FEATURE — It was a cool autumn night in my childhood when my father taught me several very important things. It centered around an incident that was to be talked about for many years.
A neighbor had moved in recently. His name was Jesse. For me and the other neighbor boys, Jesse was a great guy. Jesse had recently returned from a place we had heard about in the news but did not know much about: Vietnam.
We knew that Jesse was a soldier. We were in awe of him. He would take us out into the woods. When he was not teaching us something about nature, he was showing us different army maneuvers. When we asked Jesse if he ever killed anybody, his response was always, “Yes, but we are not going to talk about that.”
There were two things about Jesse that I did not give much thought to until later in my life. One, he always had a beer in his hand. Two, he never held a job for very long. For us, that was great. He got to spend more time with us. Back in the 1970s, post-traumatic stress disorder was not yet a diagnosis.
One night, my father received a call from my 14-year-old sister who was babysitting for another family in the neighborhood. Jesse had gotten drunk and had come over looking for the father of the children. Jesse’s demeanor had frightened her.
My dad summoned us boys to walk with him to where my sister was babysitting. On the way, we told him all about Jesse, that he was our friend and that he had been to Vietnam.
My dad worked for the United States Post Office. He was not big. He was not small. He stood about 5 feet 10 inches and weighed probably between 180 and 200 pounds. But he was solidly constructed.
Even so, my dad was no match for the 6-foot-2 inch, 230-pound, barrel-chested younger Jesse. But Jesse was clearly drunk and was in no condition to be walking, let alone fighting.
My father calmly approached Jesse and asked him to stay home and away from where my sister was babysitting. Jesse immediately took a swing that my father ducked. Even though the swing did not connect, Jesse grabbed my dad’s post office shirt and ripped it completely off his body.
Never having seen my father fight before, I was surprised to see him tackle the bigger, younger man and sit on top of him. He became immediately cognizant that Jesse’s strength was superior to his own. He directed my brothers to hold and sit on each arm and told me to grab his legs.
I became aware shortly thereafter that I had been given the worst assignment as Jesse’s tree-trunk legs kept me bouncing up and down for quite some time. My father attempted to reason with Jesse for several minutes. But you cannot reason with a drunk. Finally, law enforcement arrived.
Now, in the small town of Pittsboro, Indiana, law enforcement was one man: Marshal Maurice Spoon. He was someone whom my father always respected and taught us to respect.
On my paper route, there was one home that always got a free paper and that was Marshal Spoon. My father would pay for it. He said that Marshal Spoon was underpaid for his contribution to the community, so the free paper was my dad’s small way of giving back to the marshal.
It was quite the learning experience watching the town marshal interact with the belligerent drunk. He directed us to get off of Jesse. Then he spoke calmly and respectfully to Jesse. Jesse calmed down immediately.
That all changed quickly when the marshal informed him that he still had to arrest him. Jesse swung again, this time at the marshal. But now he was dealing with a trained law enforcement officer. Marshal Spoon deftly outmaneuvered Jesse and had him on the ground and cuffed very quickly.
After Marshal Spoon put Jesse in his squad car, I listened to him speak with my father. He asked him if he wanted to press charges and my father said no. Then my father informed the marshal that Jesse had recently returned from Vietnam.
That seemed to put a new perspective on things. Marshal Spoon said he would only charge him for the drunk and disorderly and not for the battery or resisting arrest.
On the way home, my father, himself a veteran from the Korean War, explained to us about Vietnam and how sometimes people returning had trouble coping with society. I was shocked to see how alcohol had completely changed my friend into someone who was unrecognizable. My father taught me that night to forgive and to not judge others until we have walked in their shoes.
Sadly, this event ended our forays with Jesse. I think he was ashamed. He never went into the woods with us again, and shortly thereafter, he and his family moved out of the neighborhood. But I came away from the incident with a complete disdain for alcohol and a deeper respect for my father, for Marshal Spoon and for veterans.
Darren Cole is a developing columnist and otherwise sports writer for St. George News. Any opinions given are his own and not representative of St. George News.
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