I was named after both of my grandfathers – Alexander Healy from Worland, Wyoming, and Dr. Bela Horvath, from Budapest Hungary. Strangely, I see myself as a mix of both men, with a peppering of both of my parents thrown in for flavor. I have my father’s intellect and sense of humor, which I’m sure he got from his parents.
I’m sure that I would have loved both men but it is my maternal grandfather that I remember the best and had a special relationship with. Lately I have been remembering the time in January 1983, a year after my mother died, and nearly a year and a half after the death of my grandmother, when he came to Bolinas during a wild storm – only to ask to be driven back into San Francisco that same evening to see jazz great Turk Murphy and his band play at Earthquake McGoon’s club on Fisherman’s Wharf. “I haven’t seen Turk Murphy since 1939,” Grandfather said.
I got behind the wheel of the rental car that he had driven from the airport and we proceeded into the city. It was a dark, windy and rainy night as we maneuvered the coast road over highway one, dodging the occasional land slide that would cross our path. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge I held tight to the car’s steering wheel as we were nearly blown into oncoming traffic. Finally, we arrived safely at Earthquake McGoon’s and made it in to the club, which was about half full due to the inclement weather conditions.
No sooner had our drinks arrived that Turk Murphy fired up his band for another set. It was about 10 PM, and we had arrived an hour or so into the night’s performance. Grandfather beamed fondly at the band, tapping his feet to the music. We sipped on our drinks and grandfather filled me in on the time in 1939, the year that my mother was born, that he saw Murphy and the band play. Then, without warning, grandfather jumped up from his chair and walked quickly to the stage, waving his whiskey glass in the air.
“Turk! Turk! It’s me, Alec Healy!” Grandfather shouted from the floor. The bandleader shot him a confused look, then turned away and kept conducting the band.
Grandfather walked back to his chair, dejected. “He doesn’t remember me,” he said, placing an elbow on the table. It was the first and only time I ever saw him look sad.
We ordered another round of drinks and listened to music, grandfather no longer enjoying the scene. After a little while the band took a well-deserved break in between sets. Since the hour was getting late, I excused myself to use the restroom before the long ride home to Bolinas. That’s where I encountered Turk Murphy – standing at a urinal doing his business. I waited for him to finish and introduced myself to him while he was washing his hands.
“Excuse me, Mr. Murphy,” I began. “You know that older guy who was yelling at you when you were on stage? Well, that is my grandfather – who for some reason thought that you would remember him from a performance back in 1939. We just drove here in the rain from Bolinas – and it would mean a lot to him if you could just drop by the table and say hello.”
We peered out of the restroom together and I pointed out the table where Grandfather was sitting, alone and sullen. Turk Murphy agreed that he would do it so I went back into the restroom to relieve myself and prepare for the trip home.
When I returned to the table Grandfather’s whole demeanor had changed and he was in an animated conversation with Turk Murphy. Grandfather introduced me to Turk, who pretended that we had never met. I played along and shook hands as if for the first time. The two gentlemen talked about music and all of the years that had passed. After a few minutes, Turk excused himself to get back to the band for another set.
After the bandleader had left, Grandfather told me about how Turk Murphy had stopped by the table and asked him if he was Alec Healy. Grandfather said that he was surprised and delighted at the experience and couldn’t wait to come back and see him again.
“But it was the strangest thing,” Grandfather continued. “He must get around because he said that he recognized me from Bolinas!”