Clayton S. Jeppsen
Thirty-five miles per hour, that`s what the speedometer read. It was the perfect patrol speed. I learned that in police academy. But on Sunday at o`dark thirty in the morning, when the drug dealers, bank robbers and domestic abusers have all gone to bed, thirty-five miles per hour was like sipping soma; it put you to sleep.
One morning, I can`t even remember what it was, but something was weighing on my mind. I thought about it for hours and it kept me awake, alert. My epiphany was this; if I kept my mind mentally stimulated, the dry, somber end of my shift was a piece of cake. It was like throwing a javelin through the heart of monotony; I was the victor.
For three weeks I produced my own cinematic masterpiece. I planned a Hollywood cast. I organized a musical soundtrack. I even imagined a theatrical trailer to pump my movie. One evening, as I lay in bed with my wife, I decided to introduce her to this new introverted husband of hers. I felt silly, but laid it on her anyway.
She said to me, "Clay, you should write a book about it. That`s how all movies start you know. I love it." And so it began, she gave birth to my three beautiful children, and unassumingly, my passion to write.
I met Lindsey at a youth conference in Sedona, Arizona. We were at a dance. Call me `Shallow Hal` but I scanned the dance floor for the prettiest girl. I won`t insult your wit, you can guess who it was, but back then her name was Lindsey Reed. The first song was entirely too short. So I had to reserve the next song as well. I was sixteen; she was twelve. I know what you`re thinking, but the physical contact ended after that second song. She was too young for me, but the fire was never really doused. When I was nineteen, I was called to serve a church mission in the country of Poland. Before I left, among others, I gave Lindsey a friendly hug goodbye.
I lived in Warsaw and various parts of Poland for two years. I learned to read, write and speak fluently in the language. I taught religion and English there. Our services were all non-profit. I taught English at the American School of Warsaw and at a few select universities and colleges. We taught Polish businesses. We even held private lessons for advanced students. The mission was organized like a business with one hundred and ten missionaries in the country. I served as a trainer, district leader, zone leader and finally, branch president. It will eventually be a novel in itself, but to say the least, I fell in love with Poland and its people.
I had eight months left in the country when I received a letter from Lindsey Reed. I took it with me on a six-hour train ride from Warsaw to Sierc. I spent six hours reading a one-page letter. For eight months we corresponded through letters to each other. It`s where we really got to know each other, intermingling ideas, sharing innuendos and philosophies of life. And finally, it`s where we discovered and interpreted love. Andziej Jodkowski, a shrewd Polish man and a good friend of mine said, "She sounds like a good girl. You should take her out for ice-cream when you get back to the States." Good advice, Andriej. The ice-cream turned into marriage and the greatest blessing of my life.
Lindsey and I have three boys and one in the oven. She`s seven weeks pregnant. You could imagine how bad we`re hoping for a girl. I have been a police officer in Phoenix Arizona for the past eight and a half years. In the fifth largest city of the United States, you can bet I`ve had a colorful career. I have advanced to the rank of Corporal. I am the department`s General Instructor, Defensive Tactics Instructor, and Field Training Officer. I am on the Policy Review Board and currently in charge of the department`s Aggressive Driver program and Citizen Police Academy. During the last eight years, I have arrested over 1200 people, 300 of which have been drug related; others have included violent criminals and homicide suspects. For each one of the listed crimes I had to write detailed reports; reports well enough to thwart the fiery darts of defense attorneys, judges and local media.
The truth was, though I wrote to satisfy the high-minded (government officials and aristocrats), it didn`t satisfy me. Police reports are professional and dry from start to finish. I wanted to deviate from the beaten path. I wanted to wander the plains of color and creation, and share with others that which I had found. So I began writing, really writing.
My wife`s grandfather, Michailo Katich, was a Serbian immigrant to the United States. He was a man of intrepid and ardent character. He was a true graduate from the school of Hard Knocks. His middle name was "No Nonsense". And when he was angry he would choose one of two phrases; "Vente Boga!" or "Listen women!" For forty years he worked the Copper Mines of San Manuel, the largest underground mine in the world, so he spent a good portion of his life in darkness. A pitch of light at the end of the day was all he needed carry on. For extra money, he took up professional boxing. He never lost a fight. A biography of Mohammed Ali was found on his night stand the day he died. That was Michailo on the surface.
On the inside, Michailo was the most interesting man I had ever met. And I was fortunate enough to know him during his last five years. He was beloved by his wife, five daughters, and eleven grandchildren. Lindsey was grandchild number ten. I watched how she would melt in his arms, even at age eighty-nine, each time she saw him. Surely she was reminiscing of stories yet to be unfolded before me. I had heard some, but not all. I know as a young man he was working for the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. He was clearing a trail in the Grand Canyon and fell a hundred feet, nearly to his death. A shallow ledge held his weight for half a day before he was rescued by a helicopter. I know that he took the grandchildren on week-long fishing trips in the White Mountains and made them gut and clean their own fish at a very young age. He was the master of Dominoes, especially Mexican train. I heard some stories that I wasn`t even sure were true; like the one where his finger was bitten off by an alligator. He really was missing a finger.
At family get-togethers I would single Michailo out and sit with him. In the eve of his life he suffered from Alzheimer`s disease, so occasionally I would have to reintroduce myself to him. He wasn`t a big talker. When he spoke, it was for a purpose. He wanted to make someone laugh or bestow a quick gesture of love, or he wanted to set someone straight or maybe give a final, authoritative opinion over a two-side argument. When Michailo was in hospice, his dear wife, Ruth asked me if I would give him a haircut. His last words to me as I strapped on my barbers cape were, "Who the hell are you? Are you a barber?" Shortly after that, I was listening to the peaceful sound of a harp as his entire family hovered over his lifeless body.
I loved Michailo Katich, the mysterious Serb, a walking novel of hard work, no nonsense and love, and finally, the source of life for my beautiful Lindsey. Each Christmas, we hang a special ornament on the tree. It`s the Serbian Crest, a golden, double-headed eagle. Across its breast are the words; "Michailo Katich 1916 " 2005 Merry Christmas." I wish I knew him longer.
I was so intrigued by him that I began to study Serbia, its rich and brazen history. It was then that I discovered the plot and setting for my book, Field of Blackbirds.
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