Over the years I have managed staying out of serious trouble. However, I was not an angel in many ways. I don’t think I was mean or hurtful. But I did seem to go off the track from time to time. Let me tell you now of some of my transgressions.
The first mischief I can remember getting into was on Highland Avenue in Battle Creek Michigan. It was the summer of 1962. My friend Dave and I had come across some road work a few blocks up from my house. We road our bikes up to the glorious construction work and parked our bikes. In the middle of the road was this huge hole. It looked 50 foot deep to us small lads. In reality the hole was at the most 20 feet deep.
Well Dave and I thought it great fun to push dirt from the giant mound down into the pit below. It made a wonderful cloud that practically covered the construction site. It was great fun until the cops came and sent us home with a promise that our parents will be contacted. At this comment from the cop our hearts filled with fear. We both new we were in trouble. We were turned over to our parents for punishment. I was grounded for a week. And it was the first time for both of us to be in trouble with the law.
The second indecent in 1967 involved fireworks. Fire crackers are and as far as I know illegal in Michigan. I had recently got some from a friend who’s family had smuggled some in from a neighboring state that allowed fire crackers. I remember my friend had M-80s and cherry bombs to. I only wanted fire crackers so I bought a couple of packs from him.
I was in a bowling league in Jr. High. After school a school bus took us to Knotkeys bowling alley to play. We would play the other teams in our league to see who was the best.
In a break between games I went out front of the bowling alley and leaned up against the wall. Then I proceeded to light fire crackers one by one. It was glorious until……the hand of the law came down on me both literally and figuratively. As I was about to light just one more fire crackers a hand came down on my shoulder and spun me around. It was the cop that hung around the alley to handle cases very much like this. I was busted. My parents were called and I was turned over in their custody. I was grounded for a month.
The third time I can recall that I got into trouble with the law was in the winter of 1967. I had that summer received my first motor vehicle. A sears mini bike with a 5HP Brigs and Stratton engine. It was my pride and joy. I has recent obtained a 1964 Michigan motorcycle license plate. It was the wrong color an it displayed the wrong date. So I painted it and painted in the right date and attached it to the back of my mini bike.
I had planned on driving out to D drive north, a road near us. I figured that with the fake license plate attached all was cool. All was not cool. I did not realize that my little sears mini bike was not license able. It had no head light. It had tail light or stop light. It had no turn signals. So a policeman would not even have to look at the plate to know that something was not right.
So here I am driving top speed (Top speed for this vehicle was about 30MPH) down D drive north when a state trooper pulls behind me. We continue on for awhile and then the blue lights come on and the trooper squawked the siren.
I pulled over and the trooper approached me and asked me for my license. I was 13. I had no license. Sheepishly I said “I don’t have a license sir.” How old are you?” asked the trooper. “13” I said looking at my shoes. “Well” said the trooper. “Get on your mini bike and head for home. I will follow you.” ‘Oh God.’ I thought. ‘I’m in for it now!’
So he followed me home and then had a talk with my dad. After some time the trooper left. Dad told me that he was to bring me down to the station to determine my punishment. I was terrified! Were they going to lock me up?
So dad drove me to the police station and we went in. I was scared. I was turned over to a sergeant who gave me a good chewing out. Then he took me back to where the cells were and told me to get in. Then he slammed the cell shut! Then he said “How does it feel to be a criminal?’ At this point I was close to tears. “It don’t feel good sir.” I sad with a faint voice. “I may have a way for you not to be locked up. Are you interested?” I said in a very weak voice still looking at my shoes “yes”. He said “Look at me Jim. I can’t hear you. I said are you interested in a way out of this trouble?” I looked at him with a worried look and said “Yes. I am interested!”
So the state trooper unlocked the cell and motioned me out. Secretly dad and the trooper had set this up to put the fear of the law in me. To teach me a lesson if you will. Both my dad and the sergeant and been trying hard not to laugh or even smile as they watched me squirm over my predicament. The sergeant sat me down and handed me a 1967 Michigan drivers handbook. “Take this handbook and copy it from cover to cover and return it here in three days. If your assignment is not finished in 3 days then we will have to resort to a more harsh punishment” he said motioning to the door that led to the cells in back. I told him I would do it.
So after school each night I sat at the breakfast nook copying and copying and copying. I did not know this at the time but me reading and then writing it out taught me a lot about driving. The knowledge stuck in my young brain. The state trooper was wise to do this. I completed the assignment and returned it to the station in time.
Now the forth and last time I got in trouble with the law was in the summer of 1968. Greg Habenicht, two of Greg’s cousins, Carlos Washington and myself had a campout in Greg’s yard. As I have written before, campouts were not a time for sitting around the campfire and singing and then going off to sleep in our tents. No no. Camping was a time for mischief and roaming the neighborhood like tough heathens from hell. We had already done some mischievous stuff that evening. Creating gigantic burning peace signs on Boyer road. Stealing watermelons from Mulvanys farm. Taking a goose from a farmers pen and putting it in the car. I shudder now to think of the mess that goose made!
As we were walking down Boyer road one of Greg’s cousins got in a VW bug and put it in neutral. he pushed it out into the road and soon we were all pushing the car down the street. As soon as the car left the driveway, it became grand larceny. Very serious. Well little did we know that the owner of the VW was awake and ran out and chased us down the street. He caught one of Greg’s cousins and brought him back to the house and called the police. We hid behind a house and watched as the police car drove down the street towards the scene of the crime. We had to go back and face the music. So we did. Greg cursed out his cousin for being to slow and getting caught. The police got our names and called our parents and soon they arrived. It was 3 AM and they were not happy. Betty Habenicht chewed us out mercilessly. If we tried to talk she just yelled “Shut up”. So there we stood looking at our feet and in serious trouble.
Lucky for us the man did not press charges. We were released to the custody of our parents. Greg, Carlos, and I were grounded for the rest of the summer. And it was only June. So a long boring summer was ahead of us. But all three of us learned a valuable lesson. To respect other people property as you would hope they would do in return. I never got into trouble with the law again