Thursday, June 23, 2011


This is for James who thinks he wants to be a cop so he can drive fast.

My first chase occurred in Plumtree, North Carolina. It’s several miles north of Spruce Pine on US 19e which is, as so well said by a local guy, “Crooked as a barrel of fish hooks.”

I was sitting in my 1972 Chevy Nova at Junior Vance’s Store talking to a local bootlegger who was the current night watchman at the Tar Heel Mica Company. Clayton was quite a character that I really ought to tell you about. As we sat side by side in our cars, a load of Toe River Boys drove past us in a souped up (tricked out to you young guys) Camaro headed north on 19e. They went into the curve at the bridge over the North Toe sideways. Clayton cursed them and I spun my Nova around flipping the blue lights on, clearing the bridge just before their tail lights blinked out of sight in the next curve.

We were smokin’ in the curves and I was driving with all the skill my buddies in the State Highway Patrol taught me. I dropped my right wheels off the pavement to let them track around a left curve and straightened out multiple curves by driving right down the center of the road. My siren was screaming and I was smelling rubber.

I squalled around a curve just in time to see them head up Powdermill Road and I spun the rear around making the left onto the road. It was paved and by this time I was almost on the bumper. We ran out of pavement and spun onto gravel. The raised rear end of the Camaro slid from side to side. Even with the sexy wide tires, the gravel stole the power of the huge V8 under the hood.

The Nova crept up on them and we ran out of gravel. I heard the high grass on the mound in the middle of the tracks slapping the undercarriage and could barely see the Camaro for the dust. Then, without warning, the Camaro’s front end dipped, and the car ploughed through a creek. My little Nova dove in after them. We were out of road all together. I could see that the driver had to slow way down because the lowered front end was hitting rocks. I dodged them by weaving back and forth to ride the tires up on the rocks and stone ledges to keep the oil pan and transmission safe.

Finally, at a tiny ramshackle cabin with a bare bulb for a porch light, the Camaro driver hit the brakes, the doors flew open and they looked back at me with utter amazement on their faces. I ran them out of road as fast as they could go in a Nova 6 cylinder stock family car with lights, siren and radio installed by the sheriff. In all those steep curves, that fancy car was at a disadvantage because they messed up the suspension by changing it to make it look hot. The weight of the huge V8 was a hindrance on the rocky path and no help at all. But what the heck, what does thinking have to do with speeding? The whole thing didn't go quite 4 miles and lasted about 5-6 minutes. I'd say we never went over 50 miles an hour on those mountain roads. Big deal.

Wanna know why the fools ran from me to start with? One of the guys in the car was AWOL from the Army. I cuffed him, put him in the back of my little family car, backed all the way out to the gravel very carefully avoiding rocks and tiptoed the car through the creek, turned around at the school bus turn-around and headed for Newland earning 50 bucks from the Army for catching the little stup.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


A cop up north tazered a cow that got out; incredibly stupid but it inspired me to tell you a story.

Dottie and I had a Welsh Corgi named Corky. Corgis are bred to be cattle dogs. They’re ankle biters and so short that cows kick over them. They’re really fun little dogs that look like a regular dog that had their legs sawed off. And, that’s the long and short of it (he snickered to himself). Corky knew all about cattle. When my neighbor’s cattle got out (which happens a lot with cattle), he’d bark with a particular sound. It got so that John would ask when I called, “Are they in the road?”

“I don’t know, John. I’m off today and still in bed.”

“How do you know they’re out?”

“Corky told me.”

“Oh, I’ll be right up.”

Anyway, we had a blast with that little character. One time he caught my oldest son, Chuck, eating his food. From then on, he would guard the bag and bite Chuck every time the poor little guy got near it. We finally had to hide the dog food.

Corky was bad to chase cars and would hide in the grass on one side of the yard near the road. When he heard a car coming, he’d start to wind up, not in circles like you’d expect but more like a twirling baton. When the car got even with him, he’d shoot along the front yard beside it until he got to the property line on the opposite side of the yard and lay down in the grass to wait for the next victim (how did he know where the property line was?). He actually wore a trail in the yard that, seen from the air, would look like an old-time barbell with round weights on the ends. He never really got in the road but people in the community would ask if we were the ones who had the crazy little dog that chased cars.

