A Ride to Remember
Announcements: The Sheriff’s Office would like to invite the citizens of Tuolumne County to attend the Peace Officer’s Memorial on Wednesday, May 18th 2011. The event will begin at noon on the lawn of the Superior Court building facing Green St. in Sonora. This Annual event serves to recognize and commemorate the California Peace Officers who were killed in the line of duty this past year.
The current Citizens Academy class will be graduating late this month. The Sheriff’s Office will be taking applications for the following class. Be sure to apply early to get a seat.
And now, on to our story…
Once in a great while you meet someone who, though just passing through your life like a stray dog, manages to touch you in a positive way. Sometimes it’s something they say, and other times it’s something they do. In some cases it’s both. The experience often leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime and always brings with it, a smile.
A Ride to Remember*
He appeared to be in his late seventies. He sat quietly in the back of the patrol car, hands folded in his lap, looking out the windows as if he were on his way to church instead of jail. Now and then he nodded to himself in a gesture of finality; a silent decision made. His deeply lined face spoke of a life spent mostly outdoors, his expression was kindly, though somewhat weary. The Deputy watched him casually in the rear view mirror and eventually, curiosity got the best of him.
“Sir?” asked the Deputy.
The old man looked up into the mirror, smiling slightly, with a gaze that told the Deputy this had been expected for some time.
The Deputy imagined a fly in a spider’s web probably felt a lot like he did at that moment, but the old man’s kind, open face seemed to invite curiosity.
“Sir, this is none of my business but I was just wondering…why’d you do it?”
The old man considered for a moment, then replied, “I reckon he had it comin.”
“Okay, but why you?” the Deputy asked.
“Well, there never seems to be a cop around when you need one” said the old man.
The Deputy frowned slightly but had to admit the truth of the statement. He knew the old guy had been arrested a while back for battery but was unclear on the facts. Due to the old man’s age and the circumstances of the case, he was allowed to serve out his sentence on weekends and various Deputies provided transport to and from.
After several minutes of silence, the old man looked into the mirror again. “Are ya married son?” he asked.
“Yes sir, the Deputy replied. Five years and have two kids.”
It was subtle, but the old man detected haggardness in the Deputy’s tone and recognized it for what it was.
“I was married fifty three years, until she passed. That’s why I did it.”
The Deputy struggled to make the connection but soon the old man continued by way of explanation.
“Let me tell ya a few things about marriage, and women in general, son.”
“Great” thought the Deputy, “I’m about to get a lecture on the birds and the bees.” He was just about to write the old man off as senile when things got interesting.
“When I was a young man, the world seemed a wonderful place. Full of promise, magic, and romance. In my sixteenth year, my mind turned to marryin. It seemed to me at the time, the best thing a man could do in his life was to love a women till it ended. My heart was so full of love…well, I was just silly with it. So, I began window shoppin, if ya take my meanin. Wasn’t long afore I discovered I couldn’t make my mind up which one ta marry. It never occurred at the time that some of’em might turn me down and that would narrow the choices considerably. Now, my Dad had married five times by then so there was no disputin the fact that he was the local expert on the subject. So, I went and asked him his advice. He just looked at me sotra tired like and said, ‘Women are all pretty much the same, so ya might as well keep the first one.'”
“You can imagine my disappointment. But, my old Dad would be the first to tell ya, he had no truck with being wrong -lots of respectable folks he’d known his whole life were mighty good at it, but him…well, when it came to being wrong, he just never got the hang of it.”
“But being young and full of hope, I decided to ask my Grandpappy for his thoughts on how to pick a wife. The results were even more depressin when he looked me up and down and said, ‘You know what bigamy is son?’ Well, bein kinda proud a myself for knowin the answer I told’im good and loud that bigamy was have’n too many wives. Then he said that monogamy was pretty well the same thing.'”
“Well son, that brought me up short so I begged a ride on my Grandpappy’s mule and wondered round till late. Before I knew it I was five miles down the road at the neighbor’s place where my good friend Willard lived. He happened to be out hayin and spied me, and right away beckoned me to come on. We ended up out in the barn talkin; after they was kind enough to feed me, and pretty soon old Willard produced a jar of corn liquor that clearly wanted drinkin. Neither of us having drank before, we were both gigllin like idiots in no time. The talk fell to marryin of course, and soon we were joined by Willard’s uncle, Tad, who had been to college up in Philadelphia, set up shop there, married twice, divorced twice, got himself bankrupt, and came home with a darker view on life than was quite right. But we respected our elders so we passed the liquor. After a few snorts he looked at me level and said ‘Why get married, why don’t you just find a women who hates you and give’er everything you own right now?'”
“Well, that about did it for me. I knew I was already drunk but I finished off that jar in couple of gulps and didn’t even care when the other two kicked me for it.”
