work, and cars were coming and going at the Sullivans.’ But then a black SUV pulled up, and a classmate of my sister, now an undertaker, approached Ted and shook his hand. He carried a quilt and entered the house, and when he came out, it was covering up the body bag. 

Somehow, I thought I was ready. We already had a dress rehearsal in late June, when Dad aspirated one night at Royal. Ted showed up at my door at midnight to bring Chris and me to Falmouth Hospital, where Dad was unconscious, dressed only in a hospital gown, his hands like ice. “This is it,” I thought, as we drove up Palmer Ave. When I got there, I held his hand and whispered in his ear, pleading for him to wake up, with the same childlike intensity he later expressed. “Please, Daddy,” I begged.

I’ve read countless stories and poems referencing the act of keening, many as a student in my dad’s friend, Maureen’s Connelly’s Irish literature class at Bridgewater State College. But it wasn’t until the moment I watched my father leave Grand Ave for the last time that I truly understood. I curled up in the fetal position on my dad’s side of the bed, and screamed until I couldn’t. I can only imagine who heard me that day. 

My mother, like most Irish-Catholic women, carries unnecessary guilt about countless things, including my dad’s death. She wishes she had been by his side at the exact moment.

Initially, I thought Dad was trying to spare us the pain of his loss, but the more I reflect on the family man he was, I think it was he who couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye. 

I woke up this morning feeling angry that my dad isn’t here, then I had to remind myself of how lucky I am that he was. 

I am forever grateful to be Jim Murphy’s daughter.

Celebrating Jeff Souza: A Life Well Played

Text and Photos by Sarah E. Murphy

Jeff should be turning 50 today.

I know there’s a raucous party going on in Heaven, but selfishly, I think he should be here with us, ringing in his milestone birthday with a guitar solo, while his On The Rocks groupies raise our glasses during Friday Night “6 to 9 Action” at Grumpy’s.

It’s surreal to write about him in the past tense.

I’ll never forget catching his eye as he and Tricia waited in line at my dad’s crowded wake in October 2015. It was Columbus Day Weekend, when most people have holiday plans, and it moved me to even more tears that they had taken the time out of their busy lives to pay respects to our family.

Jeff enveloped me in a hug, unafraid of my raw grief.

“We’re so sorry for your loss, dear,” he whispered in his slight accent – “dee-yah.” 

He always called me that, and it was one of the things that made him an old soul to me, a throwback to his Portuguese ancestors.

I can’t remember the first time I met Jeff; I just remember always knowing him. He was two years ahead of me, in my brother’s class, so it must have been when I got to high school in 1986. My husband, Chris, had already befriended Jeff by that time, when he was about 17 and Jeff was 14, spending hours in the Souzas’ basement on Acapesket Road, playing covers of their favorites by AC/DC and Black Sabbath. During that time, Chris was lucky enough to witness the musical chemistry between Jeff and his dad, a legendary jazz guitarist.

Falmouth’s Shellfish Warden by day, George Souza’s musical resume ranged from radio commercials to a stint in the Dorsey Brothers to his regular gig in the Frank Smoller Trio at The Flying Bridge, where the band recorded a live album. Mr. Souza was the first person Chris ever saw master two-handed rhythm and lead, and he did it effortlessly.

Chris would later come to know Jeff as a generous boss, when he worked for his friend at JD Souza Landscape Company. Because family always came first, one of Jeff’s most important accounts was his aunt, who lived near Falmouth Harbor. Eventually all the guys adopted Jeff’s name for her, referring to her in the same endearing way he did as simply “Auntie Carmen.” Chris and I still laugh about that to this day.

I always knew Jeff for his sharp observational wit, but I would later get to know him on a more emotional level, through my work as a reporter. I first interviewed him and his brother, Greg, in August of 2016, in the basement of the home he shared with Tricia, the walls decorated with a rainbow array of rare guitars. The article was to promote their upcoming “Souzapalooza” Charity Music Festival, with proceeds being split between the Fresh Pond Holy Ghost Society and local nonprofit Wings For Falmouth Families.

Jeff’s ancestors emigrated from Sao Miguel in 1907, and his Portuguese heritage was always a source of great pride. George Souza’s godfather built the original stone arches in front of the Holy Ghost hall, and years later, whenever it or the nearby St. Anthony’s Club needed to stage a fundraiser, Mr. Souza would assemble a group of musicians to play. Jeff was dedicated to keeping those contributions alive, and he believed the clubs represented an exceedingly rare connection to the Old World and simpler times.

“It’s a place you can go and have a three-dollar bowl of soup and see your cousins,” he said.