The funny thing was he never chased cars going the other way, just the ones on his side of the road. We worried about it but didn’t believe in chaining a dog and really couldn’t afford a dog lot at the time. So, we employed every suggested strategy we heard of to teach him not to chase cars. One was to drive past and when he chased the car, jump out waving and screaming and running at him. Then we tried driving past, jumping out smacking a rolled up newspaper in our hands. The next suggestion was to carry a super soaker squirt gun and shoot him with water. I even tried mace as a last resort and he went off to the back yard sneezing. After we washed the little nut’s face and eyes, he went back to his point of ambush on one side of the yard.

It sounds stupid but he learned fine. He learned what our car looked like. So, we borrowed cars. Corky smartened up. He then started looking for who was driving and wouldn’t chase anything with me behind the wheel. Finally, to keep him from getting hurt, we chained him in the back yard and took him in after we got home from work.

The problem with that was that he’d chase the sound of the cars and race from one end of the chain to another. He wore a muddy path in the grass running back and forth and was usually a mess by the time we got home. He also chased the sound of the cars inside the house. He’d wind up in the living room before we even heard the car, careen through the house into the kitchen and slide to a stop just before plowing into the refrigerator barking the whole way.

All of that created a real problem for me. I worked swing shifts with the Sheriff and when I was on midnight, I had to sleep during the day. Corky drove me crazy. I’d drift off to sleep and Corky would hear a car coming and start barking just outside the bedroom window. Pop, my eyes would be wide open. After staggering through several midnight shifts, he awakened me again one morning. I was very tired and furious. I thought you little b……, I’ll fix you once and for all. I got out a single shot 12 gage shot gun and a shell. I figured the roar of the gun might scare him enough to shut him up. I didn’t want to hurt him, so with evil glee, I opened the shell and dumped all of the shot out. With eyes heavy with sleep and a really angry disposition I opened the window, lifted the screen, laid the gun beside me on the bed and waited with growing anticipation. I thought, “I’ll try to hit him with the plastic wad and sting him along with the noise of the gun. That’ll fix him good.”
Finally, Corky started to bark and wind up. I looked up and he was right outside the window. He barked louder getting ready for the car. I eased up with the gun carefully slipping the barrel out the window so he wouldn’t notice it, aimed it, braced against the kick of the 12 gauge and pulled the trigger. Corky had noticed the movement and stopped for just a split second making the shot perfect.

Instead of the roar and mule-like kick of the gun, it just went “fop” and the white plastic wad sailed out of the muzzle so gracefully that both Corky and I could see it arch in the air and hit him between the eyes. Without the seal of the plastic shell and the weight of the shot, there was not enough pressure in the chamber to do anything more. When it hit Corky, his ears went up, he cocked his head and looked at it lying on the ground in front of him and then looked up at me as if to say, “What the heck was THAT?” Well, I cracked up laughing. I pulled the gun out of the window and laid on the bed laughing and when I regained my strength I knelt on the bed, leaned on the head board to look at Corky again. There he was still looking at the wad and back at me with his ears cocked. At the look on his face, my laughter welled up again and I shut the screen, lowered the window and fell asleep with the delicious feeling of joy that the brainy little dog gave me.

One day we came home from work and Corky was lying beside the road. When I picked his body up, I saw the broken chain where he’d worn it thin. I’d so hoped he’d never catch one of those cars he was chasing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Uncle Ivor

This is for his niece, Debbie.

Ivor was a mountain man who set many things in motion in my life when such things should be moving. One was the age-old ability to lie with great aplomb. Ivor was a master. He was a poised, talented story teller. I loved his lies. He sat in his open wood shed on the only chair. The customary audience (me) was relegated to “saw logs” (mountain for any length of cut-down tree from as long as a whole tree to short pieces ready to be split into “Stove wood”). He represented something that I missed growing up.

I was born in the Appalachians in South Western Pennsylvania. It was, underneath, coal mining country and on the surface, farm country. Just when I was getting the soil under my fingernails and one leg was getting longer the other from walking on mountain slopes, Mom and Dad moved us to Philadelphia. I really never could get used to it. People talked funny, school teachers were not friends of my parents and could even be cruel. I was also confused when someone would point out a hill. The whole damn place looked utterly flat to me. Furthermore, it took weeks before my legs evened up and I stopped walking in circles. I got along OK but the abiding disgust and outright hatred for that big city and, thereafter, every other city grew from the compulsion to bulldoze farms, build houses that all looked alike and pave over everything. “Progress,” city folk call it.

