It’s been six years since Officer Friendly passed away. Though he had retired from the Police Department long before we met, he maintained a regular schedule of visiting the station. I think it was mostly to throw in his share of cash for the group’s lottery tickets, but I know they always shared their stories, too. He had to keep up with the department news, the citizens he served, and his career.
He loved being a cop. It showed. He maintained his affiliation with his professional organizations, too. I remember when he got a brochure for an annual conference for detectives.
OF: Dear? Would you like to go to a conference with me?
Gram: Sure, Hon. What kind of conference?
OF: Well . . . it’s for detectives, but I usually go.
Gram: That’s fine, Hon. Is there a theme for your conference?
OF: Bugs, Bones and Botany.
Gram: Ah! Entomology, Osteology, and . . . plants. Are you interested in those topics, Hon?
OF smiled his big grin at me. He was, but he was probably more interested in seeing his buddies.
We went to the conference. He told me I could go shopping if I wanted to, but since the detectives’ wives could sit in on the workshops, I attended all three sessions with him: the bugs, the bones, and the plants.
I took notes.
It’s not that I had any desire to change my career. I’m just nerdy and OF knew I would find the conference interesting. I fell from the science oak tree in the family forest.
As interesting as it was, what I enjoyed most was just watching OF as he greeted his former colleagues. I enjoyed listening to their stories and laughter at the conference banquet. It’s good medicine for all of us, I think: to get together with people who share our stories, nod in unison at implicit dangers or hazards without speaking them, and toast our good fortune at surviving our careers. I loved sitting next to OF at the banquet table and watching eyes grow brighter with each tall tale.
Surviving a career and retiring from it doesn’t mean leaving it all behind. I learned that lesson the first night in the hotel where the conference was held. OF and I had gone to bed and were both sound asleep when a loud noise from the hall woke us both.
As a civilian, my first instinct would have been to turn on a light and wait to hear something that would help me determine what the noise was. Not Officer Friendly, though. Before I could reach for the pull-chain on the bedside lamp, he had hopped out of bed, grabbed his flashlight and dashed to the door to look through the peephole.
I didn’t know he had packed his flashlight . . .
Officer Friendly’s flashlight was two feet long, metal, and heavy. It served two purposes, I suppose: providing light when needed and protection if he used it as a billy club.
There I was, sitting up in bed in the dark, while OF stood at the hotel room peephole with his HUGE flashlight in hand, ready to protect and defend. I loved him for that.
The noise ended up being nothing worthy of note. When he was satisfied that he no longer needed to stand his post at the door, he came back to bed. I had to ask . . .
Gram: Dear? Where did you pull that from?
OF: Under my pillow.
I decided I didn’t need to know any more. I never saw him pack the thing and I never saw him put it under his pillow.
Officer Friendly eventually went back to sleep. I remained seated in the dark trying to understand the decision-making process he had while packing for our trip. Did he actually ask himself if he would need it, or was it a matter of habit to bring the one remaining weapon he had from his career. He could carry his flashlight without wearing a badge.
I never laughed aloud, but my soul still quakes with delight at the image of him standing in the dark with his flashlight. It’s not a mocking laughter. It’s a laughter of pure delight in someone with whom I had barely started a shared life when the incident occurred.
I loved our date to his forensic conference. Though it was a surprise to me the first time it happened, thereafter, I knew his bag would always be a ‘little heavy’ when we traveled.
I still have OF’s flashlight. I don’t keep it under my pillow. I’ve retired it and it rests next to his official police department pins and the tri-cornered flag I was given when he was laid to rest. I think I’m going to take the flashlight off the shelf and check the batteries today. If I need to, I’ll replace them and let Officer Friendly’s light shine once more.