This is the edited version. Coleman Walker, one of the several fact checkers i have in Lebanon, pointed out the trooper was James Dodson, not Sam.
i had the best fact checker on Lebanon and my family right up until Estelle Jewell passed in May 2014. Whenever i had a question about either, i would call my mother, and she would straighten me out, which she tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to do for most of my life. Since i lost her, a number of folks who read my stuff point out my errors. i am forever grateful to those folks, especially my old deejay partner, Coleman.
i knew both James and Sam Dodson and got confused. They were both good men. i do occasionally have a brain fart. Coleman also figured out the judge was Ted Sexton. When he pointed that out, “Judge Sexton,” i immediately went back all those years and knew that man in cahoots with my father to scare the living…out of me was Judge Sexton.
In what seems a never-ending task of cleaning out stuff, organizing what i keep for future generations or toss, can bring back some pretty good memories to revisit.
i will admit to keeping a great deal more than i should. Even with that admission, i stumbled across something that even blew my mind. i don’t have any idea how it made it through 20 moves, the majority of which were from coast to coast, over 77 years, this small item stayed in my possession:My first speeding ticket.
When i discovered it sixty-one years later, it brought back a flood of memories.
I turned 16, January 19, 1960, it was a Tuesday. There was about four inches of day old snow on the ground. It was melting. The roads were wet and the less traveled still had a skiff of snow on them. My father drove me to the old armory on South Cumberland to get my driver’s license in our two-year old Pontiac Star Chief — he bought it for the family car and my mother to use primarily; it had the big engine with two three-barrel carburetors, for him.
He sat down in the lobby of the armory as i checked in and took the written test. After i passed the written exam, a state trooper escorted me out to take the driving test. This was part of the troopers ‘s duties in those days. I do not recall this trooper’s name, but he knew my father. All of the troopers in the area knew my father. He was well known as a superb mechanic, and he often would drive the Hankins, Byars, and Jewell wrecker when there were accidents and he was on call.
This trooper asked Daddy if he would like to ride along. My anxiety kicked up pretty high when my father agreed. Following the trooper’s guidance, i took the wheel, while he took the shotgun seat, and Daddy sat in the back seat behind the trooper.
As directed, i backed out of the parking space and turned away from South Cumberland to South College, which still had a bit of snow on the road. i headed south. As we approached Knoxville Avenue, i think, he told me to turn left. Again, i think he meant onto Knoxville Avenue, but i was very nervous and intent on doing exactly what he said.
i took an immediate turn into someone’s front yard. i think he said, “Whoa!” but i’m not sure. i also suspect my father was trying to muffle a laugh in the back seat, but i’m not sure of that either. Then the trooper said, “Well, i did tell you to turn left, and you certainly did.”
i backed out of the yard and finished the test. When we got back to the armory and i turned off the car, he said, “Congratulations, you passed.” i got my temporary license while they processed and sent the official copy to me about a week later.
Daddy let me drive home. i’m pretty sure he was still laughing inside.
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Fast forward to September 1961. My father was a safe and sober driver. But he also drove fast. i experienced his fast driving skills when i got my first and only “birds and bees” lecture. The rest of our family had left in the morning along with Aunt Bettye Kate and Uncle Snooks Hall to visit our Prichard family in Red Bank, outside of Chattanooga. i must have had a baseball game Friday afternoon. Daddy worked until five or later.
The two of us left Lebanon as the dark of night settled in. As we got to somewhere near where the outlet mall is today, he floored the accelerator. Those two three-barrel carburetors kicked in. We hit 95 and stayed there except when we were traveling through Murfreesboro, Manchester, Monteagle, and Jasper: US 231 south to US 41 southeast around Lookout Mountain, around the bend to the big city and back north on US 27, through a short tunnel where we kids used to hold our breath, thinking it was cool, to Red Bank. And US 41 just past the “Wonder Cave” turnoff ascended to Monteagle on what seemed to be unending switchbacks. We weren’t doing 95 up that mountain, but it felt faster around those bends. 130 miles or so.
It was one eye-opening ride for this lad. And for those of you who weren’t around then, there were only a piddling of interstate highways in Tennessee. Those roads weren’t interstate but were two-lane highways.
After we had resumed our floor-stomping speed out of Manchester, Daddy glanced at me, turned his head back to the task at hand and asked, “Son, do you know what a condom is?”
“Yes, sir,” i answered meekly, wondering if this was the big father to son talk.
“Well, he said, “Always be sure you are safe.”
That was it. My lecture on sex. At 95 miles an hour nearing Wonder Cave.
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It was the second week of my junior year at Castle Heights. i and two buddies, Mike Gannaway and Jimmy Gamble, had to attend a “Key Club” meeting on a weeknight, scheduled after the evening mess and before CQ (Call to Quarters, or CQ, was from seven to ten every weeknight for the boarding cadets, which was supposedly study time).
i picked up Gamble and Gannaway at their homes and we attended the meeting. i had received strict orders from my mother to come “straight home.” When the meeting was over and since Jimmy’s home was a bit west, we decided to go to the Snow White and get some ice cream. Against my mother’s admonishment, we went, got our ice cream and were headed back toward town on West Main Street. i think the speed limit was 40 MPH.
James Dodson was a nice guy, a good man. He was also a sergeant in the Highway Patrol. i don’t think he gave me my driving test, but it could have been him. That September night, he pulled me over. He treated me like a good young man gone bad for a moment, wrote out the ticket for speeding at 61 miles an hour and handed it to me.
i dropped off my two friends at their homes and headed home, contriving a plan to at least lessen the blow i knew would surely come. i should have contrived better. About two weeks before, my father had received a ticket outside of Nashville when he was picking up some auto parts in the big city. i foolishly thought that would be a good comparison, maybe soften my landing.
i parked in the driveway and walked through the side door into the den. Mother was sitting in her corner, catty-cornered from the door. Daddy was sitting in his recliner in the middle of the den with the television at the other end. i stood at the door and proclaimed, “I pulled a Daddy.”
When Mother inquired and i told her the meaning of my announcement, all hell broke loose if you could have used that term in our house at the time. It wasn’t pretty. i shall not explain further here except to note my landing wasn’t softer.
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The next evening, my father told me that i was to see a judge about the ticket. i believe it was the general sessions judge. i thought it would be in a courtroom, but the morning of my day in court, my father went with me. Instead of the courtroom, he ushered me up the stairs into an office where the secretary directed us to the judge’s office. i’m pretty sure from Coleman Walker’s feedback, it was Ted Sexton.
i just remember it was a dark office with bookshelves stacked with legal books and the biggest desk i could imagine. i sat at the side of the desk with my father beside me. The judge looked at me, studied the ticket, and then told me he was considering throwing me in jail for doing something so foolish. i was quite simply scared to death.
The judge turned to my father and said, “Jimmy, you and your wife are good, law abiding citizens, an asset to the city. But this boy of yours seems a little lost.
Then he turns back to me and says, “Son, i really should put you in jail for a week or two, but i’m going to let you go if you promise not to do it again because your parents are such good people.”
“i promise,” i meekly replied.
“Jimmy, you can take him home. I will excuse the ticket this time. But son, don’t you ever speed in this city again.”
“Yes, sir,” i said.
“Thank you,” Jimmy Jewell said.
We went home.
i think i might have had an inkling then. Years later, i realized my father and the judge had arranged the whole thing.
i did speed a number of times in Lebanon and Wilson County.
But i never got caught again…at least, not in Tennessee.