One of the many things I missed in that heap of civilization was learning how to tell stories and tell them well. There were very few places left anywhere where one could find real gathering places for men with a fat pot-bellied stove and thick sliced bologna and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise. In Eldora, PA, you had to go to a “Beer Garden” or one of the ethnic clubs in near-by towns. The industrial age had pretty much beaten the life out of my neighborhood with modern stuff that Ivor’s’ community was just getting to. In that dry county, good story-telling without sloppy drunks seemed to still be stocked with people like Ivor. Nor did they leave story telling up to producers, actors and special effects.

Special effects for Ivor was spitting sharply to punctuate his point, peer into the mountains thoughtfully, lean on his thighs and turn his hands open and up as if what he was saying was undisputable. He would also underscore his visuals by propping one hand on the thigh nearest me, twist his body to face me and speak with authority. Another one of his special effects was to quietly and thoughtfully get a rolling paper out of his overhalls, tap the right amount of tobacco onto the paper woven between his fingers to make a scoop shape, lick the paper and roll it, then stick the neatly made cigarette to his lip. Lighting it was a whole different set of effects. The cigarettes might dwell on its perch waggling with his lip movements until he had a different point. He’d snatch it from his mouth; point it at me pinched between thumb and forefinger. Then he’d start the lighting process.

One time as we discussed my conflict with a local preacher, he got out his lighter, flicked it producing a flame with the sound of scraping metal of an old Zippo lighter and said, “Well, I’ll tell ye” (the flame burned in his hand). “Knowing him and knowing you.” He put the cigarette in his mouth and moved the flame toward it taking a draw creating a coal on the end. Ivor clapped the lighter shut, stuffed into the bib pocket and said, “If there’s mud in the creek, there’s bound to be a hog in the spring.” He said that, upper body facing me twisted at the waist and one eye squinting against the smoke. He lingered just a moment then settled back to contemplate the mountain quietly making the wisdom of his revelation more dramatic.

I consider that to be one of Ivor’s most profound statements. I will admit for the first time as I write these words, the statement completely baffled me. Unfortunately, I was too young and daft to ask what the heck he meant. I was looking for affirmation that the preacher was a dumb cluck and that I was right. At first, I thought that’s what it was, but as time moved along, I slowly began to wonder just what he meant. Later in my life, as I studied that statement like a Buddhist koan, I began to worry that he was mocking me. As 60 crept up on me, I realized that as country and as roughly hewn as he was, he was a true southern gentleman. He refused to say anything that would harm either one of us and simply said there had to be something wrong and we should look for the source of the problem. Now that I’m somewhere near his age, I respect that very much. With all my education, I know that I could never say it quite as well and certainly never with as much color.

Well, anyway. I wanted to tell you about his lies. There are so many that I’ve forgotten over the years and so many that I remember I can’t begin to tell them all in one essay. I hope you have a picture of Ivor in your mind as I tell you one that caused me to laugh out loud which brought Ivor all the way around in his twisty position to laugh with me.

As described in the story, “Ole’ Ivor,” Our house was 5 paces from Henson’s Creek. Ivor had built the house and built a stone wall. He built a dry wall which is a wall built with no mortar. The rocks fit together so well that it had stood for 20 or 30 years before this incident. It supported the bank and kept the creek in its place all that time. There was a foot bridge (“foot log” in mountain terms) to the other side where we parked. It was made of 2 locust logs about a foot thick with boards nailed down for a walkway and a layer of plywood on top of that. The thing was about 20 or 30 feet long and incredibly heavy. It just laid on concrete blocks on one side and right on the dirt on the other about 5 feet above the water. It bounced with every step. It had had the lovely effect of scaring the wits out of my wife when I had the urge put extra spring in my step just to hear her fuss.

One night a storm roared through our part of Avery and between the sound made by the rain on the tin roof and the flooded creek was a thundering noise that we had to shout over. We couldn’t do anything but lay wide awake in bed. Suddenly, we heard a wham, bam, bubbalam, blaboom. I jumped up expecting to see one of our cars careening downstream and instead saw a washing machine tumbling over and over in the current and hit our bridge. Relief washed over me and I was about to close the door when I saw the washing machine forced under the bridge. The machine driven by the hydraulics of the creek wiggled against the weight of the bridge and lifted the lower end carrying it in slow motion downstream.
Me: “Oh, No!”

Dottie: “What. What the matter!?

