Thursday, May 04, 2006

Living in Victory, Chapter 6

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

Chapter 6 – April, 1975
It was the 1975 when I first came to the town.
I was a college student, an orphan, owning nothing but the little Ford Pinto wagon I drove, the clothes on my back and a few books – textbooks and a few classic novels by Twain, Dickens and Dostoevsky.
I would have not come to the town at all, except for a strange coincidence.
I was studying journalism at a small Illinois college and didn’t have the funds to continue my education. In the early 1970s, the government had not yet guaranteed student loans and I was afraid of debt, anyway. In fact, I was afraid of almost everything – strangers and the future … mostly afraid of the future.
My parents died when I was about 11, during a freakish spring storm. I found myself an orphan. I had been an only child and my Dad’s mother had died when I was three. Mom’s mother had died during World War II and my grandfather on Mom’s side died a year before my parents.
Dad’s lawyer made it possible for me to finish high school and life insurance money paid for their funerals and the first three years of college.
Looking back, I would have done better to choose a tax-supported state college. But I had the money, so I bought a new Pinto and chose the best private college I could afford, that would have me.
I planned to find a job in a small newspaper and hoped to follow other great writers who learned their trade in newspaper offices.
I had found a part-time job opening at the newspaper in the town where my school was located. I needed more money to finish my senior year, but realized there would be little chance of finding more part-time employment in that town.
I also wanted to find a girl friend.
I somehow believed that graduating from college would make me popular with women.
I think seeing Dustin Hoffman in “all the President’s Men” made me think I would become a babe magnet. I don’t know why – Hoffman’s character didn’t seem to be popular – but at least reporters had some money coming in, instead of just watching an estate shrink when the bills were paid each semester.
I had few delusions of grandeur – other than thinking of myself capable of becoming a great writer someday.
Actually, many of my roommates considered themselves writers. After all, anyone can do that!
I hoped to become a reporter in the great tradition of Humphrey Bogart in “Deadline U.S.A.” and I knew many of the great novelists had newspaper backgrounds. Mark Twain was one who came to mind.
I planned to find a job in a small newspaper and follow the path of those other great newspapermen.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in that one-horse newspaper. The editor had a terrible temper, I was told. Being a timid soul, I didn’t want to incur his wrath, so I looked elsewhere for employment.
I tried several jobs.
For a short time I worked for a printer. I was an assistant to the pressman – a printer’s devil, I think they used to be called.
Ira and I certainly gave the devil to another.
He called me Kerry full of crap and I called him Ira the irritable.
While I think I was supposed to be learning how to run a press, our time together became an extended debate over philosophy and religion.
While I maintained one could live one’s life by the Bible alone and that churches could be organized on bible principles alone, Ira couldn’t buy that. He thought man made creeds were essential, “How else are you going to separate your church from all the others?” he asked.
Needless to say that job didn’t last long.
One day I was walking past the building. There was a big plate glass window that gave street view to the printing operation. There, running the press, was a classmate of mine. He obviously did not fall into the discussion trap but kept his mind where it belonged – on the business at hand – printing.
I learned of a somewhat-self-employed business venture.
A truck driver had purchased a three-wheeled Cushman scooter. There was a bed behind the cab and he had decorated the thing with a bell that could be rung from the driver’s seat. He also purchased a grinder to make blocks of ice into shaved ice and he outfitted the scooter with four bottles of flavored syrup and paper cones.
The idea was to drive down the street and sell snow cones like vendors sold ice cream treats.
Each snow cone cost 15 cents. I would get a third of the proceeds, the owner would get a third and the remaining third went for gasoline and oil to run the scooter.
I quickly learned the night shift was most profitable.
I learned I would sell next to nothing driving up and down streets, so I drove to the softball diamonds and parked within view of the crowd, but far enough away to avoid being a nuisance. I don’t think anyone was selling refreshments at those games, but they should.
I would clear $20-$30 on a good night.
That was OK, but cold weather would soon come and there would go my snow cone profits.
I coasted through the winter.
Then, a new friend of mine, Allen Campbell, whom I had met through a campus ministry, told me about an opportunity in Indiana. A small church in a town called Victory had lost its minister when he passed away and the church was mourning their loss and looking for a preacher at the same time.
Allen was a seminary student in the town where I attended a liberal arts college. He said he would apply at the church himself, but he already had a preaching appointment in southern Illinois and asked if I would be interested.
I considered myself a fairly spiritual person. I was in services each Sunday and had even taught Sunday school for a while. I was also involved in the campus ministry the two campuses shared.
“So, you would be interested?” he asked as we talked outside the local Wal-Mart one afternoon.
“Maybe,” I said. “Look, how small is this town? And the church. Can they pay me to drive over there every Sunday and not just end up with a worn out auto for my efforts?”
“Hey, have faith, man,” he said. “They should pay for your gas and have some left over to replace your car after you graduate and start working for the Chicago Tribune.”
“Make that the Chicago Sun Times, and you’ve got a deal,” I said. “Who do I call?”
Allen gave me the information and when I called, a man answered. There was a buzzing, like electrical interference on the line.
“Must be Sam Drucker’s store in Hooterville,” I scoffed.
I was not getting a good first impression of Victory. What a name for a town without a decent telephone system!
I made arrangements to try out for the pulpit at the church and be interviewed.
Soon, I was speeding down the Interstate, across the Illinois prairie and into the Hoosier heartland.
I didn’t ask enough questions. The drive took me three hours, not counting the time spent while I was lost.