By John Fraizer
Author’s Note: With the start of school please be aware of the small children going to and from home, school bus and classroom. Keep the safety of the children in mind at all times.
There he stood looming larger than life, like a tall statue except for his hands were constantly moving. His hair was gray, but his figure was commanding accentuated with a billed hat. The hat was of different colors at different times when he was seen in animation during all the seasons. Sometimes it was dark blue like his coat in early spring or late autumn. Both his trousers and coat were dark blue like the background of the stars on Old Glory. Those carefully ironed and pressed trousers had a bright stripe on each leg running from his belt to his shoes. The black shoes glistened with a shine that mirrored his reflection. His shirt and hat were the same, matching blue but replaced with a crisp white one at times depending on the occasion and the town’s celebrations. In the last days of spring or early fall there would be no use for a coat in the bright warm sunshine. Those shiny metal badges adorning his hat, shirt and coat were fascinating and elicited a wish to touch them. Marshal Dillon would have loved to have had one as nice as those! After all, to a small child in a small town he was our Marshal Dillon. That man in blue proudly displayed those shiny badges and what they represented. His silver whistle caused a small boy to pine to get his hands on that bright silver object. That shrill blast and his instructions at the stoplight demanded compliance for our safety. Around his waist was a belt full of silver-cased bullets hanging in their loops. His gun was strapped in its holster made of cowhide with its finely checkered engraved handle sticking out just in case it would have to be used. He rarely had to use it in this small town, but it was known that he would use it to protect his citizens should an occasion arise. His service to his country presented a gentleman dressed proudly in his uniform. After all it was the sign of those who served from the Greatest Generation.
Recently, while driving in this small town which I called home throughout my childhood, my mind flashed back to a previous time, and I had a sudden memory of the commanding figure standing there under the stoplight. In my mind I saw him in the animation of controlling the small-town traffic. The whistle blew, and the white gloves would begin to work their magic. He was standing directly under the stop light with the red, yellow, and green glowing round bulbs encased in a weathered pale yellow metal housing as it changed from one color to the other before my eyes on Main Street of my hometown of Gassaway, West Virginia.
The memory took me back to a time in which the white palm- gloved hand to the right and another white palm hand to the left stopped us from crossing. His arms and his hands with those pearl white gloves would then go into a patty cake roll with an abrupt directional signal along with the shrill blow of the whistle on the braided lanyard around his neck and held firmly in his teeth signaled the driver of the auto to follow his directions. After the traffic moved through, he would give a peep on the whistle for us school children to cross from one side of the street to the other. That blast demanded compliance!
The Man in Blue’s location was at the street below Davis Grade School and there was a concrete sidewalk leading down the hill from the school to the stoplight. The walk was cracked from the freezing and thawing of a bad winter where salt that had been strewn by Mr. Young, our school custodian. This sidewalk merged at the bottom of the hill with a WPA-era brick sidewalk that led past a parallel lot from Main Street south to Mr. and Mrs. Bright’s home across the street from the Community building, city park and playground.
We school children of Davis Grade, our elementary school, would see him early in the morning making sure the buses unloaded his little ones safely. He was always looking out for the little ones that might dart out from a bus if there was oncoming traffic. We would see him again at recess if the weather permitted and we had been extra good provided we had not had to stay in our school room because of bad behavior. At the bottom of that hill on the sidewalk we would have to cross Main Street at the street-light to go to the playground adjacent to the Community Building or City Hall and he was there to help us cross. If we had time for a trip during lunch, he was there ready to protect us. Again, we would see him in the late afternoon, rain or snow, standing tall and going into animation with those white- gloved hands helping to direct traffic or getting the big yellow school buses loaded safely. There was always a smile, teasing, or a joke as we little ones passed. He had nicknames for the ones he knew well but also would try to elicit a response from a quiet child, maybe to get the child to talk or to let them know that he was there and watching over them.
Who was this Man in Blue with the white gloves? We all knew his name! How could anyone forget him! He was stern and firm when he had to be for our protection and had our respect as this man loomed larger than life. Who would not like him as he even provided protection for Santa Claus when Santa came to visit all the classrooms at Davis Grade before Christmas break. He assisted as Santa passed out little brown paper pokes of candy to every child. It was apparent he did not want to see Santa’s toys stolen from all the little girls and boys before Christmas. The Man in Blue drove Santa to the school in the squad car as Santa always left his sleigh behind at the North Pole in case there was not enough snow.
Always, due to the anticipation of Santa’s arrival by the children on that Christmas party day, the atmosphere in the classroom was tense! We would hear footsteps come to the door and it would swing open and with a boisterous voice we would hear the Blue Man exclaim loudly, “Guess who is here!” and suddenly there he was the magical man in a red suit exclaiming “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” My classmates and I shouted a medley of exclamations including Santaaaa…! Wow! What a smile on the Blue Man’s face when he and Santa entered our classroom. You would have thought he was Santa as I believed that he was just as excited to see us little ones be so happy as we were to see Santa!
