The spotlight caught me just as I reached the top of the swimming pool wall. I could have jumped over and run, but instead I sat down. "Tell the others to come out," the police barked. A few minutes later, a much subdued group followed the police car to the station. It was 1:30 a.m. on a hot June night in 1956 outside of Philadelphia, and later that day my younger brother, Gus, was getting married. What was he going to say when he found out that half the wedding party was in the local jail?
It took forever for the sergeant to write down all our names and addresses. "Follow me," he said, finally. But he didn't lock us up. He took us to a room in the back. And there, behind a large wooden desk, was a dignified-looking gray-haired man in black robes. Night court! Judge Pritchard presiding. We were lined up in front of him: me, the best man; two bridesmaids; and three ushers.
Looking straight at me, the judge informed us that this was a very serious matter. We were charged with two offenses: trespassing and disturbing the peace. But if we were guilty of breaking and entering.... Just the tone of his voice was enough to conjure up visions of cell doors clanking shut.
'TROWBRIDGE!" Judge Pritchard snapped. "I understand you are responsible for this. What have you to say?"
"We know Mr. Phelps," I squawked. "He said we could swim in their pool any time."
"At 1 in the morning?" growled the judge. "I've a good mind to make an example of you. There's been entirely too much of this sort of thing going on."
"Please, sir," burst out Tony. "Couldn't you just let us be in the wedding? Afterwards...."
Judge Pritchard glared at him and indicated that I should go on. I told the judge how I'd never even seen a member of the Phelps family there. I guess I'd taken it for granted.
"Does your father know about this?" he said. "Tell him to come down."
"Call my father? Now?" The clock on the wall said five after 3. What would he say?
Court was adjourned pending my father's arrival. The judge left the room, and the other members of the bridal party sat around in a sort of daze.
My father didn't sound a bit happy when I explained what had happened. He'd just gotten into bed and seemed mostly concerned with where we were and how he was to get there.
Half an hour went by, 40 minutes. And then the door to the courtroom swung open. It was my father. I cringed. He was wearing a bathrobe over his shirt and pants, and around his neck was a lopsided clerical collar. Judge Pritchard regarded him coldly as he shuffled down the aisle. On his feet were slippers.
"Well, well, well," said my father when he reached us. And then he looked up at the judge. "What's all the fuss?"
"Did you never sneak out at night to the local swimming hole, judge? Did you never yearn for the soothing baptism of water?" The judge did not respond. "And then to think that there was a place - the Phelps pool. Where was the harm?"
For a moment I thought the impossible had happened. And then the color began flooding into Judge Pritchard's cheeks.
"You see nothing wrong with your son's behavior?" He rose out of his chair. "Encouraging these young people to break the law? You, a clergyman?"
"The important thing is the wedding. We don't want to spoil the wedding, do we?" He beamed at the judge.
"The important thing is the law!" barked Judge Pritchard. "How would you like it if a band of hooligans invaded your privacy in the middle of the night?"
"Hooligans?" said my father. "Good kids, all of them. Shenanigans, that's all."
"Your remarks show a callous disregard for the rights of others," said the judge, coldly. "Civilization depends upon respect. Mr. Roger Phelps is one of our leading citizens."
"And an old friend."
"Well, why don't you get him down here, and we'll see."
ROGER PHELPS, an elderly gentleman with a white mustache, wearing a camel's-hair coat and a green silk tie, appeared on the arm of a man I took to be his valet.
"What's this all about, Joseph?" Mr. Phelps said, turning up his hearing aid.
"The swimming pool, sir. These young people were swimming tonight, and the police arrested them."
"Why wasn't I told?" Mr. Phelps looked around. He spotted my father. "George! By golly! Been swimming, have you?"
Judge Pritchard cleared his throat.
"This is Judge Pritchard, sir," said Joseph. "He wants to know if you gave the wedding party permission."
"We're marrying my son tomorrow, Roger. Or I should say today," said my father, chuckling.
"By golly, I keep meaning to get down there and hear one of your sermons."
Judge Pritchard slapped his hand on the desk. "Did you or did you not give these young people permission to swim?"
"Do I know you?" said Mr. Phelps.
"Judge Pritchard, sir," whispered Joseph.
Mr. Phelps examined us carefully. "Good, strong swimmers, all of them."
Judge Pritchard banged his gavel. "Case dismissed!"
"A wedding! Did you hear that, Joseph?" said Mr. Phelps. But Joseph was not there. He was holding open the doors for us as we all streamed out.