Life was unfolding as we planned, but in our mid-40s, disaster struck. Not for us, exactly, but for everyone in our county.
Sheriff's elections in the South can be a mixed bag, drawing a variety of unsuitable candidates -- some with no law enforcement background at all. Every yahoo thinks they can be Sheriff, without the slightest idea of what it takes to carry out the duties entrusted to them by the community.
Shortly after my husband became a full-time officer, our county elected an educated man, an experienced officer/investigator to the position of sheriff. During his 16 years as sheriff, he brought the entire department up to standards more national than regional; pensions were now available for officers; any overtime was compensated for patrol officers (it never had been before); job security was assured, even if a new sheriff wanted to fire officers; there was ongoing education for promoted officers; and too much to list here. Suffice to say, we were lucky to have this sheriff, and not just the department personnel, but also the entire community.
However, this sheriff was getting older and decided to retire. My husband was in a quandary, because so many prominent people wanted him to run for office. But as I've already stated, he was a law enforcement officer and his heart just wasn't in politics.
Additionally, some qualified and good men were running for the office. Yes, there was the usual cast of hayseeds but most candidates were acceptable and would be an asset. Unfortunately, there as one candidate that I was worried about, though DH didn't think the fellow had a chance.
I'll call him L. and he was a Bible-toting hypocrite, had only worked one year as a dispatcher for the Sheriff's Department, but from the minute he announced, I sensed trouble. He was a master manipulator, and based his campaign on religion; his ads, his speeches, his entire campaign was like a big tent revival. We both loathed this approach, as well as understood the danger of an unqualified, untested very young man becoming sheriff.
I'll never forget the night he was elected, and the utter disbelief, dismay and dread in my husband's eyes. He told me he felt badly for not running himself, and that he knew disaster lay ahead for the department.
He was right, and truly, the next four years were a nightmare. The first thing this new "sheriff" did was try to get rid of all the experienced officers -- especially any he thought had opposed him. By law, he couldn't do that; but he began a new campaign to humiliate officers by demoting, reassigning and countless dirty tricks to force them to quit.
Several good men were lost, just up and quit, unable to bear the stress and humiliation heaped upon them. DH was miserable, but his pride would not allow him to give this guy the satisfaction of quitting. No matter what the sheriff dished out, he took it; and eventually, the guy gave up and began to grudgingly accept DH as one who would not leave - and there would never be grounds to fire him.
Now, not only was the job itself stressful, DH had a load of stress and unresolved resentment over the sheriff's constant reassigning him. Though unable to demote DH, L. switched him around from position to position: investigation, patrol (again), dive team, shift to shift, etc.
DH said he had too much time and dedication in his career to let this card-carrying idiot run him off. When I realized that just "talking" wasn't enough, I bought a journal for him, and insisted he write out all the rage and fury every night. At first, he was reluctant, but soon it became a habit and he filled five journals during the four years. I still have all of those, have read them, and often wonder how he survived that ordeal.
Before too long, the community realized their mistake and as the sheriff's disasters mounted, people began to complain and express their concerns.
The final nail in his coffin came when there was a kidnapping in a neighboring county; the FBI enlisted the sheriff's help, and without going into a lot of detail, when the exchange of money for victim was arranged to take place in our county, the sheriff just had to "get into the act." He showed up at the meeting place, and ended up causing the FBI and our officers to lose the kidnapper. The victim was never seen again, and though the kidnappers were found, none would tell where the victim's body was located. To this day the young woman's parents have an investigator working on the case, and the story occasionally appears on a reality TV show.
That fiasco ended L's "political career" and since then he has never held office or worked in law enforcement. He is a preacher though, and that's what he should have been all along.
Fortunately, this hard lesson for our county produced a qualified, educated, experienced sheriff at the next election. The collective sigh of relief was heard in all corners, and especially in our home.
Those years though were the beginning of stress that took its toll on DH -- only known years later when he had a heart attack.
Once the new sheriff took office, DH was reinstated as the Lt. of the patrol division. For years, he was satisfied in that position; but eventually he was promoted and moved more into the administration end of law enforcement. I was glad, because his life was not in danger like when he was out patrolling.
Yet, as time passed, I could see he just wasn't as enthusiastic as he had been in his younger years. Burn out is common among officers, and I am sure that is what he was going through.
At that time, though, he got very involved with horses. Instead of having just one horse, he and his buddy bought several and began raising pure-bred Quarter-horses. Also, DH began buying used horse trailers, and upgrading them, then reselling for a profit. This gave him a new interest, and more money to save for our dream farm.
We began looking at small acreage farms, and it became the new focus of our long drives through the countryside. We looked at foreclosures, auction properties and those for sale by Realtors and owners.
We were quite specific in what we wanted: not too far from town, a livable house, at least five acres and, hopefully, a barn. And it had to be priced so we could pay cash for it, allowing us to keep our home in town for a rental.
We were obsessed with this search for a long time; indeed, it became almost an impossible dream, because we couldn't find just the right place.
During these years, DH often had to be out-of-town for ongoing educational seminars, and I continued with my creative writing. His father died, and that was difficult for him. One of his sisters died as well -- both deaths due to cancer.
My husband was a brave man, but there was one thing he feared: cancer. There was a genetic history of cancer on both sides of his family, but we hoped he'd escaped that trait.
Eventually we found a house and land. But that is another story for tomorrow night.