Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Perhaps one has to be very old before one learns to be amused rather than shocked."  ~ Robert Browning


Even though you think you know it ALL when you're young, you don't! And even when you've grown up on both coasts and you've visited New York City so many times that you know the center of Manhattan like the palm of your hand, you don't know NOTHIN'. Not til you've had to stand before the judge in New Augusta, Mississippi! And that's a FACT!

It was my junior year at university and Spring Break was nearly here. I didn't have the money to fly home to Stamford, Connecticut and back, but I did have enough to go to Panama City, Florida on the train with my roommate and another close friend, so that's where I was headed.

Linda's Dad had promised her a car for her birthday, and all Linda and Maggie and I had to do was take the train down South to meet her Mom and Dad and drive Linda's birthday present back to campus. It's a strange thing to climb onto the train in snow-torn Nebraska, chug-chug our way down South, and then climb off the train amidst flowering trees and thick humidity in one loooong day's train ride.

After a couple days of fun in the sun, we were on our way back to campus in Linda's "new" car - an older, sort of beat-up car with Linda at the wheel. But, oh, the freedom we felt! We zipped along the highway, counting our pennies, knowing we'd have to get a room for one-night's stay somewhere along the way, AND have enough money left for gas. But, other than that, we had no cares! Hungry, YES, but worried, NO... not one care in the world! Before we'd left Linda's folks, we'd put a "There Is No Place Like Nebraska" university bumper sticker on the little car's rear. After all, we'd beaten Alabama at the Cotton Bowl that year, and we Cornhuskers were invincible!

Suddenly, a speeding car came up along side of us loaded with cute college-aged guys who were hanging half-way out of the car's windows yelling something at the three of us. Linda rolled down the window, and we heard, "NEBRASKA SUCKS! 'BAMA IS BETTER! HAH, HAH, HAH!!!" And that 'Bama car sped away.

Those were fightin' words, and Linda yelled, "They're not getting away with THAT! I'm gonna catch 'em!" and off we sped after them. It seemed fitting to me!

The problem is that Linda's car was making asthmatic wheezing noises the whole way, and we couldn't catch up with them, even though Maggie and I were shouting encouraging words in Linda's ear as she loudly vowed to catch up with them or know the reason why...  
Suddenly, I knew the WHY of it... A motorcycle cop sped up along side of us and motioned for Linda to pull over. We tried our best to explain to the uniformed officer with the huge dark glasses that it was those darn 'Bama guys' fault, but all he said was, "I'm writin' you a ticket!" and "We're goin' to the court house!" and "Follow ME!" 

So we did... off the highway, down a narrow gravel road between trees and bushes with undergrowth lots taller than our little, sort of beat-up car. I was scared! Who would know what happened to us? We were definitely guilty... Would we have to go to jail? I COULDN'T! I was going to be a school teacher! I was pretty sure that no one would ever hire a teacher with a prison record... would I be beaten up by crazed women's prison thugs who would never understand that I needed to graduate from university INTACT??? I NEEDED MY ARMS AND LEGS AND EYES TO BE AN ARTIST... (OK, OK, I know that I'm being dramatic here, but all artists are a little dramatic, aren't they?)

We arrived in front of a large, old 2-story white house with an old, old car in the driveway. The motorcycle cop climbed off his Harley and led us up the path, through the door, and into the "court house." 

I will never, ever forget that "court house." It was the judge's dining room table! The judge couldn't hear what the policeman was saying to him, even though that cop had a voice that could deafen a junior high classroom!

"Wilma! Wilma! Come 'ere! NOW! I need ma HORN!" he shouted gruffly.

"Willard! I'm fixin' your dinner! Now, HESH UP!"

"Wilma, I neeeed my ear horn! I don't know where I put it! Ya gotta git it fer me!"

I could see one of those old-time "ear trumpets" in the corner of the dining ro... Oops, I mean the "court house," but I was crying and I didn't dare move. I'd seen a thing like that in ancient reruns of "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies. I thought ear trumpets were a comic joke, but this whole thing was NO joke.

