Queen City Sounds: A Tribute to Shizuko “Suzie” Murphy
By Tom Murphy
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Murphy and Tom Murphy
Published Issue 121, January 2024
Normally the January Queen City Sounds column is dedicated to trends and assessments of the year prior. But 2023 brought me the most life-altering event of recent years when my mother, Shizuko “Suzie” Murphy, passed away on October 20. I had been her primary full-time caretaker for several years and music journalism and the like was stuff I could keep doing. More than any other human in my life by far, my mom supported what I did even though I don’t know if she always fully understood what that was at any given time. When I was trying to be a childhood cartoonist she paid for some lessons in cartooning; she was the one who arranged for me to have a trumpet when I started playing music in fourth grade; and she helped me in countless and numerous ways throughout my life.
Shizuko Murphy was born right before World War II in Okinawa in the Empire of Japan, a rural backwater island chain that had once been an independent kingdom with its own language and rich cultural traditions. It is there that karate was created and various martial arts weapons attributed to ninjas because they were “farming implements.” Her older brother fought for the Japanese Army and my own father and some of his brothers fought in the American military at the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest of the entire war. Peace Memorial Park stands on Mabuni Hill where the battle ended.
Women of my mother’s generation generally didn’t complete education beyond the fifth grade and I’ve met people she grew up with for whom that was true. They had a touching level of respect for my mom who not only completed elementary school, but finished high school, attended university and became a teacher who paid off her own parents’ mortgage on their ancestral land.
This was all before she met my father in the late 60s. He was assigned to the Vietnam conflict as a medic in the Green Berets and performed health inspections in Okinawa which is how they met. As a teacher, my mom taught physical education, home economics and crafts which meant she taught not just flower arranging, Japanese doll making and the like but also music as she had skills in singing, piano and guitar.
After she married my dad in 1968 she ultimately moved to the United States and learned more English from watching television shows like Perry Mason and Green Acres and was an avid viewer of police procedural shows for the rest of her life.
My mother had four children, three boys and a girl, including me, the oldest. In my youngest years I lived in Okinawa for six critical months when I was acquiring language and learned a bit of Okinawan from my sugar cane farmer grandfather. She worked hard her whole life from her youth, to raising kids, dealing with a veteran husband, taking on three full-time jobs at points to pay off her own mortgage and also with her constant volunteer work.
Then on one trip to Okinawa she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and after having an injury she was finally diagnosed with diabetes from years of long nights and overwork with a bit of genetics in the mix. She finally couldn’t work and had to be taken care of. I was firsthand witness to the progression of Alzheimer’s while helping get her diabetes under control. The end came quickly after years of steady decline in stages and I can say her final days were in peace. Even though we didn’t always see eye to eye I will miss my mother a lot and wish I could thank her for basically making anything I’ve accomplished in life possible, even if these expressions of gratitude and affection in Asian families tends to come in the form of deeds and actions rather than mere words. Hopefully my time in caretaking was adequate indication of all of that. Sorry for joking about how you looked like you were ready to drop your gangster trap mixtape when you wore your hoodie, mom.
To see Tom Murphy’s music and art reviews in Denver, CO and beyond, visit: queencitysoundsandart.wordpress.com
Tom Murphy is a Denver-based music writer and science fiction/fantasy/horror creator. He is also a musician, historian and itinerant filmmaker.