Me standing in my skivvies on the porch: “We just lost our bridge!” All at once the machine shot out from under the bridge and the heavy locust logs settled down at an angle on the bank with one log propped on one side and the other propped on the far side. The bridge twisted like Christmas ribbon candy.

I lay awake all night with the sudden revelation that the house could be swept away if the creek got up high enough. I had another horrible vision of Ivor’s unmortered wall washing away to let the creek undermine the house. It was a nightmare of visions. The darkness made thoughts of losing everything including our lives so inevitable and so scary that there was only one thing to do – go talk to Ive.

First thing the next morning, Dottie and I both called in and took the day off until I could get the bridge set back right. As soon as possible, I slogged through the remaining creek water in the yard upstream from the house toward Ivor’s. He was already in place smoking.

“Whew, rough storm.”

“Yep, purty rough.”

“Old washing machine nearly took my foot log out.” Ivor squinted at the mountain and grunted. I paused a long time figuring out how to phrase my question without sounding too scared. “Ivor, you think this creek could get high enough to wash away my house?”

“Shoot,” he said still looking at the mountain. “I seed this creek get so high, ye could look plumb under hit.” A momentary silence took place and the tension broke inside me. I laughed it out into the mountains. Ivor did his twisty thing looking full at me holding his hand-rolled cigarette pinched in his fingers and made a duet of the laughter.

After a time and some instruction from Ive, I went back down stream, used a truck, some logs and the concrete blocks to prize (mountain for pry) the bridge back into place and never worried about flooding again.
God, I loved that man.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Charlie's Story

One of the many things that I feel privileged to carry from my fathers is a steady hand and keen eye with firearms. An incident with my dad illustrates the pride we have in this skill. When living in the mountains of Avery County, North Carolina, Dad bought me a British 303 high powered rifle. We took it outside on a sunny day, set up a small piece of 2X6 scrap lumber and moved back about 50 yards. Not a bad distance for such a small target. The rifle had the typical military peep sight and a blade at the muzzle. Dad stood and took aim. The crack of the big ammunition echoed back from the surrounding mountains like a clap of summer thunder. The 2X6 spun into the air and tripped over itself as it landed in the grass. I went to it and looked, finding the hole from Dad’s round near one edge. I set it back up and walked back to him and he handed me the rifle.
I nervously accepted the heavy piece from him and positioned myself the way I learned in the Marine Corps as the “Off Hand Position” the stock pulled firmly into the shoulder and the left arm braced on the hip and rib cage – a skeletal prop. I wasn’t afraid of the kick of the rifle but that I wouldn’t measure up. My grandfather was the local pistol expert in his home town and I was sort of at the bottom of the line of succession. I mustered up some discipline, sighted the front sight blade within the “Rear sight Aperture,” took up the slack in the military-type trigger and squeezed off the round. To my dismay, dirt splattered behind the wooden block and the target didn’t move. Dad said with disgust, “Gimme that rifle! You’re no son of mine!” I was crushed at my miss and those words. I walked to the target just wanting to get away from him. I picked up the block and to my amazement, there was a hole drilled dead center! I laughed out loud and struggled to talk through the ecstasy. “No son of yours, huh? Whose son am I then, I hooted.” I took the block and handed it to him rubbing it in. “You hit it but mine went through so perfectly that it didn’t even move. That, ol’ man, was a PERFECT shot.”
All firearms were fascinating to me but once I had a substantial amount of experience under my belt as a cop, they became just tools with which I was very good. Out of a possible 300 on the range, I rarely fired lower than 298. Most officers are good with their weapons as you probably already know. What you may not know is that there are accidents with fire arms among law enforcement officers. One that always comes to my mind was the one that Charlie Harris told on himself.
I worked with Charlie when he was a deputy sheriff but he’d spent many years as a Winston-Salem police officer. He was also a part of the department’s pistol team and competed often. At the time, the police department in Winston was in the lower floor of the old City Hall. Above it was the city jail, courtrooms and offices. One day Charlie was headed out on patrol but had to go to the bathroom first and, he was having a little trouble with constipation. Charlie had been on the commode a good long time and decided to pass the time “dry firing.” Dry firing is something that’s taught in most small arms training. A shooter takes all the bullets out of the weapon – double checking that the weapon is empty and takes aim on some improvised or actual target. Charlie emptied his revolver and took aim on a light fixture just above the stall he was in. He squeezed off a couple of times and suddenly the pistol exploded in his hand. The light fixture shattered, the noise of the shot in the plaster and steel Men’s Room rang in his ears like a hundred bells and the room filled with the odor and smoke of gunfire. Charlie no longer had constipation.
He very quickly pulled up his pants, buckled his gun belt and very casually sauntered out into the hall. No one was around. Apparently the noise was contained in the room and the smell hadn’t slipped out of the room – yet. What worried Charlie more than anything was that directly above the Men’s room was a full courtroom. He rushed up the steps as fast as he could go, already out of breath and his heart raging from the unexpected explosion, shattered fixture and gunpowder smog in the men’s room. By the time he got to the door of the court room he was also sweating profusely. Charlie got a hold of himself, carefully opened the court room door and very timidly eased in looking at every inch of floor that he could see. Meanwhile, an attorney was droning on, a witness was squirming and the spectators and judge were sleeping peacefully. There didn’t seem to be any unexplained holes in the floor or wounded jurists so Charlie headed for the nearest exit, clambered into his assigned patrol car and got the heck out of there. Not a word was ever said about it.
I told that story to make my own seem less dumb.
Dottie let me buy a brand new Sig Saur 9 millimeter semi-automatic. It’s one of the finest handgun’s in the world. I was eager to qualify with it and was dry firing. I was always cautious with a handgun; especially so because I often taught handgun take-aways in defensive tactics and officer survival training. One had to be extremely careful because the students held the weapons on each other. We never had an accident in all the years I taught. I was always very careful.
I was lying on the bed, taking aim at a joint in the ceiling tile. I locked my right arm and cupped the right hand with my left pulling the right arm into a ridged gunstock – like extension of the pistol. It’s called the “Weaver Stance” developed by a deputy sheriff. You see disgustingly lousy imitations of it on cop shows all the time. I adjusted my eyes so that my focus was on the front sight blade with a slightly blurry rear sight and target. It takes hours of practice to get that front sight blade directly in the center and level with the rear sight groove. It’s called “Sight alignment.” Doing it quickly after firing a round is called “Sight acquisition.” I practiced sight acquisition and sight alignment over and over as I rested in bed. Without thinking I squeezed the trigger. Like Charlie’s revolver, my Sig exploded in my hand.
Chuck, my oldest son was on the phone in the kitchen and came flying around the corner stretching the phone cord into a squiggly line. “You OK Dad?” “Yeah, I screwed up and accidentally fired a round.” I felt really stupid and released the clip and ejected the round in the chamber.
Later, I called Dottie. “I got some good news and some bad news.”
“Oh, Gosh,” she said. “What now?”
I said, “Well, the good news is, the bullet went into a rafter and didn’t make a hole in the roof.”
“The bullet…the roof?” she stammered.
“The bad news is that I missed what I was aiming at.”

