Memories of a
(A True Story)
Copyright (C) 1995,
I remember the oddest time we were stopped by the police. [Not
that we were stopped more often than the average person, you understand.]
It was on New Year Eve some time in the late 1970's, when we were on our way to Bolton's Town
Christmas/New Year's party. A bunch of us were piled on top of Phil's
recreational vehicle, stopped by the stop sign at the end of the dead end
country road Phil lived on. His girlfriend Linda, a proper librarian, sits in the
co-driver's seat, a long blue and white knit scarf around her neck. I
stand on top, wearing a pair headphones with a microphone, the intercom I
use to help Phil keep track of his right fender, and sometimes the world.
I spot a dim pair of headlights off in the darkness, slowly rolling down
the hill towards us. |
Bolton is a small town, located on a bend in a moderately traveled road in Connecticut. There is a typical New England style white church at the bend, and another building about a quarter mile before, Bolton's town hall and meeting place. A smaller road branches off to the left at the church, leading down a steep hill with open farm fields on the left and a forest on the right. As the road levels off, it forms the right side of a capital T, turning left to form the T's leg. Phil's street is the other side of the T's top. Occasionally travelers make the mistake, thinking Phil's dead end road is still the main road. Sometimes they stop in front of Phil's house for directions, or just to see if they saw what they thought they saw before they slammed on their brakes at the end of the road.
Phil is a small town unassuming sort of guy who can ask intelligent questions.... (Kind of like Jimmy Stewart, only different,) whether he is listening to a local talk about gardening, or an MIT professor discussing sub-nuclear physics. It all seems part of the same boringly familiar continuum to Phil. To break the monotony, he has his projects, and his toys.
So here we are, sitting on Phil's recreational vehicle, snowflakes beginning their gentle descent from the dark sky, our toy's twin engines murmuring gently. We see that pair of headlights in the blue-gray darkness, slowly coalesce into a police cruiser gliding down the hill towards the stop sign.
Being small, Bolton did not have a police force in the 1970's, but made do with a resident state trooper. This one's new, I thought, having been in the area just a few months, low enough on the totem pole to have drawn New Year's Eve duty. He's probably contemplating his luck as he drives down the hill in his warm cruiser, coming to the base of the hill. He must notice our weak pair of headlights ahead, more like marker lights of what at first appears to be a large dark farm vehicle emerging from the gloom. Soon, he can see the Christmas lights draped on it; someone's out for a hay ride. But as he comes to the stop sign on his side of the T, he looks again. Our large dark form begins to appear more like an aberration, maybe an apparition, poking out of the darkness.
We sit in and on Abby, our aberration, waiting for him to make his turn, hoping he will ignore us. Phil's head is sticking up out of the driver's hatch down in front of me. "Must be the new state trooper", Phil mutters over the headphones.
He must be noticing our lack of a license plate, or perhaps that we are a little over-wide to be street legal. Then again, a few of us are laying on the grates above the twin engines, others sit with legs dangling over the sides, probably an infraction.
Of course, it could be he's puzzled over the twin lamp posts poking out from the turret, not unlike the twin cannon that once graced our twenty and a half ton olive drab behemoth.
Maybe he simply doesn't know we have rubber parade tracks, I hope. Soon, I hear Phil echoing my sentiments over the headphones.
He waits, pondering... Should he call this in to headquarters, or just the National Guard? Or... maybe... may-be... it might... just be best to simply ignore us. He wonders.
Forever is a long time.
He glides forward, gently pulling up besides us. His window opens, and we see his blank expressionless face, slowly surveying us.
An eyebrow quivers, a little smile forms in the corners of his open mouth, an eye squints. His head tilts a little to the side, as if puzzled.
He sees me on top, standing in the turret, wearing the intercom headphones. Silence... And snowflakes... In the darkness.
Another eternity passes.
Finally, he utters his now famous words: "I hope you're not stuck."
"No", I reply calmly.
He asks about a registration. Do we hear some hesitation or doubt in his voice? Or is it simply wonder?
I direct him to Phil's head, sticking out of the driver's hatch up front.
Phil calmly entertains the notion we are merely on our farm vehicle, on our way to the town's Holiday party at the invitation of the mayor. Linda gives an occasional nod in support of Phil's notion.
There are, of course, questions about the tracks, which are rubber, and hence do not tear up the road; and the weight, which with the winter's frozen ground, does not matter so much.
In the end, the officer suggests we keep our M-19 army tank (or M19 "Duster" gun motor carriage) on the dead end road, lest it, as he puts it, disturb other drivers, who might become a little... confused by our presence.
Phil admits the officer may have a point about some drivers, a few of whom may have had a little too much merriment that evening. And so we comply, running our tank back and forth a few times on the dead end road before putting it away on its pad amongst the trees behind the garden.
In the weeks following, the new officer takes a little good natured ribbing from his co-workers about seeing things; and from the mayor and a few town's people about ruining the town's Holiday party.
One Year LaterIt is one year later. Once again, we load up Phil's toy. This time, some of the townspeople form a convoy, three cars leading the way, and another behind us, shielding our rear. We make our way up the road without opposition, and pull in to the parking area of the town meeting hall. Groups of people come by, looking us over, a few clambering up for a closer look at our lamp posts or our two massive Cadillac engines.
As we sit there, the same resident trouper pulls up besides us. He shakes his head, and echos Sgt. Schultz' line, "I see nothing. Nothing!" And with a "Happy New Year", he rides off into the starry night.
P. S. Yes, all of this really happened as described.
Postscript and links
Jimmy Stewart memorial page. Jimmy played a lot of roles that remind us of us in that he was quiet and seemed to like puzzling things out, somewhat unconcerned for the opinions of others. In a way, he legitimatized our quiet, curious characters.
M 19 Motor Gun Carriage(U.S. Army Photo of nearly identical M19)