Jeff Souza and Greg Souza, Summer 2016

Jeff was candid about how much he missed both of his parents, and the many aunts, uncles, and other beloved relatives who had gone before him, much too soon. I could relate in a sense. As the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death approached, I was definitely struggling, and everything was a reminder – the hazy sun sitting high in the late summer sky, the melancholy quiet of approaching fall, the terrifying feeling that life goes on amid staggering loss.

Later that night, we shared some texts, as I had to follow-up with some fact-checking, such as clarifying the significance of the On the Rocks Teaticket Tour despite the fact the Souzas hail from East Falmouth. Any self-respecting townie reporter, especially one who’s married to a guy from Perch Pond Circle, knows never to confuse the two.

We continued our existential conversation, and I appreciated the chance to be vulnerable about the grief that was hovering just below the surface, waiting to pounce as the calendar turned to September. Not only did he understand, he wasn’t afraid to talk about it.

Seven months later, Greg sent us a message saying Jeff had been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Music provided a temporary but invigorating panacea for Jeff, and a chance to showcase the profound musical gift that flowed from within. Watching Jeff with his older brother, Greg, his cousin David Smoller, and his musical brother, Charles Williamson gave me (and countless others) more joy than I could ever articulate. On The Rocks was another avenue for Jeff to celebrate his roots, in many ways a revival of The Frank Smoller Trio, featuring Jeff and Greg’s dad, and Dave’s grandfather, and I could almost picture them watching in the wings with pride.

Jeff’s energy level was a thing to behold. He performed through it all, while recovering from surgeries and chemotherapy, even on nights he was especially tired and had to play while sitting down. Tricia’s calming nature was ever present, despite all that she was quietly dealing with herself.

I’m sure people wondered why I spent the shows wandering the crowd taking so many photos and videos. Deep down, I was afraid we were privy to something special and fleeting. Looking back, I wonder if Jeff always knew his time was limited, therefore he wanted to make the most of it. He’d flash that contagious smile, hamming it up for the camera, texting me the next morning. “Get any good pics?” I finally set up a Google folder for him because I took so many, and he wasn’t a social media kind of guy.

Jeff’s cancer was in remission in August of 2018, when I interviewed the brothers again for the upcoming Souzapalooza. Proceeds would help defray medical expenses for their nine-year-old great-niece, Madeline, who was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the time. They raffled off a custom built guitar to raise even more funds – a turquoise Stratocaster with high-end components thoughtfully selected by Jeff and constructed by Bay Fretted Instrument & Repair Shop in Marstons Mills.

Thankfully, today, Madeline is thriving.

During that interview, Jeff was more focused on his niece’s prognosis than his own. He never once complained about his situation; instead he expressed gratitude for his immense support system, his family and bandmates – Greg, who was there every step of the way, for treatments in Boston and Falmouth – and the people he entrusted to run his company – Tricia, his partner in life and work, her son, Chad Enos, and his longtime employee, and oldest friend, Tim Simpson.

Born two days apart, their friendship began in the Falmouth Hospital maternity ward in 1970, and Jeff would quickly become an honorary Simpson.

Jeff Souza in August 2018 with the custom guitar he designed to defray medical expenses for his young niece.

Chris and Jeff got the chance to relive their youth during Jeff’s final year. Jeff had about twenty original songs for which he wanted Chris to write vocals, with plans to eventually record. My husband, who barely checks his email, was suddenly texting with Jeff like a teenage girl, laughing over long forgotten private jokes. He’d come home late at night, happy and inspired after once again playing in Jeff’s basement.

I texted Jeff on May 15, a Friday, to tell him I put another video in the folder, fearing it might be goodbye. Afraid to say it, or some variation, but more afraid not to.

“We love you,” was the last message I received from Jeff. Four days later, he was gone.

In a pre Covid world, Jeff’s childhood parish would have been packed, but due to restrictions, space was limited. As we exited the church on a flawlessly sunny Friday night, we joined the masked mourners gathering around the Souza family plot. I was overcome by the deafening silence – no screaming guitar or boisterous laughter. No 6 to 9 Action.

I’ve visited Jeff a few times since that night, once recently when picking up takeout from Golden Sails, and I could so easily imagine him sitting at the bar holding court. I think of him always, when I cross the Green Pond bridge, when I pass the house that was Auntie Carmen’s, and when I hear Billy Idol, Tom Petty, The Cult…

Words he once texted offering comfort once again ring painfully true.

“The more we love them, the more we miss them,” he wrote. 

You can say that again, my friend.

Last Call Ever at Capers, Summer 1998

If you’d like to honor Jeff, you can make a donation to: Fresh Pond Holy Ghost Society, Attn: Souzapalooza Charity Music Festival, PO Box 2204, Teaticket, MA 02536. Follow Souzapalooza on Facebook for more information.