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I (almost) got shot

3.6. 2018 Written By: Dorothy Nickel Friesen 1,307 read

Dorothy Nickel Friesen is former pastor of Manhattan (Kansas) Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church, Bluffton, Ohio; former assistant dean at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana; and former conference minister for the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Her book, The Pastor Wears a Skirt, is forthcoming from Wipf and Stock. She lives in Newton, Kansas.

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 summer 1966, and I was a 19-year-old nanny in Evanston, Illinois, to a family with five children. This job was a tradition for women students from Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, who were 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 men 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 Chicago-tourist things: a museum tour, meeting with other Bethel College students (men) for supper, attending an evening outdoor free concert in a huge city park. The late-night program and some later-night conversations and delivering my two nanny friends meant I entered my suburban garage probably about 3:00 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. With purse and jacket in hand, I 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 whisky 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 eye-witness who hid under a bed led to a city-wide search. (He was later arrested for multiple murders, sentenced to death and died in prison in 1991.) The entire city was on edge as a serial killer was on the loose. My parents were very worried about their daughter living in a “dangerous city.” 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 February 2018, and there has been another horrific mass killing—this time of school children in Florida. Hysteria fills the culture. Fear dominates every discussion. And, once again, there are pleas for prayers and pistols. Arming teachers is even suggested by the president. I am enraged. The simple solution of more civilian guns 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.

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