Wilma shuffled into the dinning room, grabbed the "ear trumpet," slammed it on the table, and then shuffled back into the adjoining kitchen. By the way, judging from the smells in the kitchen, Wilma was not the best of Southern cooks... I'm jus' sayin'...

The judge put it up to his ear and asked the policeman what had happened. The policeman told them of our speeding incident, succinctly. The judge looked over at us, and back at the policeman, and then back at us again...

"What do you three have to say for yourselves?"

Linda, a college senior, and the Second Vice President AND Pledge Traineer for our sorority, not to mention the driver of the car, stepped up to bat first. Linda expained about the "Bama boys" and their taunt, and how they sped past us so fast that we couldn't catch up with them...

"Well," drawled the hard-of-hearing 99-year-old judge, "If they're from Alabama, they must be telling the truth! Where're you three from, anyway?"

"Well, Judge..."

"It's "Your Honor," not "JUDGE!" You address me in the right way, or you'll be in more trouble than ya are now."

Linda was not a dumb lady, and she knew that she'd lost the first round with this magistrate, so she looked over at me, her roommate, as a possible second attorney for the Defense, but I'd been crying since we'd set foot onto the porch of the "court house."

"Your Honor, Sir, we're just college girls...( sob, sob)... from Nebraska... puleez, puleez don't put us in PRISON! PULEEZ..." My blubbering would probably result in life imprisonment for all three of us. I was out!

Now, just before we'd left on our odyssey, Maggie had been crowned the "Dairy Princess" by a nearly unanimous vote of the entire Ag campus at U of Nebraska! She was pretty, lady-like, even-tempered, and from Maryland. She was our only chance...

She explained our side of the event, throwing in a shy gaze and a simpering smile, to boot, but I think the 99-year-old judge was blind! 

"THAT DON'T MAKE NO DIFFERENCE! YOU DIDN'T OBEY THE LAW, AND THAT'S THAT! IT'S GONNA COST YOU! " He must have forgotten that we three could hear very well, without ear horns. Yikes!

It was back to Linda. "How much will the ticket cost, Your Honor, Sir?"

"IT'LL BE $75! AND I WANT IT RIGHT NOW! MY WIFE'S GOT TO CLEAN OFF THIS TABLE TO GET IT SET FOR DINNER!"

"Your Honor, Sir, we are just college girls driving back to Nebraska. We don't have that much money!"

"WELL, THEN, YOU'LL HAVE TO GO TO JAIL! THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT!"

Although, I'd been crying the whole time as quietly as I could, I managed to gurgle, "Where is the jail, Your Honor, Sir? I've never been in jail before... My Mom and Dad will be be sooo..." ...but I was overcome with more fears and lots and lots more crying. 

"IT'S UPSTAIRS IN OUR SPARE BEDROOM!" he shouted.

I'd seen "Psycho," the movie, and that was all I needed.............. It was all I could do not to run out of the room, but I figured the motorcycle guy would shoot me in the back! (Terry, you've watched entirely TOO MANY movies in your short life! That was not at all good for the likes of YOU!)

Thank Heavens for Linda! She said, "The only way we can do that, Your Honor, Sir, is if you would let us go back to the university and mail the $75 to you after we get it from our parents. Would that be OK, sir? We promise to send it... really we do!"

That's when Wilma shuffled into the room, grabbed the "ear trumpet" out of her husband's ear, threw it into the corner, pushed his ledger book off onto the floor, shoved a plate in front of him, and said, "Time for dinner, Willard! Get 'em outta here!"

"OK, YOU THREE, BUT YOU SEND ME THAT MONEY, YOU HEAR ME???!!??"

"Yes sir," we said over and over again as we backed out of the room, bowing towards him. When we hit the porch, we flew over the walk way, dove into the car, and inched away at 10 miles per hour until we hit the main highway. I think I stopped crying right around the Missouri border...

And that's why I've NEVER, EVER driven through Mississippi again in my whole life. I do think I might still be on a wanted poster somewhere around New Augusta...  It's possible, you know, because we never did send that money to Willard, the Hard-Hearted Judge... never!   

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