It was a weekday about 6 pm. It was 1964. l was in the kitchen in my rented Newport News, Virginia, bungalow, thinking of what I could throw together for my kids for dinner. My 9-year old daughter was moaning over her homework and the other, my 7-year old son, was in the back yard playing “I throw, you catch” with Molly, our dog. We were in Newport News because my husband, James T. Bush, was assigned as Executive Officer to the JOHN C. CALHOUN, SSBN 630, under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock.
The doorbell rang. I went to the door and opened it and twomen in civilian clothes, quite ordinary looking, one shorter and fatter, pushed past me, flashed what I presumed were badges, and walked straight into the living room on the left. The shorter fatter one said something that sounded like Latin. “What did you say?” said J. His unbelievable response was, “What’s the matter, lady, you’re not an American?” And even more unbelievable was his next utterance, “Lady, we have a warrant for your arrest.” “For what?” “For not paying the fine for yer traffic violation in Yorktown September 16th.” “But I paid it.” “But lady, you were told ya had ta pay by cash or money order, and ya sent a personal check. We haf ta take ya ta jail.” “But” said I, “what will happen to the children?” “They’ll be taken inta care.” “Well then, what about the dog?” That seemed to stump them. “Well”, I said, “my husband’s submarine is on sea trials right now, but he’ll be home tomorrow. How about you come back tomorrow to take me to jail, and then he can take care of the kids and the dog.” The taller thinner up-to-now silent one asked to use the phone and made a call. He then said, “OK. We’ll be back tomorrow about the same time.” They left. I noticed in an unmarked car. I fumed. “This is outrageous. I’m damn well going to jail. I’m going to phone the newspaper and tell them how a navy wife whose husband was at sea was arrested for paying with a personal check. That’ll fix ’em.” How did this happen? Well, my parents were living on the
Rappahannock River about an hour’s drive from Newport News.
As Jim was at sea, I was taking the kids and dog to visit them for the weekend. This required going through Yorktown and crossing the bridge over the river. As we were about I 0 minutes from Yorktown on a two lane road, the car directly ahead of me pulled over on the right shoulder in order to go around a car which was waiting for an oncoming car to tum left. I slowed down and followed him around on the shoulder. I had gone no more than 100 feet when I and the car ahead of me were pulled over by a cop. We were both given citations for reckless driving and told we could go immediately to the court at Yorktown and immediately pay an unbelievably high fine, pay the fine within 15 days, or come to court the following Friday morning to protest. I immediately said I would come to court. I did so, and the seemingly kind judge listened to my story, agreed that my crime was not reckless driving, and reduced my citation to improper passing. I was told I could pay the reduced fine by cash immediately or mail in a cashier’s check within three days. I didn’t have the cash.
I went home. I had never obtained a cashier’s check in my life. I associated them with the method sailors use to send money home. This was not something officers did. I said to myself, “A personal check is legal tender. I’m not going to even find out how to get a cashier’s check. I’m busy. I’m mailing in a personal check.” And so I did.
The next afternoon, Jim came home and I told him the story and that I expected him to take care of the home front while I was in jail. His view, quite misguided I thought, was that I should have paid by the cashier’s check and that I should do what was asked so as to avoid incarceration (and I thought any embarrassment to the U.S. Navy). He said he needed a shower and wanted to have his uniform on when the cops came. So up he went up to the bathroom which was right at the top of the stairs leading up from the front door. The doorbell rang and I opened the door to the two cops, again in plain clothes. At the same time, Jim opened the bathroom door at the top of the stairs. He was wearing only a towel! The cops stared up at him. I struggled to maintain a serious demeanor and told the cops my husband would be right down. I ushered them into the living room. Molly growled a little. “Good dog” I thought to myself.
Down came Jim in his blues with stripes and ribbons. Within five minutes he told them that he would obtain a cashier’s check and mail it in the very next day. Wasn’t there something that could be done? The cops conversed with each other and the taller thinner one said he would call the judge. He did. Jim spoke with the judge. The cop spoke with the judge. The cops left. To the best of my knowledge, Jim paid my fine the next day with a cashier’s check. I still wonder what it would have been like to go to jail and to see a front page story with my photo in the newspaper, “Navy officer’s wife jailed for paying traffic fine with personal check.”