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By Michael Roberts
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Over the years, Tom and George roamed conversationally through auto mechanics into religion and in and around the psychology of alcoholics. "George had been one, and his solution was simple," Tom recalls. "He just stopped." When Tom's father quit drinking, he became a regular at Murray's, too. Even George's father, a small Irishman who still spoke with a brogue, dropped by on occasion to join in the discussion. The only subject that never came up, Tom says, was romance. But Tom certainly was aware of George's reputation as a ladies' man.
"Of course, he helped out any woman who had car trouble, and there were lots of them," he says. "And I knew his second wife, Noreen. She was a nice lady, caring and into soulful stuff." Noreen died of cancer in 1984, leaving crippling medical bills behind. Soon after that, Tom recalls, a woman named Winona Ferguson moved into the house in the yard where Noreen had lived. (George himself spent many nights at the family farm where he'd been raised, caring for his elderly father and a semi-retarded uncle. After they died, he continued to occupy the place in the evening in order to deter burglars, he told Tom.)
"I don't know if Winona worked there or what," Tom says. "I saw her shining up some hubcaps one time, but she looked the part of a bag lady, and when I asked George about her, all he said was, `Well, she come down on her luck a little.'"
The only woman Tom and George ever discussed in detail, Tom says, was George's first wife, Betty, and that was in the last two years of George's life. "He was in a bad depression, and he thought it must be a payback because of how he had treated Betty," Tom recalls. "He thought there was no way out, that he had to do these paybacks. I told him about the Unspotted Lamb, which is Christ, and about forgiveness. I made a deal with him that he wouldn't do anything stupid unless he called me first."
And several times, George Murray did call Tom in the middle of the night when he was considering doing something "stupid." The two would talk things out "the Ben Franklin way," Tom says, writing out a list of life's pros and cons and debating them for hours. Sometimes, he remembers, Ray would take the second shift in these marathon sessions. "Ray was more worried about him than any of us," Tom says, "but George was a stubborn old Irishman, and even in his depression he wanted to do things his way."
The last time Tom saw George Murray, he was sitting uncharacteristically alone, in a junk car at the back of his lot. He told Tom, "I don't want any back talk from you, but you know that deal we have? Well, we don't have it anymore. Ain't nobody gonna miss old Murray."
This could not have been further from the truth, and Tom tried to say so, but George cut him off. Within the week George had shot himself with the "slick little gun" Tom had given him years before.
Tom still makes weekly visits to the junkyard, but now he hangs out with Ray. Their conversations take a bit longer to get started, but that doesn't matter: Tom always came to Murray's to talk, and he's not about to stop now.
"I've been here ten years, and it's my home," Winona Ferguson says. "I won't give up. I like the space around the repair yard. It has a lot of character. George let the trees grow."
George deeded Winona a half-interest in the back 2.78 acres of Murray's five-acre yard. She now works as a word processor at US West, but from 1974 to 1984, she says, she worked at Murray's putting together transmissions. The Murray children do not believe she did this, Winona adds, or that she and George became lovers after the death of Noreen. "They aren't speaking to me anymore," she says sadly, "and it's all because they're afraid I'll get some of their money."
And in fact, Winona is trying to get it. Last year her lawyer filed a claim against George's will in Arapahoe County probate court, asking that Winona be designated as George's common-law wife. As such, she insists, she would be entitled to half the estate--which consists of the junkyard and $230,000 from the recent sale of the Murray family farm--as well as two inheritance tax exemptions.
"Some people were put on this earth to serve," Bob says, "but some were put here to make everyone miserable. I'm not gonna say which one Winona is, but you can guess."
Winona and Bob see each other almost daily, but they do not speak. She continues to live in the little frame house at the back of the yard where Bob works. One day, when Winona was out, Bob took some pictures of the house. "Look at this," he says, displaying snapshots of a claustrophobically cluttered interior. "There's stuff piled all on top of the stove. How could she cook my father's meals here like she says she did? What it is, she's brought her old habits with her."