The Old Mansion in Town

If the house could be said to have had a golden age, this was it.  The Phillips girls were all handsome and well dressed and they navigated the Walhonde High School social scene with aristocratic grace and confidence. In the late fifties and early sixties an invitation to the Phillips house was the high mark of status among the youth of the town.  Parents then trusted the good Colonel and his stylish wife as chaperones. Even in his vigorous sixties, Colonel Phillips was a squared-away, imposing figure who always found himself cleaning and oiling his handguns as he welcomed the young men of the town into his estate. None dared cross the Colonel.

In that happy time the house was filled after every ball game with kids sixteen to eighteen years old.  The Phillips bought an old Wurlitzer jukebox and had it installed in the third-floor ballroom. The high-school dances were still held at the school, but the real parties were afterwards and always at the Phillips mansion.  The house for a time set a higher tone for life in the town.

The eldest daughter, Jane, was a blonde with a sparkling smile and the largest reservoir of that mystique that only young girls have and only for a while.  There wasn’t a boy at Walhonde High School who wouldn’t have dropped his steady for a chance with her. In the fall of 1962, she attended an Everly Brothers concert in Charleston.  Phil Everly saw her in the crowd, sent word to her through a roadie and met her backstage. She invited the brothers to her house, went home with her three girlfriends and a chaperoning father, called other friends and put together a real party for Phil and Don, who came immediately.  Phil talked to Jane long into that evening until Colonel Phillips intervened. Before leaving he pressed her for her address and wrote to her for almost two years until Jane became attached to the local boy who would become her husband. Just before the letter writing ended, Phil had arranged for Jane to come to Philadelphia for a taping of American Bandstand.  The Everly Brothers were the musical guests for the show and Phil had high hopes that Colonel Phillips would bring Jane there so that, after his performance, Phil could be seen by teenagers all over the country dancing with the girl of his – and everybody else’s – dreams. Phil wrote a very polite and respectful letter directly to the Colonel and included airline tickets in the envelope, but Phil’s advantages of fame and fortune were finally outweighed by a strong and handsome young man who had the advantage of living in the same town and going to the same school as Jane and the Colonel never had to decide whether he would have allowed the trip to Philadelphia.

One boy who attended almost every gathering at the Phillips house in that day was Lawrence Hays.  He suffered from a terribly disfiguring cleft palate and the damage to hearing and speaking that such a condition usually caused in that early time.  This boy had been shunned and otherwise horribly treated in elementary school and was craven and terrified as he began high school in Walhonde. Jane Phillips would not have it.  She befriended the young man and worked through every channel she knew to encourage him to attend the parties at her house. When he finally made it there, hair combed, coat and tie, shined shoes, Jane without saying a word let it be known that she would judge all of the boys by the way they treated Lawrence.  In only weeks his carriage changed. In only months he began to participate in classroom discussions and it soon became obvious that he had a profound gift for drawing. He made a dozen sketches of Jane that the family hung throughout the house and went on to a lucrative career as a commercial artist for Monsanto Chemical Company.

All four of Colonel Phillips’ daughters made use of the advantages of such a home in such a town and found good husbands for themselves.  None of them remained in the house past their 20th year and all of them followed their husbands’ prospering careers to faraway cities in the south and midwest.   The Colonel and his wife kept house there until 1968. He was 75 then and she 71 and, although they loved their home and although they had maintained it well and even added to its glory, they knew it was time to simplify, reduce their workload and relocate themselves to a place with milder winters, nearer to one of their daughters.

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