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Today's Work

I put my arm around a skeleton of a man today
And his bones said, "I love you."

I put my face against his head and his hair mingled
with my beard and they said, "I love you."

I put my heart next to his heart and they beat as one
And his lips said, "I love you.'

Mine replied,

"I love you too."

Monday, February 07, 2011

Sugar Bird

Several years ago Sugar Bird was fired. Although it disturbed me it never seemed to affect him. I brought it up to him but he just whistled the first phrase of Winchester Cathedral, and said, "Sugar Bird's a pretty bird." It made me feel better about his termination and he went happily back to his seed.

The policy manual said, as a chaplain, I could do "Creative therapies" (That has been changed since then to be clearer). So, I bought the sweetest bird in the shop and began working to prepare him to become a therapy animal. I decided that I was going to take classes in Animal Assisted Therapy and get him certified. My supervisor agreed with my interpretation of the policy but we never got that far.

One day I got a call from the compliance officer who said, "We don't have a protocol for pet therapy."

"Animal Assisted Therapy," I corrected her.

"Whatever," she said. "We don't have a protocol for it." her words were brisk, clipped and officious. I felt like I was back in the Marine Corps. My suggestion that she allow me to do research and write policy for approval by management went over like a concrete airplane. "There's too much liability." The tone of her authority ratcheted like a pair of handcuffs as she recited the oldest management excuse on the planet for quashing creativity.

