My lovely wife, Lisa, and I sat down this week to actually watch a television show together — one in which no ball was involved, and no one was murdered, maimed or kidnapped. It was refreshing.
We were watching the Hallmark Channel, but you’d better hurry. Twenty-four-hour-a-day Christmas movies start soon.
The show we watched was a Walton’s Reunion show in which John Boy was getting married, right there on Walton’s Mountain. Driving home from picking up his new in-laws in Charlottesville, he wound up in jail on a speeding charge.
Lisa was rather incredulous over the incident. “Nobody,” she insisted, “would ever be put in jail over a speeding charge.”
I started laughing, and then I couldn’t stop, because I knew, for a solid gold fact, that someone could be taken to the jailhouse over a speeding charge, under the right circumstances.
Here’s how it happened.
It was 1969 and I had my mama’s car on a Thursday evening. The Newton Ram basketball team had been invited to have dinner at Henderson’s Restaurant. Sheriff Henry Odum Jr. was paying. A good time was had by all.
After dinner, a few of us did what teenage boys did. We decided to cruise between the Dairy Queen and Cow Palace so everyone would know how cool we were.
I was driving my mama’s car. I won’t tell you the others involved because they might not want their family to know that they were as stupid as I used to be. But number 54 was riding with me. Numbers 20 and 52 were in the car that sped past me just as Church Street and Monticello Street came together. Number 52 was driving. Number 20 was riding shotgun. They darted under the light onto Pinecrest Drive so, naturally, I gave follow. I would have said I gave chase but did not want to incriminate myself.
I was right in front of Tom and Nancy Wortman’s house when the blue lights came on in the car that was rapidly approaching me from behind. One of Covington’s finest, Officer Jerry Wheeler, hollered out the window as he drove around me. “You stay right there until I get back!”
I did, too.
A few minutes later two cars came back to where I was waiting, Officer Wheeler in his police vehicle and the car of my teammates — only now the drivers were switched. Number 20 was behind the wheel and 52, who didn’t actually have a driver’s license yet, was the passenger.
Officer Wheeler read us the riot act, as well he should have, and wrote out tickets to me and the other driver. But when he did the situation took a strange turn. Number 20 said, “Wait a minute. I can’t do this.” Then he admitted that he had not been driving the car when the police first gave chase and wasn’t going to fall on his sword and die on that particular hill.
That made Jerry Wheeler very mad, so he told us all to follow him to the jailhouse. So, you see: You can wind up in jail on a speeding beef under certain circumstances. The story didn’t end there, however.
When we got to the jail, Officer Wheeler was still irate and was explaining the charges to the captain on duty. And at the end he said, “And Huckaby there ran the red light at the end of Monticello Street.” And then he turned to my passenger, No. 54, for confirmation. Ever truthful and ever loyal, 54 just shook his head and said, “I don’t know. It was close.”
This sent Jerry Wheeler over the top, and he started writing tickets for everything except the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa — who had not yet disappeared.
I left the station holding a ticket that was going to cost me $100. It might as well have been a thousand. Plus, my parents were going to find out and, what was worse, Coach Ronald Bradley was sure to find out that we had all been out doing crazy stuff after a team outing, on the night before a game. I was in deep trouble.
But on Friday afternoon Mr. Homer Sharp interrupted Mr. Croom’s chemistry class when he came over the intercom and asked, “Mr. Croom, do you have Darrell Huckaby in your class right now?”
“Yes,” was Croom’s resigned reply. “What did he do now?”
Mr. Sharp ignored the question and said, simply, “Tell him that he needs to go by Sheriff Odum’s office after this class is over.”
I did. I didn’t want to. But I did.
The sheriff invited me into the little office that was at the courthouse and said, “I heard you boys were out acting the fool after you left Henderson’s last night and got in trouble.”
I examined my shoes and nodded that we had.
The sheriff reached in his pocket and handed me a $100 bill. “I couldn’t get Jerry Wheeler to drop the charges,” he said, “So you go over there and pay that ticket and don’t ever let me hear of you doing anything like this again.” Then he added, “And don’t let your mama or Coach Bradley find out.”
There was no better place to grow up than the Newton County of the 1960s. Someone always had your back.
I kept my promise to the sheriff and never got in exactly that same situation again. My mama never found out, and neither did Coach Bradley, until now.