It’s Just a Light…

Every once in a while you run across an inanimate object that has some innate power—the power to reach deep into the recesses of your soul and touch a soft spot that makes you laugh, or cry, or just behold it with a bit of wonder. It might be an old photo, or a yellowed and tattered letter, or a dried out pressed flower… or a light.

A lot of years ago when Mike Shull and I were working Homicide/Sex, we found it difficult to navigate through traffic with lights and siren in an unmarked car. Without a Mars light or some such, the average citizen didn’t seem to be able to readily identify where the siren originated. The spotlight on the squad was woefully inadequate.

Enter, the light: I bought one of those 250,000 candlepower handheld spotlights powered off the cigarette lighter. It was a miracle… it really got folks attention and it made our emergency driving much easier and safer. We carried it with us whenever we knew we would be driving after dark and it rode in the front seat between Mike and me. Beat officers on occasion recognized us.

“Are you the guys with that big-ass light? Pull up on the grass over here… there’s a gun somewhere in these bushes…”

At some point, my first wife Karla, made a cover for the light out of some scrap zebra skin patterned fabric. She turned the soft faux zebra skin surface in to protect the light. It was a custom sewn sleeve and it served to protect the light from breakage as well as scratches. Breast cancer tore Karla away from the boys and me in 1975 but Mike and I continued to carry the light in our unmarked squad for as long as we worked together. Several years later Durell and I were married and Timmy was born. By the time son Jay came on the job, the light was a relic. I told him how Mike and I had used it. I gave it to him and promptly forgot about it.

This past week son Timmy was spending some time up at the summer home with his brother Jay. One evening after dark the two of them decided to take a cruise around the lake; just some quiet brother time together in the peace that only starlit night on the water can provide. Jay brought out the light, which by this time must be over 35 years old. He told Timmy the story of the light. Timmy took a cell phone picture and texted it to me:

Jay using your spotlight “night boating.”


I looked at the picture of Jay, now a grown man, holding the light as he guided the boat through the darkness. That light was probably bought around the time he was born and long before Timmy was born. I texted back:

 “Love it… brings a tear to my eye because Karla would love it. Is the cover still with it?”

 “Oh yeah!” was the response in an immediate follow-up phone call. I could sense the excitement in his voice “And Dad! The cover has your names on it; ‘Shull/Padar, H/S-4.’ Pretty kick-ass hey?”


I had forgotten about the names.

Kick-ass indeed!

Karla looks down and the light shines on…


43 Comments on “It’s Just a Light…”

  1. Andy Murcia says:

    Jim, I loved your story! It truly hit home for personal reasons with me – and I found your writing of it very moving. Call me a sucker for a heartfelt story, but it was your writing of it that moved me. How wonderful to be able to do that via your writing. Many thanks to you and your Karla. Question, is Mike still with us? Best regards, Andy Murcia, Sgt, (ret)

    • Mary Rita Shull says:

      Andy, Mike passed away 10 years ago. Best regards, Mary Rita

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks so much Andy! All writers hope to touch their readers in some fashion so your comment is very much appreciated. Mike passed away, tragically, ten years ago. I wrote about him a couple years back. You can read the story at

      My boys remember Mike of course and that’s one other thing that makes “the light” special.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Kaye Aurigemma says:

    Another grabber, Jim. Thanks for sharing.


    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks Kaye. Sometimes I’m surprised at the reaction to simple stories. This one was going to be a “throw-away,” written quickly for my own pleasure and then tucked away in the recesses of my hard drive.

  3. Geo Graves says:

    Jim What a great memory/story back in the day to the daily innovation to do our jobs.

  4. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Jim, what a beautiful story – Thank you!

  5. Jim Brown says:

    Very nice story. Back then the crime lab use to carry that large red lantern about the size of a battery and it was referred to as the homicide light.

  6. Robin says:

    Those who we love & are no longer able to receive our hugs still have a way to touch us from wherever we believe them to be. Thanks for baring your soul once again.

  7. MaryAnn says:

    Great story and I love the last sentence.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks MaryAnn! I looked long and hard at the last sentence with an eye to possibly changing it, but Durell, my editorial content adviser, told me to leave it as is.

  8. Bill Blethen says:

    Good for Karla. Shows that quality work last a long long time.


  9. Barry Felcher, NBC5News, retired says:


    I enjoyed reading your latest story. As i recall, one could feel the heat from those lights three feet in front of the lens. And they could sap the car battery if left on too long…those old automobile generators were not able to handle the power drain. The one I bought in 1969 and had mounted as an outside spotlight, was made and sold by Unity, which was located in 018.

  10. You’re hitting us with all these great memories so I must call you out.
    It’s time for that agent and a book. I implore you Jim.
    God Bless the CPD…………….

  11. Elaine says:

    This story brought tears to my eyes. So good to read on a rainy Friday morning. Thanks.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks, Elaine. I had hoped that those who remembered Karla would be touched by the story… and of course that’s a big part of what makes “the light” so special to those of us who knew and loved her.

