Friday, May 19, 2006

"Living in Victory," Chapter 21

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved

Chapter 21
Since I began preaching at Victory, I had gained a new respect for the written word; not just the Bible, either.
I had always been a so-so student. I liked to joke that I was in my junior year of college before the academic dean – or anyone else – saw me study in the library. I would only do the required amount of reading, in my room, no more, write my papers and take my tests in classes.
I had much more important things to do than actually study.
I was a child of the late 1960s. I saw the TV reports about revolt against the war in Vietnam. I had figured out that the students in those colleges spent more time chasing girls and drinking as well as rioting than they spent studying.
And there was the college newspaper. It took much of my time. I spent more time there than in socializing anywhere.
I thought it was incongruous for a guy who said he wanted a girlfriend to spend so much time by himself, but I didn’t want to think about it. Maybe I didn’t want a girlfriend. Maybe I was gay! I couldn’t deal with that possibility, so I stayed busy.
I remembered the first basketball game on campus. I had planned to go and hang out with the other students; maybe grab a pizza and beer afterward.
Instead, I had stopped by the college’s newspaper offices. They were short a photographer, so I spent the night learning how to use a 35 mm camera, grabbing shots at the game and then learning how to develop film in the darkroom.
It was all too much fun.
I liked learning how to crack open the metal film cylinder in the dark, loading the film onto the spool and getting the spool into the black canister before turning on the lights.
In fact, I had to take photos in both halves of the game because the shots I took the first half were completely ruined when I couldn’t get the film into the canister successfully. I turned on the light to find the canister wasn’t completely sealed and the film had fogged when it was developed.
But I caught on. And I never regretted missing the pizza party after the basketball game. I was becoming an honest-to-God journalist! And it felt great!
The next couple years were spent pounding a typewriter, gathering information for stories and writing them.
I still felt a tingle when I saw my byline on a story. And the stories – by and large – read well. They looked good. I did well! And my photos weren’t bad either!
The only setback I had was when I applied to become the newspaper’s editor. I lost out to Bill Smith.
Smith had red hair and freckles.
“If he only wore a bow tie, he could pass for Jimmy Olsen,” I thought.
I was smug in the knowledge I should have had the job. But, heck, who wouldn’t rather be Clark Kent than Jimmy Olsen, anyway?
I also regretted not finding my Lois Lane. But, my parents weren’t married until they were in their late 30s, so what was the big deal.
I found many college girls attractive, (I wasn’t gay!) but somehow it never worked out. It never dawned on me that girls might want to have real, romantic dates instead of tagging along on a newspaper story.
At the mall in Lafayette I found the book I needed: “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?”
“It might not help Mark’s parents, even if they read it,” I thought. “But it will probably help me get rid of my demons.”
The author really did help me by helping me regain my perspective of who God is and our relative relationship to him as creation to creator.
The author maintained … rightly, I thought … that the creation has no right to demand anything of the Creator, not even to ask why God made us as He did.
I decided to spend some time with Kent and Lucy Rogers, if possible. Their home was less than five minutes from the church, so even if I didn’t catch them at home, the time wouldn’t be wasted.
I really enjoyed driving my sporty little car. My Pinto was far from a sports car – in fact, it was a wagon – but it was little and fun to drive.
One time, Kent had looked at the engine and compared it to a sewing machine. It didn’t look much bigger and it ran quietly, so I could see his point without being offended.
Kent and Lucy had a very young outlook on life and I felt close to Kent. He was – could be – the brother I never had.
Fortunately, Kent and Lucy’s cars were parked in the drive. Their old house set on a hill and I could see their cars even as I drove across the pipe cattle crossing used to keep cows from wandering down the county road.
Kent was reading by the fire when I entered the house.
“Come in!” he yelled when I knocked on the door.
There was a pungent smell whenever I drove up to the house. It probably came from the hog barn setting 50 yards or so away. I could occasionally hear the “Ree, ree” sound from the pigs when I got out of the car.
I often wanted to yell something at those pigs, as I would a dog that didn’t recognize the car. But, I had learned from Kent that pigs have a pretty delicate constitution and I decided I didn’t want to stir them up too much.
Ken had risen and was walking to the door when I pushed it open. In his hand was a magazine.
“Kelly!” he said. “Come in, come in. Have a sit.”
He regained his easy chair next to the wood stove and I took the couch across the room.
“I’m reading up on reverse osmosis,” he said with his normal winning smile.
“What’s that?”
“Oh, a lot of people are purifying their drinking water by installing reverse osmosis units in their homes. It purifies drinking water.
“You know, people are getting more and more concerned about the quality of their drinking water and about pollution,” Kent told me.
He waved the magazine.
“Mother Earth News has everything in it. I just got a box of them at trade days.”
He showed me the article he was reading. I thumbed through the magazine and found it had something about everything – mostly how things were accomplished in pioneer days.
Once again, I was reminded how deep into the soil the roots of Victory residents really went.
“What’s going on today?” he asked.
I confided in him my concerns about Mark’s family and how much it bothered me that I hadn’t had the answers for them.
“You did the best you could,” Kent said. “No one else could have done more for them. They may come around again.”
We talked some more.
“If you want, I could go see them with you after church,” he offered.
I left the offer open-ended and half-hoped I would get fired that Sunday and let the Wilkins’ family problems go and I could go back to school without a care in the world and pursue my journalistic dreams.
“Dad, do you know where Mom keeps her good scissors?”
Grace, the Rogers’ daughter, interrupted us.
I was surprised and delighted the vision of loveliness was home.
“Oh, hello, Kelly!” she said, smiling.
I blushed. She was a beautiful girl, but I felt I was an outsider and didn’t think it was proper to get involved with a member of the congregation.
I had heard the story of how her pregnant mother stopped at Victory one day, just in time to deliver Grace in Frank Zellers’ general store, how her mother died right after childbirth, how the Rogers had taken her in and adopted her.
I spoke to Grace and then there was an uncomfortable silence.
I looked at Kent, but if he noticed, he didn’t say anything, apparently studying a page in Mother Earth News.
“Mom keeps her scissors in her sewing basket, Hon,” he told the girl.
“Right,” she said, and I thought I saw her blush. “Well, it’s nice to see you again, Kelly.” And she was gone.
Kent and I visited often in the years I preached at Victor. He was a truly nice man with a nice family and I looked up to him. I still do.