I had a friend in high school who had a unique way with words.
This friend had an expression he liked to use to describe people who were a bit different. He used to say, “That boy has a different drum in his head.”
My friend didn’t mean that in a bad way. I think he was of the opinion that the world needs more people who occasionally swim upstream.
If there was ever a person who was born with a different drum in his head, that person was my brother-in-law Peter Murphy.
Peter, who passed away last week, was married for 39 years to my older sister Mary. Over the weekend, I mentioned to Mary that — other than family — I’ve known Pete longer than I’ve known anybody else.
But saying you know Pete and actually knowing him have always been two separate things. Here’s what I know — or knew — about Pete. (I find myself still wanting to talk about him in the present tense.) He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. Well, once you understood his definition of nice. He was also, without question, the funniest guy I’ve known. But not always funny in that “A guy walks into a bar ...” way. Nope, Pete was funny in a “What did he just say?” kind of way. At his funeral Tuesday in Emporia, Kan., I said that Pete, like his late mother, always made me laugh, whether he meant to or not.
Pete was a very talented musician who could be handed a musical instrument he had never seen before and five minutes later play it like he had been playing it all of his life. Seriously, who just figures out how to play the bagpipes?
But for Pete, just playing an instrument wasn’t enough. You had to play with a little flair; you had to play like you had a different drum in your head.
Pete loved to play the recorder, and he always had several of them lying around his house. One day, Pete decided that he wanted to play two recorders at once. Why he wanted to play two recorders at once is something that never occurred to anyone who knew him to ask. With Pete, it was always “Why ask why?”
Pete taped two recorders together. He angled one recorder toward his left nostril and put the other one in his mouth. He then played one recorder with his mouth and one with his nostril.
But more than anything else, Pete was a great husband and an amazing dad. For my nephews Eric and Owen, growing up with Pete was like growing up with a combination of Captain Nemo from “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea,” the Absent Minded Professor and a character from a “Monty Python” sketch.
On Tuesday, several of Eric’s and Owen’s friends described, with great fondness, what it was like to hang out at the Murphy house. All of the stories the guys told about Pete were funny, and all of them were spot on. One of Eric’s friends told me that Pete had a way of summing up complicated situations in short, direct sentences.
“You would go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I felt that way, and I would have never said it that way,’ but he was always exactly right,” he said.
One of Pete’s trademark moves was to walk into the middle of a conversation and just stand there for a while. Then, just when you thought he wasn’t paying attention, he would say something that made everyone laugh hysterically while, at the same time, getting right to the point of whatever was being discussed.
What Pete would do is walk into a room, toss in a verbal hand grenade and then walk away.
Pete was a great guy, a great husband, a great father, a great uncle and a great brother-in-law.
Who happened to have a different drum in his head.
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