Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jailed at 17

I’m not sure exactly why, but I had a lot of freedom as a teenager. Maybe it was because Mother was newly married to my stepfather and they liked me to be out of the house; maybe it was because, as working parents, they were too tired to be strict on me; maybe it was because (and this is the most unlikely) they thought of me as a responsible person. Whatever the cause, they gave me a lot of latitude. This fact, combined with my tendency to have older guys as friends, led to some interesting episodes.

One of these happened in the winter when I was 17 at 3 a.m. in Warren, Arkansas. My older pal Larry, who had graduated from high school two years before, and I were coming back home to south Arkansas from Springfield, Missouri on a Sunday during Christmas break. His father had a second-hand furniture business up there and Larry, who was employed by the Army Corps of Engineers at Calion Lake, and I had gone up for a few days to give him a hand. Larry liked to tempt fate and take chances, so he didn’t put gas in the old Buick regularly. He noticed just north of Warren that we should add a few gallons, but the vehicle coughed and gave up the ghost a couple of miles from town.

“We are out of gas, Danny,” Larry said, as if I were stupid.

“What are we going to do?”

“Well, we could sleep in the car,” Larry replied, “or walk to town.”

“Will there be a filling station open at this time of night?” I queried.

At that moment, a sheriff car drove up and a friendly but suspicious deputy came to Larry’s window. “How are y’all doing,” he said.

“Out of gas,” Larry explained cogently.

“What y’all gonna do? Sleep in y’all’s car?”

“I guess so. Have you got a better idea?” Larry sounded a little smart mouthed when he said that and I hoped the deputy was a patient man. He was. He drove us into Warren and gave us a bed in the jail. I called Mother collect, who was worried, having expected me home the previous evening.

“Where are you, son?”

“In jail. But it’s not bad. I mean, the deputy gave us a place to stay until we can go to the filling station. We ran out of gas.”

“Well you get yourself home as soon as you can and you are not ever going anywhere with that Larry again, do you hear me?”

I heard her, but she soon forgave (or forgot) and Larry and I remained friends. He became a Methodist preacher, a very successful one. I became a person who avoids Warren because of the ambivalent feeling the town gives me. I have a cousin living there and I think he would give me a place to stay if I ever ran out of gas. But I’m not a risk-taker along those lines like Larry was.

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