We all have what we nostalgically refer to as our “hometown,” that place where we spent maybe not the most years of our lives but surely the years we recall with sharpest memory; and as decade follows decade the people and places we knew in our youth add new experiences to the story of the town. I want to tell you of my personal remembrances and experiences of one of the people of my hometown.
My first recollections of this man were as a slender fellow with a flashlight in his hand, part of his ushering duties at the local theater; he was I suppose in his late teens at the time. One matinee I recall was for some reason getting a raucous response from the audience, mostly kids and young teens, when suddenly from behind the curtain of the lobby entrance there came a beam of light that scanned across our heads and a loud “Shut up” resounded through the theater, and after a second or two of silence we applauded our usher as a better show that what we were watching.
In those days, the high school we attended had a band and I recall this fellow marching in a parade for our local fair, he was also a pretty fair baseball player, and then it seemed not long after (I was then at an age when the passage of time meant little) there was in the local weekly newspaper a notice that the usher/musician/ballplayer was an MP in the U.S. Army in Germany. And then he returned home with a very tall wife who spoke with an accent; they were a good-looking couple. Soon they started a family.
Time goes on and now he is on the local police force and I was older and becoming more aware of my hometown, I came to know this man’s brother was stepdad to a boy in my older brother’s class and to a girl in my class and that his niece married the older brother of a family that lived about 400 yards around the corner from my house. My hometown was smaller then and we knew quite a bit about our fellow residents.
The years passed and now the officer had rank, and the police department grew and went through the normal changes needed for a growing town. During this period I remember a photograph in the paper, there had been an accident on the freeway under one of the overcrossings in town and there was the (now) sergeant leaning over a victim of the crash offering calm words amidst a horrible scene. Good cop.
Some years later I returned to my hometown, after a few years wandering shall we say on some paths I should probably not have taken, and went to work for the local newspaper; one of the first invitations I received for a visit with him in his office was from the long-ago usher, now the chief of police. We were to have many little meetings over the next couple of years but that first one was memorable because the chief wanted to know if he and I were “OK.”
You remember I mentioned some wrong paths? Well, one little aspect of those days was just ignoring little things like paying citation fees for, say, not wearing a seatbelt, and that might lead to being handcuffed on the main street in town and tossed into the back of a patrol unit and wished off to the pokie. Happened to me in my hometown and you can guess who the arresting officer was. I assured him that I never am bothered by someone doing their job in such a situation.
In that same period I got to know the chief’s wife a bit better, his children were known to me, the three older more so because they were more involved in local activities. Later when the paper and I had parted ways, I was managing an apartment complex in my hometown and had to call the chief to come and help remove a tenant who had died in a full tub of bath water; tough day for both of us but not the toughest day he had seen in this long law enforcement career.
That career ended some years ago now, a retirement justly deserved after the many days and nights a cop just can’t be there for events that other parents can attend; now comes the time to enjoy all the children and their children and then again, their children.
I do not know the official record, but after many thousands of times when he carried a weapon on his hip I know of no instance when he fired it in the line of duty; certainly he never had to take another’s life to safeguard himself, his fellow officers or the public he served.
For this man to lose a son to gun violence is the bitterest of ironies ever to befall my hometown, because it has stung the town just as it has stung this man and his wife and his children and his grandchildren and the thousands of friends of all his family. Not all memories of our hometowns are fond memories, let us hope this pill swallowed will become less bitter as time passes and only better times are brought to mind.
Media across the land will debate this tragic loss as they do all such losses by gun violence and constitutional amendments will be argued and lobbyists and partisan legislators will all add to a clamor we have all heard before. It is in the mind to debate the subject, but not in the heart because this time it is my hometown hurting and so I hurt with it.
Stay safe. Peace.