The old man looked into the mirror again and said in a confidential tone, “Let me tell you what son, you ain’t really drunk if you can lay on the ground without holdin on.”
“So next I went to the local Preacher and told him I needed ta repent of my wicked ways. But he was a sharp that man was, and he knew I had something else on my mind. So I told him my hearts desire and he kindly listened without interruption. I told all that was in my mind about marryin and finally ended sayin that I didn’t want to make a mistake by pickin the wrong girl. The Preacher just chuckled and said ‘Not to worry my boy. That’s the beauty of it no matter who you marry. A married man never has to worry about mistakes, they’ll always be pointed out to him and he’ll constantly be reminded of them.'”
“The look of despair on my face must have been a sight and taking pity on me, the Preacher invited me to a wedding the next day and said I could sit and watch in the pews. I could hardly wait and got myself a seat as far forward as I could. As it happened I was seated next to a young couple with two swaddlings in tow. They did their best to keep them quiet but the mother had to take one or the other outside several times and I sensed the tension between her and her husband. Eventually the ceremony commenced and I was awed by how beautiful the bride looked. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that right in the middle of the vows, she was weeping openly, though smiling also. The young father next to me noticed my surprise. He leaned over and whispered, ‘Don’t worry friend, it’s normal for the bride to cry during the wedding… his turn, nodding at the groom, comes later on.'”
“The overwhelming sense of discord connected with every mention of marriage had me plain slack eared. As the summer wore on I heard every manner of woe on the subject from both sides of the fence. I overheard a widow at the five and dime sayin to her friend that the liveliest thing her husband ever did was die! Her friend asserted ‘All men are cads. If you happen to see one open a car door for his wife, you can bet it’s either a new car or a new wife.”
“Down at the barber shop, which was always full of married gents, I heard the worst yet. Mr. Delaney was getting his bowl cut when he up and stated ‘Robbery of a man’s wealth is usually thought dishonorable, unless it’s done by a women through marriage.’ Mr. Fredericks seemed to agree when he quoted some author as sayin ‘Women are April before the wedding, August for a season, and December all too soon,’ which was followed by nods of general consent throughout. In case I wasn’t soured enough by then, Judge Clifford added ‘When you marry the girl, you marry her family too. Ain’t it strange how a man always prefers his wife’s mother-in-law to his own?'”
“Well son, I’d had enough and I put the thought of marriage as far away from me as the east is from the west. I became resolved to a life of bachelorhood, firmly seated in the belief that women are the most fiendish instruments of torture ever devised to bedevil the days of man. I persisted in this view all the way till September when, upon arriving for the first day of school, my eyes beheld the most beautiful sight any man ever saw or ever will. She was sitting in the front row with her hands folded on her desk in front of her, she was new to the school, and her name was Sophia Novelle. All my worries and fears fled away like colts in gelding season and I walked right up to her, told her my name, and informed her I intended to propose. Then I just stood there like an imbecile staring into those huge brown eyes, not having a word left in me. An eternity later, in an encouraging kinda way, she broke that awful silence by saying, ‘Well, even if one is on the right track, he will still be hit by a train if he just sits there.'”
“I was done for, hands down.”
In the silence that followed the Deputy recalled the events that led the old man to his present situation. He had been walking his dog one evening when he came upon a young couple arguing next to a parked car. They were well known in the neighborhood for this and the young man had been arrested for domestic violence several times. The girl was not strong enough to keep him away, wanting to believe the lie, that things would get better. The argument threatened to turn physical and the girl ducked, protecting her head as best she could. The old man, according to witnesses, had turned his dog loose on the young man and then set about him with a walking stick – doing surprising damage – then stood over him until law enforcement arrived.
“So, in a way, you were protecting your wife?” the Deputy asked.
“I suppose I was protecting the idea of her. I miss her terribly, even now, and the stress must have taken hold for a moment.”
“Do you regret…?”
“No son, not for second, not in a million years” the old man interrupted.
“…I meant marrying” the Deputy continued.
“I know” the old man said, rocking slowly back and forth, and smiling a wryly.
The Deputy sighed, realizing the old man had been engineering this conversation right from the beginning.
“So, after fifty three years, what advice do you have on marriage?” the Deputy asked expectantly.
The old man concentrated for a moment then looked steadily into the mirror. “I highly recommend it” said the old man, nodding.
“And since your already married, the best advice I can give you is some on stayin that way. Son… maintainin a marriage is a lot like maintainin a barbed wire fence. It ain’t easy and the effort will leave you cut and bleedin sometimes. But you’ll keep the wolves out…and in time, you’ll heal.”
* The story is based on actual facts however, the names and circumstances of the people involved have been changed to protect their privacy.