Since I was a boy growing up I was a country music lover. When you said “opera,” I thought you meant the Grand Ole Opry. Growing up back in the ’40s meant going to the Grand Ole Opry at least once a month.
I went to an opera with a friend while overseas in Germany. I sat through it for the sake of my friend, not because I enjoyed it. If I remember right, from start to the end I never understood a word that was being said. It consisted of a lot of loud howling and foot stomping. It must have been good for my friend, who went to see it quite often while we were stationed there. No, I never went back with him, he went by himself. I told myself that I would never sit through something like an opera ever again.
When I came back home and went to work on the Rome Police Department, I went a lot of times to the Grand Ole Opry, but never to an opera. I had no intentions of ever being caught where people were running around with swords and stomping their feet and howling, but sometimes things happen and you don’t have anything to say about it. We were working the three to eleven shift. We had the East Rome section of town and got a disturbance call to Pennington Avenue. We pulled in front of the house and checked it out, walking slowly up to the front door when a loud voice came from the house that sounded like a big bull bellowing. The voice stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked at my partner and the expression on his face made me break into laughter.
Again the sound came from in the house. I could not believe it, but someone was singing opera. He let out another bellow that seem to shake the ground. I turned my back and started to walk off from my partner. He grabbed my arm, saying, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Oh, you can handle this without me,” I replied.
My partner was about five-foot-six and weighed about two hundred. He was about as big around as he was tall. He walked up to the door and it came open. I don’t think up to then or after I have ever seen a man as big as the one who came through the door. He stepped out on the porch and my partner’s hand dropped to his side, next to his gun. I stepped up beside my partner and began to ask if they had called the police. He said he hadn’t called and invited us in. We followed him into the house.
He stood in the middle of the room. He was at least seven-feet tall. He was small from the waist down, but from the waist up he looked as big as an elephant. I knew to walk lightly and speak softly. He began to talk in a deep booming voice. He was an opera singer. He had got sick and had to leave the stage for a while. When he sang the neighbors called the police to him.
I looked through to where his wife was cooking, a dish of fried chicken sat in the middle of the kitchen table. I had never seen so much chicken on a dish before. We left with the understanding the food on the table was his supper. It was hard to understand how one man could eat that much food.
We got to know him and his wife that summer. He would call headquarters and find out what time we could stop off for what he called “a treat.” That big platter with all the trimmings was always there. He called and asked that we stop by as he wanted to talk to us. We were working day shift so we waited until we got off to go by.
He met us with an outstretched hand. I could see tears in his eyes. He led us into the kitchen. I sat down, waiting for him to speak. He smiled and began to tell us that the doctor had released him and he was headed back to the stage. Then a hurt look came on his face. He said this means I will have to leave my two friends. We talked a while, then went out and sat on the porch. When we left it was with a sad heart for Drake and his Rosie. They had become our very good friends. I’ve often wondered what happened to them after that, for we never heard anything else from them.
I met a lot of people, “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” in my life with the Rome Police Department. Most of them I can still picture in my mind. Rosie and Drake will be two people that I will always be able to close my eyes and see. I will always be able to see that plate of fried chicken and the platter of big cat-head biscuits.