“I wonder if God ever just feels sorry for you,” I thought as I sat there soaking in the sweltering courtroom of the Migdon County Juvenile Justice Center during the summer of 1948.
“State your name,” said the prosecutor, Mr. Kratt, with his pencil nose and icy stare.
“Joshua Everett Wade, Sir.”
“Do you go by any other name, Mr. Wade?”
“Well,” I said, “Momma calls me Skunk-Butt when I’m in trouble, Sir.”
Snickers rippled through the room and Kratt scowled slightly.
“Enough,” he said to everyone. “And are you familiar with the defendant?”
“Well sure, Sir. Me and Andy been best pals since third grade.”
“Can you describe your whereabouts on Tuesday, July 2nd, between the hours of 10:00AM and noon?”
“I was shootin’ marbles out back of Tuttle Grocery with Freddy McEntire and Skeet Johnson. Andy was there, too.”
Kratt knitted his eyebrows together.
“Mr. Wade,” he pronounced, “no less than four witnesses have already stated, under oath, they noticed Andy Appleby loitering in front of Cazban General during that time. Am I correct?”
“I don’t know who they seen, Sir. Andy was with us the whole time, honest to God.”
Freddy and Skeet sat on the back row with their sunburned faces, wide-eyed and heads bobbing.
“So you admit,” came Kratt’s rejoinder, “that you were with Mr. Appleby during the time period in question, when over seventy-five dollars’ worth of fireworks were stolen from Mr. Cazban.”
I didn’t much like the way this was going, and I fidgeted with the marble in my pocket, a neon green popper I won from Glass-Eyed Gus last summer. I shuffled it around as I pondered how much I should admit.
Several moments passed.
“Mr. Wade, you seem distracted. What’s in your pocket?”
“It’s just a marble, Sir.”
“Hand it over. I’ll not let the proceedings of this court be interrupted by a silly toy,” Kratt ordered.
I slowly drew my prized popper out, but hesitated to place it in his pale outstretched palm. I looked at the judge.
“Hand it over,” he calmly instructed.
I rose up to surrender my contraband, and at this very moment Providence chose to play its hand.
Sometime in 1932, it turned out, Judge Williams ordered every chair and table in that courtroom nailed to the floor. A scuffle had broken out one day, resulting in several breakages of furniture and décor, not to mention a couple of skulls.
As I stood up, several things happened at once: I realized too late that in my fidgeting and squirming I had wrapped my foot around one chair leg. I promptly lost my balance and went crashing over the witness box banister.
I still made an effort to plant the popper into Kratt’s hand, and he made a determined attempt to receive it. This only resulted in the marble bouncing through the air and landing in the exact center of court stenographer Alison Pennybottom’s emphatically burdened brassiere.
Half the jaws in the room dropped and half the cheeks turned in shame as Alice shrieked and went diving for the offending projectile. She fished the shiny orb out only to see it escape her grip and go rolling toward the gallery.
“Order in the court!” shouted the judge as the bailiff sprang into action to retrieve the renegade ordnance. Only he ended up kicking my poor popper and sending it through a small hole at the bottom of the bar. A slightly larger marble would have gotten stuck, and that would have been the end of things. However, in what my Grampy often called a plumb coincidence, the rocketing roller barely slipped through and on to the gallery pews where sat none other than Glass-Eyed Gus McCormack.
Suddenly eyeing a chance to get his ace shooter back, Gus dove at the same instant the bailiff and several other well-meaning citizens also tried to capture it. The courtroom shook with a sound like a football scrimmage line a split second after the snap. Bodies went flying, Gus went tumbling, the bailiff flipped over and slammed his boots into Mr. Cazban’s astonished face, and in all the kerfuffle my marble kept rolling to the back of the courtroom where Freddy scooped it up and thrust it into his pocket.
As the bailiff regained his bearings, he grabbed up Gus by his suspenders and shook him.
“Blast it, boy! What did you do with it?” he screamed.
Right at that moment, something fell from the chest pocket of Gus’s bib overalls and onto the floor a mere three feet away from Mr. Cazban with his bloody nose: a bright red jumping jack from the Nantucket Fireworks Company.
“That’s one of my fireworks!” exclaimed Mr. Cazban. “I had just received them that morning. I hadn’t even put them out for sale yet!”
Every eye in the courtroom lasered in on Gus’s bewildered face.
“I don’t know where that came from! That’s not mine!” he stammered.
But we all had seen it fall from his pocket. In short order, Judge Williams dismissed the case against Andy Appleby and closed the proceedings, detaining old Glass-Eye and dismissing the rest of us to go about our merry business.
As we shuffled out of the courtroom, I locked eyes with Skeet Johnson and he gave me a quick furtive smile. Skeet was the best pickpocket in the county, and I was pretty sure I knew how a jumping jack ended up in Glass-Eyed Gus’s bib overalls that day.
Several months would pass before the boys and I took our stash of firecrackers way out to Potter Falls, about ten miles away, where we told our folks we were going camping. We tried to light a few, but we ended up burying most of the loot. I guess we figured enough was enough. You can’t keep hoping the Lord will wink at you.