Was the Man in Blue a brave man? The answer would be a resounding yes! Late one evening at a well-known watering hole on main street the party in question became intoxicated and started altercations while breaking up some furniture and boasting that he would whip anyone in the room. Someone said for him to calm down or they would call The Man in Blue! The reply by the drunk was that he would not only whip everyone in the establishment, but he would whip The Man in Blue also. One of the patrons sneaked out and relayed the alarm to call in Gassaway’s finest. Soon came The Man in Blue in the squad car with siren blaring and the red light on the dash flickering in its rotation. He quickly pulled up to the local watering hole which I choose not to name so as not to offend anyone.
When this drunk saw the red flashing light and heard the siren he chose to sit down on one of the unbroken chairs at a table. He portrayed himself to be calm as a cucumber hoping to blend into the surroundings while acting totally innocent. The only problem was that the person who had given specifics about the dastardly drunk had conveyed who he was and the danger he was causing. It did not matter to the Blue Man as he already had the drunk’s number and he had dealt with his kind before. This officer did not for a minute fall for the coyness of the perpetrator. He called the drunk out and told him he was taking him to jail.
Well, the drunk happened to be a big man and attempted to use intimidation. But the Man in Blue would be a formidable foe. The cowardly drunk thought he could verbally assault and convince the Blue Man of his toughness, so he kept up his verbal shenanigans to avoid his trip to the box stall. So, the inebriated scoundrel looked at Gassaway’s finest and told him he would not be needing the officer’s company for the evening. The response back was that if he the officer had to drag him to jail at our local City Hall, he would do it. The officer became short on patience, and everyone in the watering hole was entranced and watching to see what was going to unfold next. One of the inhabitants at the time would later exclaim that one could hear a pin drop on the floor due to the intensity of the moment. Finally, with his patience exhausted the Man in Blue walked over to the table and said, “Did you hear me as he called the man by his name and said we are going to jail!” The big drunk now with a cold stare looked at him while the Man in Blue pulled his revolver out and stuck the end of the barrel in his nose and said, “Get up out of that seat and let’s go!” Needless to say, the drunken foe got up from his seat and with the barrel stuck in his nostril staggered out in handcuffs for a ride to City Hall and a jail cell. No one doubted the Man in Blue was a brave man and would protect the citizens and our hometown.
The Man in Blue loomed large in my eyes and many others. You see he was a man before his time. His greatness showed through. He was more than the Man in Blue to me and others and particularly to the citizens, teachers, and my classmates. He was a role model that would set forth long lasting effects for many.
The Man in Blue knew that if he gained the trust of the citizens and love of the children by working his magic in that blue uniform with those white gloves on that double lined street below the stop light that he would help other police officers gain respect from the little ones for generations to come. A hello here, a joke there, a tease, or a call to a shy child to get their attention would go a long way in gaining the trust of citizens for years.
You see he looked out for us and the traffic danger. “How are you young man? Slow down little lady, slow down your running, so you will not fall.” “Be careful on the slide at the park!” “I bet you cannot skip across that street!” to the little girls who would make their little feet work magically “Skipping to my Lou” as they crossed the street below the stoplight on their way to the city park. These comments were some of his help and attention getters. Yes, I am sure he believed in Santa Claus Johnna! You see Santa was used in conjunction to show the belief and love of an officer to the life of a little one. As a child I knew that if the Man in Blue loved Santa and protected him from the bad guys he would surely protect me.
To the Man in Blue, I have to say Thank You for the trust and security you gave me growing up in a small town and instilled in me the knowledge that when we needed you that you would be there to protect us. If someone ever attempted to break into our home (even though most of our doors were unlocked during the night in our small town) we were well assured that the Blue Man would be there to protect us. Thank you for all that you did for my classmates and me as I never got to tell you! You are a role model still in my mind for the Men in Blue fifty-five plus years later. But you the Man in Blue with the white gloved magical hands, kind words, was forming a trust in law enforcement with your long hours and dedication that has not been forgotten.
My classmates and I had other names for you as you got us safely across the street. Some called you Ray; some called you Ray Ray! and some called you Officer Ray! Ray Lemon you will always be Officer Ray, the man standing tall in blue with the white gloves using those magical hands to direct traffic away from your school age children at the stoplight in our hometowns across America! You were truly America’s finest The Man in Blue with the White Gloves.
John Frazier Thanks to Roy Lemon for the photo of his father in uniform and Beth Simmons for her assistance.