I was sitting here thinking about some of the things that people do. I often wondered why they want to be the way they are. You catch them doing it and they will stand flat-footed and lie to you.
Back in the early ’60s I was riding in the patrol car with my partner The Whizz. We were working the south side of town and got a call to Branham Avenue about a man harassing some people. This was going to be one of those neighbor arguments. A call between neighbors is a hard call to settle. Both parties think they are right.
I started up to a house when The Whizz hollered at me, pointing to the house next door.
The house that I had started to was what we called a shotgun house — one where you walk in and go straight through from one room to the next. No hallway. An old man in a wheelchair sat on the porch.
Whizz got to the other house before I did. As I walked up, I heard one of the men on the porch call the man next door an ugly word. I thought if they were complaining on the man in the wheelchair, they should have been ashamed.
On the porch was a woman who appeared to be in her 50s. There were three men: One appeared to be in his 50s, the other two in their 20s or early 30s. They were telling Whizz what all the old man had done to them. I told Whizz I was going over and talk to the old man next door.
The old man in the wheelchair watched me come up his driveway, then said “How are you officer?” I answered, “Fine, sir. And you?” He assured me he was doing fine then asked if there was something wrong next door. I watched his face as I explained that the people next door had made a complaint against him.
His face changed expression and he said, “What am I supposed to have done?” I told him that I hadn’t heard it all. I wanted to hear what he had to say. He said they had dumped garbage in his back yard and he had called the police, and they had made them pick it up. He said that at night they would throw rocks against the side of his house.
I often wondered how someone could treat an old man in a wheelchair that way. I saw The Whizz getting into the patrol car. As I was getting in, I could tell by the look on his face that he had laid down the law to them.
Then we changed to the 11-to-7 shift and didn’t have any calls to the house where the old man lived. We figured they had left him alone, but found out by talking to the fellows on the second shift that the quarrel was still going on. The latest thing that they done to the old man was tear down a section of his fence.
The Whizz and I made up our minds that we would keep a check on him.
The third shift on a Saturday night is busy up until late in the morning. After running all night, until somewhere around 2 o’clock, we thought we would ride by to check on the old man. I pulled up in front of the house and everything seemed to be OK. I started to drive off when Whizz said,”Stop! Stop!”
He jumped out and ran toward the house. I saw it then — the back of the house was on fire. Smoke was coming from under the house. I jumped out and ran to the door where Whizz was trying to get it open. I put my weight against it and it came off the hinges. We ran into the smoke-filled house, looking for the old man.
I heard a cry for help and ran into the room in the middle of the shotgun house. I yelled for The Whizz and, between the two of us, we got him into his wheelchair and out. I ran to the patrol car and called for dispatch to send the fire truck. Then we rolled the old man in his wheelchair out to the house next door, sat him on the porch and got back into the street to help the fire truck.
The fire was out in a short time and I walked to the back of the house. I heard one of the firemen say, “… a case of arson.” It hit me that someone had tried to burn down the house with the old man in it.
I went over and told the fireman about the trouble that had been going on between the old man and the family next door. He and I walked back to the front, where by now a crowd had gathered. I saw the two young men from next door, standing and laughing. We walked over to them. The Whizz had joined us by that time.
When we walked up to them we got a whiff of gas. We knew then who had set the house on fire. We put the cuffs on the one who smelled like gas and put him in the back of the patrol car. The fire captain said they would get with a detective and work out a case against him.
I told the other one to go in the house and get his brother a pair of pants and shoes. When he got to headquarters he would be stripped of his clothing. The smell of gas on him was telling us what happened. We booked him in at headquarters with no doubt in our minds that the other one was also guilty.
We were going back out on patrol when I realized that we had left the old man and his wheelchair sitting on the front porch of the house next door.
We drove back to find people walking around with flashlights, looking around the burned-out house. A woman came over to us and said they were looking for “Uncle John.” I looked at the Whizz and began to laugh. I took the lady to the porch next door and sitting there asleep was Uncle John.
I remember the woman saying, “Glory be, he’s safe.” I explained to her that we had got him out of the house and in the excitement forgot him. She smiled and said, “All that matters is that Uncle John is safe. Thank you, thank you.”
The Whizz and I left knowing that when the woman had said “thank you,” she had paid us in full. We were glad that Uncle John was safe.