I hear sirens! Roll your window down

Another mom story for your reading pleasure. I am just getting started with writing this down and would love your feedback. Who knows what I am meant to do with these.

Okay, this is a terrible picture of mom, but it was one of her favorites. I think Dad was out at sea and she was at a Halloween party dressed as a sailor in his uniform. She was pretend arrested and LOVED it. There is probably a deep meaning that I could assign to the fact that her face can't be seen. For another day.


Mom loved the sound of a siren for as long as I could remember. I think it came from her nursing background and desire to help those in need, but sometimes it just felt a lot like Mom wanting in on the action—the drama.

She would yell for us to roll the windows down and be quiet whenever we were in the car and heard sirens. All so that she could figure out where they were coming from and go toward it, if possible. We would complain. Loudly. And she would reply, “They might need help.” It brought a personal meaning to the term “ambulance chaser.” So, we would go. Rarely did she get out and help or need to do so. Funny aside: My brother, Tom, became an EMT at one point in his life. He did stop and help in this exact situation. I won’t gross you out with the details, but I think mom was proud and jealous when she heard about it.

Sirens and drama played interesting parts of our lives. We lived in Comstock, MI, after our stay at a shelter, in an eight-unit two-story apartment complex. The end of my fifth-grade year and the beginning of my sixth. Mom just happened to witness a guy shooting his brother in the chest with an arrow outside. Yes. You read that correctly. I’ll pause for a moment to let you absorb. She came out just in time to stop the shooter from pulling the arrow out.

She saved his life. She knew her stuff and wouldn’t hesitate to help.

She kept everyone calm and repeatedly stopped the guy from pulling it out. She had a friend pick us up so that we could miss most of the aftermath. The EMTs had to cut the arrow off to get him in the ambulance. Shortly after the incident, we moved to Grand Rapids, and I recall Mom having to appear in court to testify. I assume it was stressful for her, but I can also guess that she enjoyed being part of the drama. I feel terrible potentially disparaging her role in the situation, but it feels accurate.

Mom finally put her interest in sirens to work and enrolled in college to earn her Criminal Justice degree at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. She worked hard. I did not give her enough credit for her efforts - ever. I had too many things to complain about and a naïve selfish outlook of her interests.

While in school, she earned a volunteer, then eventually paid, role as a parole and probation officer for Grand Rapids. While there, she delighted in various ‘crazy’ episodes with her parolees. One involved a famous singer from a trendy ‘80s musical group. (I have removed the names as I just looked up the word libel. I swear the following is true, but I was 13 or so.) Allegedly, while he was dating a famous singer, who was part of a very famous musical family, she gave him a dog. Well, allegedly, this dog got in trouble with the law due to continuous barking. He ended up with a probation sentence and became one of mom’s most interesting offenders to handle. She wasn’t supposed to share that, of course. Goodness, this is more interesting with the names!


The thought crossed my mind that I should ask her to tell me the story again, but alas, that isn’t possible now. A good reminder to get the stories you want to save before it’s too late. And maybe the truth about how your parents felt about them because now that I am on the receiving end of being a mom, I know that our assumptions aren’t always right.

This parole and probation officer job also connected her with a harrowing experience. In typical Mom style, though. While working probation, she met a police officer, who we will call 'Rat.' I would bet that she was over the moon at dating a police officer. They dated for a while, but mom decided not to introduce us. She wanted to wait to make sure it was serious. This was not typical for her. They didn’t date long, but I remember in the early ‘80s that he got us an air popcorn popper for Christmas, which was pretty cool. We didn’t have many new things and especially not electronics. That and popcorn was cheap - so yay for snacks whenever we wanted!

One-night, Rat canceled a date due to illness. She decided to surprise him with soup to help him feel better. I remember that she went to deliver it only to find him with another woman. I can only assume that Mom and Rat’s relationship ended that night. In the long run, this was lucky for mom. Officer Ratliff later married a woman who became a judge in Grand Rapids. In October 1988, the Judge was in court while mom was in the parole and probation office down the hall, and Rat came into court, shot, and killed his wife, and shot at other officers.


True story - you can read about it here - https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/2011/06/prison_death_for_cop_who_kille.html. The courthouse was riddled with bullet holes that were later covered up by paper Thanksgiving decorations. Picture random paper turkeys and cornucopias dotting the walls. Officer Ratliff died in prison in 2011. And we, thankfully, never met him.

When Tom and I drove mom’s ashes home and did our state tour, we heard sirens. Tom yelled, “roll the windows down!”. Mom was so happy to hear that.

Moral of the story? I have no idea.


Talking with your parents is an excellent place to start. Capture the stories and ask them how they felt at the time. Be open to whatever you hear, what was important to them, what they valued. Once they are gone, the opportunity is too. I know that is obvious, but I regret not hearing her side of the stories.

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