By Roger Barbee
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, while visiting my mother, she and I took a Friday afternoon ride. On a whim, I decided to go by the home of Steve and Jenny. Many years had passed since I had seen them; it had been so long in fact, that I made one wrong turn in driving to a home where I had spent many hours. However, I managed to pull into the correct driveway and saw Jenny setting up Christmas lights.
Steve and I were best friends in high school. His parents, like my mother, worked in the mill and his family, like mine, lived in a mill house. It was their house on North Ridge Street that I spent hours in, sharing my woes of young love with Steve, shining shoes, fooling around, and talking as only 15-to-17-year-old boys can. He and I spent all hours together, driving to Concord to play Putt-Putt, to Charlotte for a round of Pitch and Putt, and to marvel at the Holman-Moody shop next to Douglas Airport. We climbed tall pine trees outside the Concord Speedway to watch modified stock cars race on the quarter mile dirt track, rode his 90cc motorcycle during the warm, wet summer months, and his father's De Soto had the one and only push button gear shift I ever drove. Even after high school we stayed together. I went to college, and he stayed in town to work for the local paper, yet we remained close enough for him to ask me to be in his and Jenny's wedding, and later he was in mine. We were pals then, but he and I allowed distance, jobs, children, and other concerns to push us apart as waves do ships on a sea.
He, Jenny, Flossie, and I told each other the latest in our lives. We showed each other photos of grandchildren, and in a short visit in the driveway (their home is inaccessible) caught each other up on the last, oh, so many years. Jenny reminded me that their wedding anniversary had been the day before Thanksgiving and that they had moved into this house on Thanksgiving Day 1967. I looked at the brick rambler, the extra lot next to it that they had purchased, and remembered the judge.
On a Sunday afternoon in 1965, Steve's next door neighbor, a fellow a bit older than he, asked him if he would drive him to Salisbury so that he could run some errands. With nothing to do until his date that night, Steve said yes. The older neighbor asked Steve to go to a few different stores in Salisbury that were open. While sitting in his car waiting outside a grocery store, he noticed two police cruisers park next to him and he was told to get out of his vehicle. He was arrested with his neighbor who had been, unknown to Steve, cashing stolen checks. The next day his father posted bail, and weeks later Steve appeared before a judge who asked him about his work at the local newspaper, how much he made each week, and if he had had any knowledge of what was going on that Sunday afternoon. Believing him, the judge placed Steve on probation and part of that probation was for Steve to appear in the judge's chambers each Friday for the next two years and deposit a set amount of his paycheck into a court held account. Two years later it was that money Steve and Jenny used as a down payment on their house and extra lot.
As I sat in their driveway, looking at the well kept home, yard and lot, I marveled at how that judge was able to make a judgment concerning Steve and his ill-advised, but innocent, actions. Unbound by legislative guidelines, he was free to do his job as he determined what was best for a young man. He believed Steve so much that he gave him an opportunity. Steve did not disappoint that judge and benefited from his wisdom. I looked at Steve and Jenny, thought of their 40-plus shared years in their home, and wondered what would have happened to him and his society had the judge been bound by sentencing guidelines instead of his experience and wisdom. Perhaps we need to allow our judges to do that - point out the right instead of being restrained by some Maginot Line created by a well-meaning legislative body.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.