I recently heard of the passing of Howard Anderson, body man and wrecker driver of some local note, back home. Pop’s 79th birthday was a few days ago.
I figured this would be a worthy repost……..
I read in my hometown paper that the honorable Judge James P. Dean passed away recently.
Judge Dean was the Municipal Judge in my hometown for 30 years. In his tenure on the City Hall bench, he presided over 3,200 cases per year; some 96,000 cases all told, the simple math tells us.
And on one fateful summer afternoon in May, 1981, a rough estimation would put my singular little run-in with Judge Dean long about case number 8,000. The hefty impression his bench left upon my noggin remains quite indelible to this day.
The story goes a little something like this…….
While fetching my sister from a piano lesson, a shapely bottom and a tanned pair of long legs attached to a girl pumping gas distracted me from my driving duties. I had earned my Mississippi driver’s license the previous November.
My heart sank to my knees as I looked back to 12 o’clock just in time to see the welded steel business end of Howard Anderson’s wrecker at a dead stop at the Red Light in front of B&R Drugs on Shiloh Road. I knew it was over the moment I looked back to the road ahead.
I stomped the brakes as hard as my Converse-shod foot would allow, but it was to no avail. The little white Celica coupe crawled right up the tow bar, which was lowered parallel with the roadway. The hood crinkled and was uplifted into a foot tall vertical fold, shedding large flakes of white paint on the way. Glass and plastic crunched and busted. The sweet smell of ethylene glycol made its way to my nose. Steam floated into the air and condensed on the windshield. My sister began shrieking in panic shortly after impact.
I had managed to fatally wound my Mother’s little Toyota by skewering it right through the radiator with the tow bar of a stationary wrecker, no less, just a mile or so from home.
It was a helpless feeling of dread that washed over me when Pop’s red El Camino made the turn onto Shiloh Road. How did he find out so fast? A bunch of people honked and waved. Briefly, I considered fleeing the scene, leaving my sister to her own fate and taking my chances with the wild animals in Sharp’s Bottom. Unable to summon the nerve to run, I stood my ground and tried to second guess the outcome as the El Camino swayed to a stop and the driver’s door swung open.
Pop never acknowledged my existence, really. Instead, he made a beeline for the cop and and the car. The officer on the scene gestured here and pointed there and at me. I stuffed my hands farther into my jeans pockets and swept a few gravels aside with my sneaker.
Then Pop steered for the damaged car. He peered under the hood, now shaped much like a Boy Scout pup tent. Digging his pen knife from a front pocket, he rocked up on his toes, exerted some force, and momentarily emerged with the fan belts in hand. The belts got tossed in the back of the El Camino. He took my sister in tow and told me to take the Toyota, even though damaged, and follow him directly home.
Once we got home, he lectured me briefly on the educational as well as room and board opportunities the Armed Services were offering. There was some finger pointing, a bit of yelling, and a hastily drawn up cost analysis sheet, as I recall. I thought a time or two he might reach back and pop me, but he never did. Not that I didn’t deserve a sore behind or even a fat lip, mind you.
Then, almost with the same intensity, he left it alone. It was if the incident had never happened. The car magically found its way to a body shop. Life was seemingly back to normal.
The matter of the moving violation I received for slamming into a wrecker at a stoplight came due just as the silence was getting comfortable. “Following Too Closely” was the actual charge.
“Hey, Pop,” I said as I entered the kitchen one morning holding the ticket, “This thing is due in a day or two so I thought I’d go down to the City Hall and pay it. Can I borrow a car today?”
He smiled shrewdly across the top of his half glasses.
“Oh, no, boy. I’m afraid that I cannot help you with transportation for some time yet to come,” he said. “In addition, there will be no payment of the ticket. You’ll be going to court to see what the judge has to say about this situation.”
Pop had a plan, you see. I would stew and brood over my fate for the better part of two weeks more. And with a bit of casual propaganda flung about courtesy of Pop, I was pretty much convinced that the Municipal Courtroom in City Hall would be the next to last stop on my merry way to the Mississippi State Prison at Parchman.
I rose and dressed in my Sunday clothes the morning of my date with the court. Pop kept sticking his head in my room as I prepared, casting looks of gloom and doom. He asked me to hurry up. Apparently, it was a bad omen to be late for your very first in what – in his humble opinion – promised to be a long line of court dates. With breakfast done, Pop and I were off to see Judge James P. Dean.
We were an hour early for my appearance time. Pop lead me to a ringside seat on Judge Dean’s right hand side and motioned to a chair. There, we sat while Judge Dean processed my corrupted peers one after the other.
I was rattled to the core. I felt light headed. My lips stuck together. It was as if someone had place wool socks on all of my teeth. The sweat ran in uncomfortably hot rivulets down my rib cage and saturated my shirt. The parade of hooligans and their foolish behavior popped every rivet in any boilerplate idea I might have ever had about a life less than the moderately straight and narrow. And if I had a moment’s clarity, I could have glanced to my left and realized that Pop could barely contain the joy he was experiencing as the pressure folded me up like a cheap card table.
The baliff bellowed my case number and name. Pop elbowed me in the ribs and told me to get moving. I complied and weaved my way through the seats and rows to a worn spot on the marble floor in front of Judge Dean’s bench. My legs felt wobbly and my head was swimming in fear. There I was. All legs and arms and zits, at a loose stance of attention. All I needed at that point was a cigarette and the blindfold.
Honestly, I don’t remember a word that Judge Dean spoke to me on that morning. I was too busy trying not to pass out on the man’s altar of justice to pay any attention to what grains of wisdom he might be imparting to me.
Finally he swung the gavel down on his bench and the sullen thump snapped me to my senses.
“I’m going to assume for your sake, Mr. Madden, that I shall not being seeing you in my court room again. Is this a true statement, sir?” said Judge Dean as he leaned over his elbow and affixed my wide eyes with his.
“Yes, sir,” I stammered. “That would be a true statement.”
“See that the charges are dropped against Mr. Madden and dismiss this case from the docket,” said the judge.
Pop stood up and motioned me towards the double doors in the back of the court room. I wheeled around and beelined for the hall. The cool air in the dim passage hung heavy with the scent of Pine-Sol and floor wax. I loosened my neck tie, wiped the remaining beads of sweat from my forehead and out of my eyes, and shouldered a section of marble clad wall to compose myself.
Pop sauntered out shortly and I followed him to the car, humbled but relieved.
I don’t recall what transpired on the drive home. Time has erased our conversation – if there was any – from my memory.
But for the remainder of my time at home with Pop and as an eventual reinstated, trusted operator of his vehicles, I never again – not once – wrinkled sheet metal on any of his cars.