J. Ross Archer
The blinking red, white, and blue lights I saw in my rear-view mirror startled me. Daydreaming, I must have not been paying attention to how fast I was driving. I pulled over and waited for the officer to approach my car. I knew to be aware of small rural communities and their speed traps, but…
The state patrolman got out of his car and approached. I wondered what I had done wrong. I rolled down my window and waited.
“Good evening, officer. Was I doing something wrong?”
“You were doing fifty in a thirty-five mile per hour zone, but that’s not the only problem. I ran your tag through the outstanding warrants list and my computer search showed the car you’re driving is stolen.
“But that’s impossible, officer, I bought this car new; I can show you the paperwork.”
“We must let the sheriff sort that out, young man.”
He finished searching my person, “May I look at your registration, driver’s license, and insurance card? I removed them from my wallet as fast as I could and handed them to him.
“They are in order, you may put them away.”
“Mr. Archer, please get back in your car and follow me to the county jail.”
“That sheriff’s cruiser behind you will follow you.”
We drove only a few blocks to what appeared to be the jail, a two-storey brick building that would be attractive but for the bars on the windows. The officer in the sheriff’s car got out, walked over to my car, and opened my door. I found it strange that he wore civilian clothes without a gun or badge visible.
“Welcome to the Screven County Jail, Mr. Archer. I’m Donald Jamerson, Sheriff of Screven County, Georgia. Come inside and we’ll go about resolving this stolen car problem.”
I followed him into the jail through what looked like the living area of someone’s home. He noticed the puzzled expression on my face and offered an explanation.
“In this part of the country, Mr. Archer, many small-town sheriffs live in the jail house. The bottom floor of this building is my home.”
He motioned to the two women busy in the dining room and made introductions.
“Mr. Archer, meet my wife, Elizabeth, and my daughter, Joan.”
“I’m pleased to meet you ladies,” I said.
The courtesy that was being extended by an arresting officer, and sheriff at that, baffled me. He was taking me, a possible felon, into is home and introducing me to his family. I was perplexed.
“We are ready to eat dinner, Mr. Archer. Please join my ladies while I go to my office and make calls about your situation.”
He sensed my hesitation and extended the invitation once more. “Go ahead. It’s perfectly Okay.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I’m just confused by the treatment I’m getting here.”
“Yeah, I guess it is a little unorthodox. I’ve been the sheriff of Screven
County for over twenty years and before that I was a Georgia State Trooper for twenty years. So, Mr. Archer, I’ve learned a great deal about people. I saw right away that you’re a clean-cut young man and you don’t look like you would be a threat to anyone. Just relax and join my wife and daughter for dinner. I’ll be with you shortly.”
I was less than comfortable as I sat at the dinner table, but both women put me at ease with their warmth and charm. Elizabeth and Joan were very nice looking and outgoing. Joan appeared to be around twenty years old. I realized I was hungry and ate while engaging in pleasant conversation. I was more at ease as dinner progressed.
“Tell us of yourself, Mr. Archer. Where are you from, and where are you headed?” Mrs. Jamerson seemed interested in learning something of my life.
“Please call me John. Well, I was born and raised in Fitzgerald, Georgia, and I’m twenty-four years old. I completed my three year tour with the army four weeks ago, and I’m headed to Dahlonega, Georgia, to complete my senior year at North Georgia College. My mother and father live in Fitzgerald, my sister is a nurse in Albany. I believe that covers my life in a nut shell.”
“Oh, so you took a break from college to serve in the army?” Joan was not only pretty, she had a very pleasant voice.
“Yes. I ran out of money at the end of my junior year, so I joined the army and saved enough to return to school and finish my degree requirements.” There was a huge grin on Joan’s face and Mrs. Jamerson was smiling, too.
“It will surprise you to know Joan is a sophomore at North Georgia now! My goodness, what a coincidence.”
Sheriff Jamerson returned to the room and joined us at the table.
“What are you folks talking about? Did I hear excitement coming from the table?”
Mrs. Jamerson related the gist of our conversation to the Sheriff, and they equally surprised him at the North Georgia College connection between his daughter and myself.
“Well, what a pleasant coincidence. Imagine that,” he said with a grin. The sheriff had a habit of smiling every time he spoke.
“Excuse me for interrupting your conversation folks, but I want to put Mr. Archer at ease. I learned that the tag number of the stolen car in question is one digit off from your tag number recorded in the state computer system. The state bureau said the mistake was a computer glitch. It relieves you, I’m sure, son. At least for your trouble, you were able to meet the two prettiest ladies in Screven County, and you had a good dinner. I’m sorry I had to put you through a scare and inconvenience. You are once again a free man. And here’s your ticket for speeding in my county. You may mail the fine to the address on the ticket.”
“I deserve the ticket, Sheriff, but I never thought I was not free. You and your family have been so nice and even welcomed me into your home. This interlude was not an inconvenience, Sheriff, it was a very pleasant treat. Thank you. This is a story that no one will think true? However, Sheriff Jamerson, I want to ask you a question, if I may.
“Ask me what you like.”
“Why do you not wear a uniform or carry a gun and a badge? Isn’t that unusual, sir?”
“Well, it ‘is unusual, but it’s like this, son, I know everyone in this county and they are familiar with me, so there’s no reason to advertise who I am when they know me. You might think it odd because most sheriffs wear official attire and carry guns. I’ve never felt the need to carry a weapon in this county. Does that answer your question, son?”
“Yes, sir it does.”
“Well, listen, it’s gotten late and the local motel is closed for renovations. Why don’t you stay over tonight in our guest room and continue your trip to Dahlonega in the morning? No sense in driving on tonight. That will give you and Joan an opportunity to talk of changes in the school that might have occurred while you were in the army. Since the two of you will be class mates, it would be rewarding if you both got to know one another.”
“Are you sure that’s not too much trouble, Mrs. Jamerson?”
“Not the slightest bit of trouble. That settles it then. Breakfast is at seven o’clock, John.”
“Excuse me while I clear the table. Joan, you and John go out on the porch and get acquainted.”
“I have to respond to a call out in the county. I’ll see you in the morning, Mr. Archer.”
Joan and I sat in the swing on the front porch and talked for two hours, getting to know each other, and discussing changes at the college. Time passed as our conversation came as if we had known each other for a lifetime. We talked of many things other than the college. We spoke of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations after graduating from college.
“Joan, I can’t believe what has happened over the past three hours, but I will not resist it. What a night!”
“It is rather unbelievable, isn’t it? It’s getting late.” Joan rose from the swing, kissed me on the check, and wished me a good night.
The most important thing I learned that evening was that Joan did not have a boyfriend. This young lady smote me and I hoped our relationship might continue and blossom when we were back in Dahlonega. Something told me she shared my anticipation.
The unplanned meeting with Joan and her family occurred on September 3, 1960. I married Joan on July 22, 1962, and I still have my ticket to romance.