It’s a different era today, with different kinds of heroes than when I was growing up. Even still, I hope my grandkids find a Mr. Hogan of their own.
When I was a child, there was a police officer assigned to watch our neighborhood. His name was Mr. Hogan, but when he wasn’t within hearing range, all the kids called him Hopper Copper. The story went that he caught an artillery shell right in his butt during the last day of action in WWII. As a result, he limped when he walked and hopped when he ran.
Us neighborhood boys did little things to keep Hopper Copper on the run. It wasn’t anything really bad. Our parents called them “punishable pranks,” but we called them by colors and numbers like football plays. For example, “Green 42” was swiping Christmas lights from one neighbor’s yard and decorating the yard across the street. “Red 33” was toilet papering the houses of girls in our seventh grade and putting strawberry jelly in their mailboxes.
Bobby Easton was the fastest kid in our school. Whenever Hopper Copper chased us, Bobby would slow down and fall behind the rest of us less athletic boys. He would turn off down a different road, with Hopper Copper right at his heels. Then, when we were a safe distance away, Bobby would take off at full speed and the chase would be over.
Of course, Mr. Hogan knew who we were and knew our parents. If we ever got too out of line, he would come over for an avuncular visit. He would always say we were good kids at heart, but he also knew our Dads would take us down to the basement for a real spanking after he left.
Our favorite evenings were playing basketball under the lights at Brookside Park. We’d shovel the snow or play in the rain. There was something special about those nights. It was as if huge crowds were watching us when there was actually only one fan: Hopper Copper. The park lights were metered and it cost a dime an hour to keep playing. Hopper Copper would stand by the light pole with his arms crossed. When one of us made a great play, he’d give us three big claps. After an hour, the lights would make a soft pop and then slowly fade. The players would rush over to Hopper Copper and beg him to put another dime in the meter. He always had a dime and always lit up our court.
I never thanked Hopper Copper for putting up with us, but he’s the type of hero I hope everyone has the chance to experience.