From the Fortress of Solitude
One of my objectives in writing this blog is to record my parent's (Charles and Luella) 'growing up' stories. I've asked them repeatedly to write them down so I can transcribe them. Heaven forbid they comply! They are fine with me interviewing them; however they are not fine with picking up a pen and coaxing the words from their brains onto paper. They share the same assumption common to our ancestors, "Nobody is interested in our old stories. Everyone is busy with their own lives." How I wish I had our grandparents, great grandparents etc. stories. Wouldn't they be interesting? Their life stories would have provided rich explanations into their behavior and decision making- which directly affects us today. We are, to some extent, a product of our environment.
Last Sunday, Dad and I spoke about his youth in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
"Did I tell you about the time I stole that police car?" he asked.
I was surprised by his confession. Who would expect their 75 year old father would turn out to be a car thief?
"Do you need to get something off your chest before you meet your maker?" I asked. He started to tell the story. I asked him to stop and jot it down. I wanted it in his own hand. "It doesn't have to be perfect, just jot down the main points and I'll rewrite it, painting you in whatever light you choose. Would you like to be portrayed as the instigator of the act or a willing or unwilling accomplice?"
"The truth will be fine," he responded.
"Then the truth it is," I answered.
An hour or so later Dad arrived, paper in hand.
When one thinks of Belle Fourche, South Dakota in the 1950's one should think of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show. It was a quiet two outhouse town on the Belle Fourche river nestled on the plains rising to meet the majestic Black Hills. Your business was everybody's business in this Norman Rockwell Town where you greeted your neighbors and strangers alike when you walked down the lazy tree lined sidewalks. The Circle Lounge was a favorite cafe on Main Street. Belle Fourche's police considered The Circle Lounge as their Sub Station, making it a regular stop on their rounds.How would you react today if your son was caught stealing a police car?
This was the 1950's, so why would one bother to turn off their car and take the keys if they were going into a shop or cafe for five or ten minutes? Besides, gas was cheap.
Charles wrote, "Belle Fourche was one of those quiet towns where you could fire a 105 Howitzer cannon down the middle of Main Street after 9:00 P.M. and never hit a soul." I would imagine good Christian boys and girls of this ear would be home at 9:00 P.M. watching their black and white televisions or listening to the radio. But what about the teens with a mischievous nature?
One summer's evening, Charles and his friend Rob Rieb were cruising Main Street. They noticed the police squad car parked running outside The Circle Lounge.
"Let's have some fun," Charles said.
They first thought to take the car's keys, making the police walk back to the station to get another pair. Then one of them increased the adventure by recommending they take the car. They stopped their car, Charles got out, walked to the squad car, jumped in, put the car in gear and drove away. Ron following in his car.
So now we have two teenagers guilty of auto theft; Charles in a hijacked police car, his friend following. Charles wondered where to hide the car to complete their prank. They had no intentions of damaging or stealing the car. It was just a friendly 'joke' on the town's cops and police chief, someone they knew well. Charles drove the car to the rodeo grounds and parked under the Grandstand. He got out and jumped into the other car with Ron.
Not wanting to miss how their night's worked eventually played out, Charles and Ron continued to cruise Main Street. An hour or so later the police found their car at the Rodeo Grounds. The car was returned to the station where it was given a fender to fender forensic search.
The story of a stolen Belle Fourche Police Car made all the local headlines. The police were made to look rather foolish. Charles and Ron had another friend who's father was a deputy sheriff. He told them the police knew who stole the car and that it only a matter of time before the miscreants were caught. Charles and Ron both laughed. They knew that if the police really knew they'd both be in the Crow Bar Hotel.
Charles and Ron pulled a prank on the police. Did they sleep at night knowing there could be a knock on the door followed by a trip to the slammer? Perhaps, considering the boys knew the Police Chief. He made it a habit to befriend everyone on the town's football team. He was also the officer who threw the switch to electrocute the only person every executed by electrocution in the State of South Dakota.
"Punish the behavior but apply no labels," is the advice I give parents of children and teens. Labels can scar a child or teen for life.
Charles grew up, married and had 8 children. He is a model citizen and one of the hardest working men I know. Responsibility is his middle name. His actions as a teen have no reflection on the man he became. It was a stupid thing he did back in the mid 1950's. Was it worthy of punishment? Of course, but not worthy of a label.
Let's keep that in mind as our young ones grow up. The younger generation should be taught correct principles. They should be expected to do their best. Punishment is necessary for anti social behavior but parent's should take care not to withdraw the love kids and teens need to feel secure in this world. Avoid labeling and pigeon holing someone as 'bad' or 'worthless'.
You may disagree, but its the teacher in me talking.