When I was young, there was a golf driving range near the elementary school in Glenolden. At the very end of the property, there was a creek and then a huge, steep hill which supported a set of train tracks. The creek went through a stone tunnel into Glenolden Park where we watched fireworks every Independence Day.
Being in our youth a friend or three went with me to the park to play in the creek. We went into the tunnel and whistled, yelled, hooted and hollered to hear the great echo. Once we were through the tunnel, we decided to climb the steep hill to the train tracks.
Once we were on the hill we found a few golf balls embedded in the hill and took them to play with later. You see, 99.9999999% of the golf balls were on the golf range property. Once in a while one of the local golfers would get a boost of adrenaline, and with the help of a good wind, smack a ball into that hill.
Most ran down into the creek, but a few managed to bury themselves into the hill. They were covered with mud, but we wiped them on our jeans before putting them in our pockets.
Every once in a while a guy would ride a golf cart with chicken wire protecting him from the flying golf balls down to the edge of the creek and scoop up the balls in the creek. He would also yell at us to come down the hill. We would promptly run up over the hill across the tracks to the other side and escape.
On Friday afternoon we were playing on the hill and had a couple of golf balls in our pockets when all of a sudden something clamped around by arm. I could only think of an anaconda from the Brazil rain forest attempting to squeeze me in preparation for his dinner.
I screamed and my companions wisely fled to escape the deadly anaconda. To this day, I cannot recall who else was with me.
I had no such luck to be eaten by an anaconda – I was caught by a senior in high school or a recent graduate working for the summer at the golf range. He had seen us with his binoculars and decided to go to the other side of the hill and surprise us from the top of the hill. He did.
They called the police and the police officer came over to the golf range, put me in the squad car and took me to the police station, which happened to be on the other side of the hill. This was not “Johnny the Cop” who visited the schools each year to tell us to be good and be safe, but a younger one that looked very stern, just a snake scales short of being the meanest cop I had ever dreamed about. It must be mental block, but I cannot remember if he cuffed me or not.
Once at the police station I was put in a cell. After what seemed like six hours (but probably was only fifteen minutes, I was taken from the cell and sat in a hard wooden chair next to the officer’s desk.
“I need to call your parents and…..” I did not hear the rest of the sentence after the word “parents”. I begged and the nearly outright mean officer seemed to soften a little, but just a little.
“Well…” he began, “If you come down here tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, we will discuss on whether to call your parents. Needless to say, I left the house Saturday morning early, but I had to lie to my father (my earthly father) and tell him I needed to play with the guys in a game and skip a trip to the YMCA for swimming (I was a Shark and had the patch on my nylon swim trunks to prove it). I would also have to make up that lesson in order to work on getting the Jr. Lifeguard patch.
I met the now-named Officer friendly (I don’t remember his name) and he took me to a cell without a word. The cell clanged shut.
I didn’t know when I was getting out. After fifteen minutes, Officer not-so friendly (now) led me to that same chair I had been sitting in the day before. He asked me if God would approve of me stealing golf balls. I didn’t know God played golf, but I was definitely sure regardless of Him playing or not He would not approve and maybe even send me on a trip to purgatory (I grew up a Catholic before I found out about hell) for pocketing the balls.
He asked me if I was thinking of stealing any more golf balls. I answered no, and I never did go back there to steal the balls. I did go on the hill near the top to torment the golf ranger, but never did steal any more balls.
The officer promised not to tell my parents if I would go to the golf range and apologize to the owner and to the guy with the vise-grip hands that could out-squeeze an anaconda. I apologized to both and went back to the police station.
“I had better not see you here again, young man.” the officer said. He waved me on my way and I rode in the park and played in the creek for hours, returning home with a suitable amount of dirt, mud and soaked pants and shoes.
Nothing ever was said by either of my parents, but that officer, by his authority, put the fear of God in me. Actually, it was the fear of what my earthly father might do that kept me from stealing golf balls.
Now that I look back on it, my dad didn’t protest my change of plans. I never did find out if the officer called my parents. I certainly never asked either of them.
I still remember how the rubber-band unravels once you cut the hard cover off of the golf ball. And that center actually out-performed the Super Ball toy that came out years later. Maybe the inventor of that toy remembered what happened when you cut the cover off of stolen golf ball.
Those were certainly different times.
Today the golf ranger would be sued for assault on a minor. The owner of the golf range would also be sued for millions.
The police officer would be arrested and convicted of child abuse and permanently terrorizing a child by locking him in a cell and get two years added to his sentence for actually making the child apologize; add another six years for mentioning God.
Today the child would be released, spoiled with all the toys clothes and iPods and cell phones they could carry, and graduate from stealing golf balls to drive-by shootings.