A Policeman’s Life
Duty and kindness serving the citizens of a small town
By Bill Fields
At a gathering of my Pinecrest classmates a few months ago, men and women closing in on 60 like a restless Corvette, one of them pulled me aside early in the evening to tell me a story. During a stressful year that included some challenges, listening to his recollection turned out to be a highlight of 2017.
In the late 1970s, not long after we had graduated from high school, my friend had gotten in his car after a few too many drinks at a work party. Realizing his condition, he parked in an empty lot in West End. As my friend tried to sleep it off, my father, then a deputy sheriff working the second shift, came upon the car to check it out. Startled and scared, the driver roared away quickly. Blue lights on, Dad soon followed, and my friend was pulled over, more anxious than he had been a couple of minutes earlier.
As my friend, an African-American, was recalling the encounter, it seemed like a scenario that these days all too often unfolds into disaster. But his tale didn’t have a bad ending. When my father walked up to the offending vehicle and pointed his flashlight at the driver, he recognized who was behind the wheel and let him explain what had taken place. There was no overreaction, no show of force, no ticket, no crisis. After a warning from my father and a promise from my friend to go straight home, that was it.
An anecdote isn’t everything, but hearing it sure made my night.
Dad came to law enforcement late, when he was in his late 40s, and it became a belated career after a series of jobs following World War II — farmer, gas station operator, clerk and factory foreman. He worked as a third-shift radio dispatcher in Southern Pines, then was hired as a patrolman in Aberdeen. He also had two stints as a Moore County deputy and, during the latter, when he was a warrant server, he got to drive the squad car home.
Whether wearing Aberdeen blue or Moore County khaki, Dad looked sharp in his uniform, probably cocking his hat a few degrees more toward jaunty than specified. Some of his fellow officers went for low-maintenance plastic-exterior work shoes, but my father’s black ankle boots were leather that he kept beautifully shined with a sturdy brush that seemed older than he was.
I was fascinated by the shorthand of the radio communications, the 10 codes. On the occasional snow-day morning when I was riding shotgun, there was nothing better than driving into the Town and Country shopping center and hearing Dad 10-20 at Cecil’s Steak House for breakfast. A few years later, riding through Aberdeen in my girlfriend’s orange MG en route from Chapel Hill on a sneaky trip to the beach, I knew Dad was on duty and got to the town limits hoping he was out of service having a meal.
Being a cop — although Dad hated that word — in Moore County back then was a lot more Mayberry than Manhattan. Directing traffic after July 4th fireworks at Aberdeen Lake could have been as dicey as things got. I am not aware that he ever had to draw his .38 caliber service revolver. (He let me fire it once, at a tin can out in the country north of Southern Pines, and that was enough.)
Dad was involved in one high-speed pursuit, when a car raced north at 100 miles per hour on Highway 1 until it took the Morganton Road exit and crashed at Memorial Field. Investigating bad car wrecks was the toughest part of the job. Once, on a day when Dad got home after dealing with a serious accident, he quickly corrected me when I mentioned that I wished I had been able to see it.
He was an imperfect man, but being a policeman brought out his best. On a cool, dreary day in 1980, through a rain-dappled rear window of a Powell town car on the way to Pinelawn Memorial Park, I was reminded that others thought so too. Many officers from multiple area departments lined our route and blocked intersections, traffic not the reason for their presence. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.