I broke the news gently to Sugar Bird because he'd gotten rather attached to several patients. One was a person who rarely talked but chattered on about her life when he perched on her shoulder and picked at her shiny glasses. Another lady enjoyed watching birds at her feeders and expressed interest in birds. I offered a visit from Sugar Bird. She didn't want to hold him but loved petting him as I held him. She fell in love with him so fast and so deeply that I must confess to smuggling him in to see her one day after the edict so she could say goodbye. She just wouldn't be satisfied until I did and Iron Mike, the compliance gunner never caught us. Sugar Bird and I stopped with that one felony.

The best story I have about Sugar Bird's short career with patients is about a man whose cancer went to his brain and he stopped doing everything but sitting and staring. The family gathered in the living room for our visit and we sat together watching Dave stare blankly. I got Sugar Bird off my shoulder and Dave's wife formed his hand so that it was resting on his thigh with his index finger extended enough for a perch and Sugar Bird stepped up.

At the feel of the cool, bony feet on Dave's finger and possibly the color of his feathers, Dave's eyes lit up and he focused on the bird with obvious pleasure. Sugar Bird cocked his head, seemed to make eye contact with him until Dave drifted off to sleep. Between the time they connected and our attention was recalled to them, the family and I talked together. Dave's wife suddenly pointed to the pair and said in a stage whisper, "Look at that! Isn't that amazing? They're both asleep!" Sugar Bird had picked up one foot, tucked his head under a wing and went to sleep too. Now it was our turn to be speechless.

We all sat with mouths hanging open until a sense of peaceful quiet settled over us and we became a part of the connection between Dave, Sugar Bird and the peace that passes all understanding.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Newland is the highest county seat east of the Rockies. In my twenties, it was exactly a half a mile in diameter with the courthouse precisely in the center. Newland had a police force of two officers and a chief who were also sworn deputy sheriffs. The chief had a small office and a desk in the town hall which was a prefab double-wide, set up on concrete blocks and skirted with sheet metal. We also had a 19-something former highway patrol car with over 400 cubic inches of American iron for an engine, a 4 barrel carburetor that sucked gallons of gasoline with each punch of the accelerator and moan of the engine. It boasted one of the first electronic sirens and a bubblegum machine blue light mounted on the roof with a county radio bolted under the dash. There was a 5 round riot shotgun mounted barrel up on the passenger side of the hump with a quick release. We wore dark blue uniforms with a Sheriff’s Campaign Hat and specially designed badges and shoulder patches. We were sharp. We also had a collection of town boys whose petty crimes and sense of competition with the local law could make things interesting for a bored cop in a tiny mountain town.

This new career of law enforcement was serious business for me. I could write a book of tickets a week in that little town (on midnight shift) and got the reputation of being willing to write my own mother a ticket. I probably would have done that if I’d had the chance just to say I did. One time, a group of irate citizens got up a petition to get rid of me. Luckily for me, the town leaders were of the Law and Order type and threw the petition in the trash.

Behind Greene’s Supermarket in Newland, NC, there was an empty field with a mound of dirt toward the back. It was an old pasture that looked like someone dumped a load of dirt for fill or something and stopped after one or two loads. The field was grown up with weeds about two thirds of the way to the mound and then it was just high grass. The town boys used to love to hang out at Green’s in the parking lot and raise hell half the night until the local residents complained. Then we’d run them off, arrest one or two for “Public Drunk” or just harass them into leaving by stopping them every time they moved a car.

One night Isaac Clark, the evening shift officer, called me and asked if I would come in early so we could work on something together. When I showed up, he met me at the Sheriff’s Office. I got in the car with him and we made a patrol around town and he explained the situation. The town boys had started going to the mound in the old field and he believed they were smoking pot. This was incredibly good news. Neither of us had ever made a drug bust before and this was our chance. The bad news was that the kids were smart in choosing their site for this heinous crime. No one could approach the mound without being seen from any direction. We had to figure out a way to get to them quickly enough to prevent them from ditching the stash. Having accomplished something similar one time in my short career as a cop, I was up for the adventure.

Sometime before that night, I noticed a group of boys gathered in a circle in front of a local gas station that was closed for the night. There was one orange glow moving slowly from hand to hand and I knew that it was pot. I made a couple of drive-bys and then eased the patrol car around the back streets and parked it a safe distance from the party. I slipped around the side of the service station stepping over the usual debris around the service stations of that era and when I got to the corner of the building, I peeked around. To my surprise, the circle had somehow drifted to within a couple of feet from my spot. I estimated the arrival of the roach to the kid right around the corner and stepped out at the right time, grabbed him by the arm, spun him around and said, “Hi, there. Wanna give me that and we’ll make a night of it?” The group scattered like sheep before a wolf. I heard discarded oil cans crunching and banging, people falling over old tires cursing and car doors slamming. Engines were firing all around and blue exhaust was left hanging where ratty old cars had been sitting. As quickly as I grabbed the ol’ boy’s arm he popped the roach into his mouth and swallowed it! I actually heard the ember sizzle as it hit the saliva in his mouth.

