Philip the Hermit

I used to see Philip pushing his bicycle up Mason’s Hill toward the general store. He wore a porkpie hat and tinted aviator glasses, stopping at times on the steepest part to rest. It was an old-style bike, one speed, fat tires and a metal basket on the front. If there was a hermit in our town, he was it. He lived on Dingle Road, in a house that hadn’t had a coat of paint in years, one of those New England stringer homes, where buildings get added on in a row like blocks. The unmowed grass grew tall and dried. The place looked unwelcoming, and that’s probably the way he liked it.

Philip may have shunned people, but nearly twenty years ago he stirred up his neighborhood. It was a quiet Sunday summer afternoon when Philip dressed in winter clothes and took shots at his own house from the outside. Neighbors called the town police, but the chief realized this was beyond him and called in the state police. Things were quiet when the cops came, but Philip had barricaded himself in his house with several loaded guns and ammo. The police moved the neighbors out of their homes and used a loudspeaker to get him out, but he wouldn’t budge. A Special Tactics Operation Team surrounded the house. Finally after seven hours, police launched a canister of tear gas into the home, which finally drove him out. He was taken to a ward at the VA hospital, where he stayed for a couple of years.

Turns out Philip, then nearly 60, used to teach math and physics, but he got fired when he hit a fellow teacher. He didn’t deny doing it nor did he explain why. He sued successfully for back pay. He also wanted to be reinstated but that didn’t happen. 

After the incident, neighbors said Philip was quiet and kept to himself although one got to know him when they repaired a water line they shared. She said he was intelligent, well read. He was profoundly hard of hearing so she made sure she faced him when she talked. An elderly brother dropped off groceries.

Then Philip returned home. He once asked Hank once if he worked in Northampton because he needed a ride, but he didn’t. He told him of another man in town who did and that arrangement lasted a while until he moved. Another man inherited Philip. Bruce said Philip would call him from the pay phone at the store to arrange a ride. He’d be waiting outside his home, and Bruce he didn’t mind going out of his way for the man. They rarely talked and then he dropped him off at the law library. He didn’t explain what he was researching or much about himself.

One fall afternoon, I was stacking wood and lost in thought until I looked up to see Philip staring at me. He held his bike so quietly he could have been an apparition. He didn’t introduce himself, but of course I knew who he was. I don’t know if he knew my name, because he didn’t use it. He wanted a ride back and forth from Northampton. His hearing aids weren’t working, so I couldn’t explain how we could arrange that. I found paper and a pen. I would be leaving at 6:15 a.m. and I would come by his house.

I went the next morning. It was before the change in time so it was still dark that morning. It had rained that night, so everything was black and shiny in the headlights. I stopped in front of his house. No light was on inside. No sign of movement. I thought to sound the horn or knock on the door, but I didn’t think he would hear either. I wouldn’t even know which door to knock. I waited fifteen minutes, and then drove off.  

I didn’t see him again. Two years later, in the middle of February, Philip died alone in his house. The medical examiner ruled he died of natural causes, likely a heart attack. He was 72. The police found him locked inside his home after the person who delivered him meals felt something was amiss. He had lived in town for 20 years and the police chief noted he was a man who didn’t want any outside help.

Another piece for Redneck’s Revenge and Other Stories. I am moving documents from an old computer to a new one, and this is another I found.


One thought on “Philip the Hermit

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is amazing to me. My actual nickname, in life and online, is “Philip the Hermit”. I am also a veteran, although only half the age of your hermit. Also hard of hearing. And I am indeed a hermit who rarely leaves his house (other than to go to work — I haven’t lost my job, yet). I’m even partial to that type of bicycle. The main difference is, I don’t like guns and don’t have any, so I can’t shoot my house. Mostly I end up working on it, which my neighbors find very interesting.

    Wow. Just amazing.

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