Copyright 2006 Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved
Nancy’s father lived in a small town about an hour south of Victory. He had many personal problems, which led to the breakup of his marriage.
Lately, he had been calling Nancy and other members of the family, telling them he planned to commit suicide and hoped he didn’t take anyone else with him.
Nancy and Jack filled me in on all the details as we drove south on Indiana 47.
Her father, Philip, had been a Vietnam veteran. Things had not gone well since he returned home after his tour of duty. While many veterans had been able to exorcise the demons they brought home with them, many others would never be the same. I had known both kinds, but I confess there were many more with altered states of mind than those who came home in one piece, emotionally.
We arrived at the white, frame house with aluminum siding late in the evening. I thought how I would explain my absence the next day to my professors. I had planned to drive home after the funeral dinner, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen. I hoped betty left the door unlocked so I could get in – I didn’t plan to camp out tonight, not dressed in my one good suit after the funeral.
We got out of the car and knocked on the door.
A man with dark hair, wearing a white T-shirt came to the door. His eyes looked wild and his hair was tousled. Otherwise, he could have been anyone we bothered at bedtime.
I introduced myself and asked if I could come into the house. He waved us in. We were at the kitchen door and Jack and Nancy waited in the kitchen while Philip and I went into the living room.
My heart jumped as I saw the piles of ammunition he had stacked everywhere. Instead of them being in the boxes, they were piled up in candy dishes, on the end tables and in the middle of the floor. It was obvious he expected quite a siege.
Then he picked up a large silver pistol.
He didn’t wave it at me, but held it carelessly, with a limp wrist, like a mechanic might hold a wrench when he was relaxed and forgot to put it down..
I asked if I could sit down. He motioned toward a chair, again silently.
I cleared my throat, not knowing where to begin.
He cleared his throat.
I wiped me eyes; he did the same, but kept an eye on me the entire time.
I scratched my face; he did the same.
“May I call you Philip?” I asked.
“How are things going?” I asked.
“How are things going with you?” he said.
“Um, do you mind if I ask a question?” I said.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question? He repeated.
“Um, why are you doing everything I am doing?”
“I thought that was the way it was supposed to be done,” he said.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the handgun he so careless waved about.
“Philip, would you mind if I held the gun for a while?”
He shrugged and handed it to me, handle first.
“Philip, do you want to stay here?”
“I’m ready to leave any time,” he said.
I felt relieved.
“That’s good. How about going with us to see a doctor?” I asked.
“At the hospital?”
“If you like.”
He got up from the couch where he was sitting and left the room. I went into the kitchen, hoping Jack and Nancy hadn’t left without me.
“It’s OK,” I said. “Your dad is going with us. We’ll take him over to the hospital emergency room and maybe he will be cooperative.”
About that time, we heard an animal-like growl; yowl and yell come from the bedroom, where Philip had gone.
I lost my nerve. I wanted out of there and I wanted to get Jack and Nancy to safety. I turned chicken and herded them out to the car.
We drove to the local police station where the police chief was waiting, apparently aware of the entire situation.
“I think you did the right thing, preacher,” he said after hearing our story. “That man needs more help than either you or I can give him. You pray and go on home.”
“Can I check with you tomorrow to see how things are going?” I asked.
Jack and Nancy drove me back to Victory and it was a very quiet ride.
Betty was waiting up when I got to her house.
“Is that you, Kelly?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said with no enthusiasm. “Can we talk a minute?”
“She put down a piece she was crocheting and patiently waited for me to begin.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said, hoping she would come to my rescue.
“Did you go to see Nancy’s father?” Betty asked me.
“Yeah. He’s not well. And I’m not sure I did the right thing.”
I told her about our short visit and the animal sounds he made.
“Well, we need to pray for him,” was all she said.
I excused myself and went to the guest room she let me stay in.
The next morning I stopped in Waynetown on my way back to campus and called the police chief’s number.
“It don’t look good, preacher,” the chief said when he came on the line.
“A few hours after you left, about midnight, there was a big fire at his house. Lots of explosions – probably all that ammunition you saw.”
“How is he?” I asked.
“He stayed in the house and didn’t make it.”
I hung up the phone, got back in my car and headed west, away from the situation. I felt like parts of me died with Mark, Mark’s parents and with Philip and his family.
When I arrived at Betty’s house the next weekend, she had interesting news for me.
“We are having a special ceremony after church Sunday,” she told me.