Opinion: I almost got shot

The city was on edge. The man of the house had a gun.

Mar 12, 2018 by

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He pointed his right hand with a pistol at me as I rounded the hallway corner into the den. Shocked, I stopped and stood frozen. His newspaper fell off his lap, and he sat upright. “You scared me half to death!” he shouted. “Go to your room now!” and with that, I turned down the hallway, into the kitchen and down the stairs to my basement bedroom.

It was the summer of 1966. I was a 19-year-old nanny in Evanston, Ill., to a family with five children. This job was a tradition for Bethel College women students looking for a chance to earn some money, see the city and do traditional things — cooking, cleaning, taking care of children.

There would be about six of us women that summer and, by the way, there would be about that many Bethel male students driving Chicago Transit Authority buses as their summer job. I was up for a job and adventure!

This was a Monday, my day off. I had permission to take the family’s Ford station wagon to pick up a couple of other nannies, and we had spent the day doing tourist things: a museum tour, meeting with other Bethel students for supper, attending an outdoor concert in a city park. The late-night program, and some later-night conversations and delivering my two nanny friends, meant I entered my suburban garage about 3 a.m.

I quietly turned the key to let myself into the house and proceeded through the kitchen. I noticed to my right that someone had forgotten to turn off the light in the den, so, with purse and jacket in hand, walked down the carpeted hall and entered the den to find Mr. Murphy (not his name) sitting in his chair with customary newspaper on his lap and glass of Scotch on his side table. This time, he had a pistol in his hand.

The summer of 1966 was known for many things, but in Chicago it was the summer of fear. Richard Speck murdered eight student nurses in mid-July. The gruesome recounting by an eyewitness who hid under a bed led to a city-wide search. (He was later arrested for multiple murders and sentenced to death but died in prison in 1991.) The city was on edge.

My parents were worried about their daughter. Bethel friends sent letters wondering if we “girls” were safe. The city was dangerous? College women were targets?

My boss, the startled and scared breadwinner of this affluent family, was ready to kill. He did not shoot. He shook his pistol at me, barked out an order and slumped into his overstuffed chair, pistol hanging from his right hand. We never spoke about the incident.

Now it is 2018, and there has been another mass killing, this time of schoolchildren in Florida. Hysteria fills the culture. Fear dominates every discussion. Once again there are pleas for prayers and pistols. The president suggests arming teachers.

I am enraged. More guns in the hands of civilians will simply mean more deaths.

I almost got shot 50 years ago. I wonder if Mr. Murphy remembers his nearly fatal mistake. I was not Richard Speck or even an intruder. I lived in the house. I was hired to take care of his children. I was “family.” He was ready to kill anything that moved. Thank God he did not pull the trigger.

Dorothy Nickel Friesen, of Newton, Kan., is a retired Mennonite Church USA pastor and conference minister.

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