Who Was That?
By Clif Chapman
Reg #222 E.P.S
It was one of those great days in the early 1970’s; sun shining, Edmonton streets bustling with shoppers and the calls for dispatch routine and without threat.
I was working as a patrol sergeant in downtown Edmonton. Traffic was fairly heavy as I stopped southbound on 100 Street at Jasper Avenue, facing the majestic old MacDonald Hotel. I was scanning the faces and traffic when the lead car in a funeral procession caught my eye. Strung out behind it was a very long line of mourners. They would never be able to make it through when the light changed. Typically, some would take chances, running the red light so they could stay together
Those were the days when a few people still respected the passing of a funeral procession and I knew they would wait – for awhile - then they would cave in to the din of horns behind them and start probing the long line of cars.
My mind flashed back to a time when I was a little boy, following behind my mother’s hearse. As we passed strangers on the street, men would stop, take off their hats and bow their heads. A group of school children stopped playing in a school yard and respectfully faced the hearse, and they too bowed their heads – just the way their parents and teachers had taught them. But, that was 1945.
Now, twenty-five years later, as I sat in the police car, I realized how far we had regressed. No one so much as looked sideways at the hearse or the family car. No one made any gesture of respect or understanding. How sad for the family! I saw a chance to right things for them and to make their passage safe and respectful.
I flipped the red “fireball” light on the dashboard, punched the four way flashers, grabbed my hat and stepped out. After whistling all traffic to a stop, I planted myself in the middle of the intersection, pointed to the lead car in the funeral procession and gestured them to proceed. The driver gave a huge and grateful smile. The members in the family car looked startled at first. Then, through their tears, gave me the warmest look I had ever received.
They started through the intersection, still sending me their thanks on waves of smiles and tears. I wanted this to be memorable for them and as the first car passed; my right foot shot up and slammed down as I came to attention. I saluted and held the salute until the hearse and family car had passed. A few moments later, I was back in “point duty” mode watching for cars and pedestrians who might infringe on this poor family’s passing. Pedestrians froze in their tracks and looked down and shuffled in a kind of automated and almost embarrassed show of respect.
The last car passed. I swung my hands up pointing to the traffic lights and retreated to my car. Life on the Edmonton streets went back to normal.
I was reaching for the door handle when a male voice said, “Excuse me officer!” I turned to face a middle aged man who stood almost apologetically, hat in hand. I answered, “Yes, can I help you?” He said, “Out of curiosity, who was that passing in the funeral procession?” “I don’t know”, I answered. “But, you came to attention and saluted; I thought it must be a very important person”. I answered, “I’m sure they were important to their family and, I saluted out of respect for the deceased and the family”. Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, “That’s wonderful, wonderful…I had no idea the police did that”.
As I drove away, I again thought of all those years that I had so vividly remembered the respect shown to my mother and our family.
I had just passed that respect on to others. Would they in turn pass it on? I hoped so.