Citizen’s Arrest, Citizen’s Arrest

Finding a key to the past

By Bill Fields

After a lifetime of watching Barney Fife — and more to the point, laughing at his foibles — I was beyond due.

Not too long ago, I think the lovable but bumbling deputy left Mayberry and drove the squad car to Southern Pines. And once he arrived, he was intent on making me pay up.

I should have been viewing a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show instead of having the channel on MSNBC and Lawrence O’Donnell, but Barney still had the last word.

It had been a long day — sweaty and muscle-achy tiring — of lifting and sorting, saving this and tossing that as my sisters and I emptied the old homestead. We combed through stuff at the house that had been tucked away for many years.

Some of the items had belonged to our father, who passed away in 1980 after a work life of various pursuits but that, in his last decade, had been in law enforcement. As a policeman and deputy sheriff in the 1970s, Dad accordingly had the tools of the trade.

Arriving home at the end of a shift, he would remove his duty belt just like the Cartwrights did when they stepped inside the front door of the Ponderosa. Off came his service revolver in its holster, a case with extra .38 caliber bullets, lead-filled leather sap and handcuffs.

I hadn’t seen any of those items in nearly 40 years but there, in a drawer undisturbed for nearly as long — along with a desk caddy containing pictures of his grandchildren, cufflinks, tie clips and loose change — something shiny glinted from the bottom.

At first I thought it might be one of his PaperMate ballpoint pens — he always carried two in his shirt pocket when setting out on an eight-hour shift — a shoehorn, cigarette lighter or stray metal golf spike. Then I got a closer look: handcuffs.

The restraints, like the rest of Dad’s police accessories, had been off limits way back when. It was a thrill to discover them.

“Hey, look what I found,” I said, loud enough for my sisters to hear in another room. “Handcuffs.”

They were heavy and scratched. A six-digit number was etched on the top of each. My father’s initials were on one ring, his name on the other.

It was a busy day, about noontime. I set the handcuffs aside.

Ten hours later, in the living room looking at the TV — I think I was too weary to really watch — I recalled the handcuffs, retrieved them from a banker’s box and came back to my chair to give them a closer look. I hadn’t expected to find them among all the stuff and I was curious.

One cuff appeared broken, disabled by age or intent when my father was forced to retire because of illness, its half-ring swinging back and forth freely like a mini Ferris wheel. The other metal ring, though, was functional and lockable, its teeth clicking audibly as I held it and clasped it closed several times just to hear the sound, which got my sisters’ attention as they went through photo albums at the other end of the room.

The working cuff was the one I put on my right wrist.

All I needed was Gomer Pyle’s wrist in the other metal ring and it would have been full Barney, because there was no key to go with the cuffs.

There was laughter, the way there had been laughter when Dad got a drive-in cheese dog in Archdale that came sans dog, or when my cap had been snagged by the treble hook of a lure and cast off my head and into Badin Lake.

Then there was a bit of panic. I do not have a dainty wrist, and it was being pinched pretty hard.

I decided to drive to the Southern Pines police station, steering with my free hand and resting the other on my leg. I was grateful the car was not a stick-shift model, and as I set out, I thought: Do not speed. It being late at night, the station door was locked. I pushed the intercom button and got a dispatcher.

I explained. She laughed.

Once inside, I heard the dispatcher reach an officer on the radio. Within 10 minutes, she had entered the building and was walking down the hall. I stood up and held out my right arm.

She laughed. I explained.

I can report that a handcuff key circa 2018 will unlock a handcuff circa 1978. Unshackled, I drove home and went to bed.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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