Christmas is a happy, magical and wistful time of year for Brenda and me. It is a time when a walk in the snow, the smell of cookies, the blinking Christmas lights, and the company of friends and family reawaken our Christmas memories.
We remember the times we visited a church at midnight, went Christmas shopping at Lazarus in the snow, or decorated a Christmas tree with family all gathered around.
Living in a small town, it is reassuring to know many of the people and places are still here.
Last Thursday, we were given an opportunity to mix with both new and old friends and colleagues at the Wilmington Police Christmas party in the Moyer Room at the City Building. It was heartwarming as current and former Wilmington City Police officers and their families began to arrive.
Chief Duane Weyand and his wife, Lisa, and the young exchange student staying with them arrived and warmly greeted the guests. The Chief immediately set the tone for the evening. He was gracious, welcoming and appreciative. He genuinely made everyone feel at home.
Within a few moments, it became apparent this particular party was a special gathering of special people. We were in select company. Of the thousands of people who have lived in Wilmington over the years, we were part of a very small group who have proudly worn the uniform of the Wilmington Police Department over the decades.
It was great to see former officers, Chief Tom White and former Sergeant Frank Copeland, who had been sworn into the force on the same day in the early 1950’s.
Betty Lyon, the widow of late Sergeant Charlie Lyon, and their sons, Tom and Bob, walked in and sat down next to us. Sergeant Lyon was a very professional and dedicated police officer. We could sense his spirit through the laughter and happiness of his close-knit family.
We felt something very special in the air. Have you ever been in a place where time seemed to stand still? As I looked around, I noticed there wasn’t sad face in the room. Everyone who was there wanted to be there. Everyone seemed relaxed.
The stories started to swirl throughout the room. Some recalled how we were assigned the downtown beat, on foot patrol, with no radios, living only by our wits and the good nature of the business owners who, during the bitter cold Ohio weather, invited us into their shops to get warm, share a cup of coffee, and chat for a few minutes.
We remembered how we had to stand in the middle of the intersections of Locust and South, or South and Main, and direct traffic.
Chief Weyand stepped to the podium and introduced the police alumni. He shared very kind thoughts about each of us.
Police work is a close-knit fraternity. We understand one another. We understand what it is like to put on a bullet proof under our police uniform before beginning our shift. We understand what it is like to approach a suspicious car alone in the middle of the night. We understand what
it is like to hug our spouse and children, and say a brief prayer as we walk out the front door into the dangerous and uncertain arena of police work.
Everyone in the room knew and understood those feelings.
The hours were slipping away quickly as we continued to reminisce about the notable domestic calls, tavern fights, high speed chases, prowler calls, or maybe the times we had the unfortunate duty of delivering a death message to a bereaved family.
Some walked with a limp to the food line and others walked with a cane; nevertheless, all were part of this exclusive family. We all shared a unique bond whether one was twenty-one, or eighty-one years-old. We had fought the same battles, maybe at different times in history, but we understood the sacrifices each and every one has made for our community. We love Wilmington and have been willing to put our lives on the line to protect her.
We prayed when we came together, and we prayed again before we departed. And we pray every night for our fellow officers.
The celebration ended all too quickly. Brenda and I stood outside on the sidewalk near the city building and felt the snowflakes melt upon our face and run down our cheeks. As we walked to our car the light snow stopped, but our cheeks were still moist.
We both smiled at the same time. We realized it wasn’t the melting snow moistening our cheeks; it was our memories of a time, and place, and the people who can never be replaced in our hearts.
We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.