Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Father John

A true story - the pieces of this story were told to me by numerous first hand accounts. I put them together with my own small embellishments. Father John was a priest at the Catholic Church in Jerome until the 1980s when he died.

Father John

And so it was, Father John did die that night. His house burned to the ground the following day. Nobody knew who did it; the only traces of evidence were tire tracks near the old shack and a trail of coins to those tracks.

Father John was dying of a stroke when hundreds of thousands of dollars were discovered in a back room of the church, just crumpled up and lying there. Ed discovered it first. He was there to claim the shotgun Father John had promised him for towing his truck out of the ditch and off precarious ledges for so many years.

“How much do I owe you?” the frail appearing priest would ask.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ed would reply.

Father John would raise his hand and in his thick Polish accent would say, “some day I will pay you back. I have a gun for you, its old; it was given to me by a soldier. Someday I give it to you.”

Nobody knew for sure when Father John came to America, but he had been in this small abandoned mining town slash hippy hangout since the 50s. In some ways, he never left the old country. Wearing a heavy wool coat and hat, even in the hottest of summers, Father John, his two dogs and worn through shoes could be seen shuffling around the old church on Main Street every day. Then in the evening, he would disappear into the hills, to his home, an old mining shack that had no running water or electricity.

Father John drove a beat-up oxidized old station wagon that frequently could be found in places other than where he parked it. Whether the parking brake was non-existent or Father John’s memory in using it was, like clockwork, Ed and his tow truck made a trek into town from a neighboring community to save the vehicle. Nobody ever got hurt – it just happened. And living on a hillside where ne’er is a level parking spot found, it happened a lot.

Yes it was Ed who discovered the money first. Father John told him to come to the church on Tuesday as he had something for him. Ed showed up but Father John was nowhere around. Opening doors and searching for him, Ed feared something wasn’t right. And then he came upon the cash. Immediately he set out to grab the police chief, mayor and a couple of folks from the church. Seeing this much money made Ed uncomfortable. If even one cent came up missing from the pile that was wadded up, jarred and stuffed into this room, he wasn’t going to be the one accused of taking it. He needed witnesses and lots of them.
The cash was gathered and in total equaled over $200,000. Enough to pay off the church’s bank loan, a debt it incurred when the roof had to be replaced five years back and the plumbing and electric was brought up-to-date.

News of all the found money hit the small town like wildfire, even though members of the church tried their best to hide it. Ed wondered if Father John himself knew his secret was out. He wanted to be the one to tell him, wherever he was. Seemed nobody had seen the padre in some time, so Ed decided to take a drive out to his house.

Father John’s dilapidated shack sat on the Blue Flower Mine Claim. Behind the shack was a small outhouse. Around the exterior of the property were signs that said “Keep Out”, “Turn Around” and “Go Home”. Ed knew Father John was not known to be friendly or one who kept a lot of company - but this was pure fear. What was he afraid of – curious tourists or the drugged out hippies from town?
Despite the warnings, Ed pounded on the front door. The dogs barked inside but nobody answered. Opening the door, the stench of body fluids made Ed gag. The bed that sat in the corner of the shack was misaligned and between it and the wall was Father John. He had a stroke and couldn’t move, but he was alive.
After the ambulance left, Ed looked around the house, hoping to gather a few of the Priest’s clothes to take to the hospital. The place was small and cluttered. Hoarder disorder for sure, Ed thought. It looked like Father John was collecting items for the poor; stacks of mayonnaise jars in duplicate, magazines and newspapers filled the room. And women’s shoes, so many of them. Shoes on the bed, the table and even on the counter. Yet, the shoes weren’t in pairs. Upon further perusal Ed realized there were only one of each and it was always the left shoe.

Under the bed were jars of urine, not just one or two but at least a dozen. Maybe trips to the outhouse were far and few between. Growing uncomfortable, Ed decided to leave.

Two days later, Ed began to think about Father John’s home. What he had discovered would surely be a disgrace to the church. The townspeople finding out cash was being stashed in the church was one thing but learning about the “shoes” could be another.

That evening hippy Tom was stumbling around in the dark at the Blue Flower Mine. He heard something, crouched behind a bush and from nowhere came Rainbow.

“Hey Man, what are you doing out here,” Tom asked. They both chuckled – “I’m looking for his stash,” whispered Rainbow.

“Well, I ain’t found nothing yet, this place gives me the creeps.”

Headlights appeared up the road, coming their direction – both men scattered like quail.

The next day news hit town that Father John’s house burned down in the night. Father John died in the hospital the night before. Perfect timing it seemed. Some townsfolk were in grief - not over the priest’s death per se, but what could have been in that house that possibly went undiscovered.

Ed was the first one to find the smoldering home. He told the police about the tracks up to the house and the trail of coins to them.

Hippies from town, church folk, not a soul ever discovered who burned down Father John’s home that night. Whether somebody discovered what was possibly in the house, stole it and wanted to cover it up or the house just burned down on its own, nobody knew. That is at least, nobody who confessed.

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