I couldn’t contain myself and my decorum as an officer of the law went out the window when I absorbed the whole scene. Before his tongue could cool and just about the time his eyes were about to pop out onto his cheeks, I cracked up. I clutched his arm more for support than to keep him in custody and laughed so hard that the tears fogged my eyes and my nose started to run. I let go of his arm and wiped my face with the sleeve of my pressed uniform and squeezed out between gales of laughter, “Go ahead, man. I got no evidence anyway.” He tentatively eased away from me toward his car looking back at me with his bulging eyes and gaping jaw until he disappeared into his wreck with rusted Tennessee plates and clattered off toward the state line.

Isaac was freshly returned from Viet Nam. Like most southern boys and especially the mountain bred kids, he was quickly made a point man for patrols. It was assumed that they knew how to handle guns and were well acquainted with moving through forests and thick underbrush. Most of those guys quickly died in the jungle because of the vulnerable positions they were assigned. Isaac told me that one of the reasons he lived was because he threw away the rifle he was issued and demanded a sawed off automatic shotgun. He said that he defoliated a lot of brush with that gun because he heard a bird flit through the limbs just ahead of him. He grinned and said, “’Course, a lot of times it weren’t no bird.”
Anyway, I determined as the senior officer, that Isaac should be point and decide how we would approach the band of weed smokers. According to his plan, we set off together, split up when we got near to being in sight of the mound and dropped to the ground. It was determined that one of us would go straight to the mound in case they split up and the other would go to the more likely direction of escape toward the road.

We slid on our bellies through the weeds and at the edge of the high grass; Isaac appeared running at top speed toward the mound. Half the town boys took off on my side of the field and without even thinking I took off after them. Amazingly, about half the crowd froze on the mound and long-legged Isaac simply ran up to them and caught them easily. I was racing with all the power a freight train trying to overtake a high speed rail transit and almost made it to the road. I was focused on making the leap up onto the shoulder of the road when I hit an old barbed wire fence about mid- thigh level and flipped over it like a tumbler. Rusty barbs ripped my uniform and gouged my legs and I went over completely on my back with my legs up toward the road and my head under the old pasture fence. I scrambled to right myself, snagging here and there on briars and barbs and struggled to the highway only to see – nothing. They were gone.

The street was empty. I stood breathing and catching my wind realizing that the only place the little thugs could go was across the road into the weeds on the other side. I eased myself down the shoulder of the other side. Having a freshly learned lesson under my belt, I examined every inch ahead of me before I stepped. I turned my flashlight off and stood listening with great discipline. I thought that I’d heard something to my right and slowly turned to listen again. I eased toward the sound, stopping to breathe quietly and test the air with all my senses. Then, I heard a snigger (mountain talk for snicker) just ahead of me. Those kids could hardly contain themselves in the game. I moved softly toward the sound, deeply focused and ready to leap to catch just one of them if I could. I took one cautious step after another until I stepped off into thin air.

I knew that the head waters of the North Toe River rose from springs in or near Newland but had never paid much attention to the marshy land in that area. I was unaware that I was in that area when I heard the kids hiding in the weeds just feet from me. As I stepped off into space, I plunged into one of those springs like a boulder in a quiet pond. The town boys couldn’t contain themselves. They burst into laughter and remained lying in the weeds on the other side of where I stood; waist deep in a little cove of spring water. They laughed until they were too weak to move and as embarrassed as I was, my determination to get them overcame my fallen pride and I struggled up the bank and nailed them as they lay in hysterics. “Nailed them” may be a bit strong here. Actually, I sort of waited out the hilarity, chagrined and dripping, then collected them for an impromptu march up Main Street to the Town Hall. I remember slogging up the middle of Main Street in Newland, my shoes full of water, my uniform soaked from the waist down leaving wet foot prints on the dry street. I think that they actually went with us because they were having so much fun that they could only anticipate more.

We seem to have come to a little truce after that. Isaac and I gave up trying to locate the stash after an unfruitful attempt at the art of interrogation and they moved future festivities elsewhere.