  12. Gainer, Terry (SAA) says:

    Now I have a tear in my eye, for Karla and Mike.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks Terry. I’ve got a whole bunch of people crying this morning… a supreme compliment for a writer!

      “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
      ― Thomas Campbell

  13. Maryann Sevening (CPD retired) says:

    What a great way to put those memories to paper so we can all feel the emotions.

  14. Tom says:

    I remember the light you guys had. We always said we should get one. My partner is gone now also. I guess we finally got one, and it will stay in my heart. Brighter that way. Thanks Jim

  15. says:

    Hi Jim:…. Hadn’t thought about Karla in a long time,,, what a wonderful story… and indeed she was a sweet and loving person

    Thanks for the memory. Linda McConville

  16. Jim Zimmerman says:

    NICE! I get it…….



    Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2013 05:03:33 +0000 To:

  17. jay says:

    Jim that is one special memory for you and your boys. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  18. Vince King says:


    Great story, as always. I was working midnites in the burbs back in 79 when my Sgt at roll call gives me this spotlight the size of a Volkswagon and tells me to use it that night. Every time I got out of the squad, I felt like i was carrying a briefcase. Thanks for story which brought this memory back to me, It was a beautifully written piece.

  19. Jim Marren says:

    I think every unmarked tactical unit vehicle had a hole burned in the center of the front seat. in the late 60s and early 70s. We would respond to a hot call using the spotlight and then throw it on the seat forgetting to turn it off. When we returned, the seat was smoldering. Great old memories of when it was fun. Thanks.
    Jim Marren

  20. Jim Marren says:

    This a copy of an email I got. I thought you might enjoy it.

    This was signed by an “old school cop” from O’Brien Street. O’Brien Street was where all of us old guys attended the police academy. It’s a fifty year history of the Chicago Police Department and it hits the nail on the head. Enjoy.


    TO: Anyone who will listen

    FROM: A retired old school cop

    SUBJECT: 86 & 12

    That was the score 4th of July (2013) weekend in Chicago. 86 shot (actually puncture wounds) twelve dead, Chicago stopped counting graze wounds and only counts actual bullet holes now, you don’t count if you get your nose or ear shot off. Chicago is also a city three quarters of which is unsafe to walk in. The thug and gang infested South, West and East sides are expanding like a cancer, while the few remaining safe neighborhoods are shrinking annually due, largely in part, to scattered site housing.

    This is the crowning achievement of our politicians and the social engineers, who long ago decided that big, bad, brutish policemen were no longer needed. So, it came to pass that, in the ’70s, they started allowing females onto the department. That did away with height and strength requirements. They then decided that the correct rainbow of colors was needed. To accomplish this, they lowered the aptitude tests and created quotas. That did away with intelligence and integrity requirements. Of course, gays could not be excluded, either. The ideal candidate for promotion became a black transvestite with a Spanish surname.

    Our weapons were next on their agenda. Blackjacks, sap gloves and the like were banned. Our shotguns were moved from the front seat to the trunk, from the trunk to the radio room and, from there, just disappeared. New ammunition was issued, which was so inadequate it would ricochet off of car windshields. And God help you if you hit someone with your flashlight.

    Finally, the politicians got rid of the real Policemen. The old dinosaurs were lured into early retirements and replaced with internal affairs weenies and gays with a decent sprinkling of color. The brutish “Old Clancy” stereotype was laid to rest and replaced by “Officers Ken & Barbie.” The end result is a department that is befuddled, cow towed, hamstrung, weak and totally not feared by the thugs and gang bangers, but oh so politically correct.

    The City has succeeded in ridding itself of the brutish dinosaur cops of old and has replaced them with little girls and college yuppies who wouldn’t know a bad guy if he shit in their face. They have invented new politically correct terms like Wilding and Flash Mobs to describe black Mob Violence, which is rapidly spreading into the once “Safe Zones” of Michigan Avenue, River North and Wrigleyville.

    After you have been shot, raped or robbed, Officers Ken & Barbie will arrive and write a most excellent report with perfect grammar and punctuation, which will be fed into a state of the art computer, which will crunch and manipulate the numbers precisely. Me, I long for the old days when Clancy crunched and manipulated the thugs before I became the next victim.

    All of this in the most corrupt city, most corrupt county, most corrupt state in the country, whose political leaders zealously and vehemently fight to impose the most restrictive gun control legislation in the nation. If you believe Officers Ken & Barbie are going to protect you and yours, you had better get your head out of your butt and smell the coffee. Old Clancy is retired. It’s now up to you to protect yourself.

    Rejoice, oh liberals. You have gotten exactly what you wanted. Hope you enjoy it!


    a retired old school cop (from O’Brien Street)

    • Tom says:

      Most of that is true, the sad part is we are going to loose the city. Sooner or Katie it will be another Detroit. It’s over.

  21. John says:

    Loved reading this, Jim. If this gets too rambling, shelve my post. I had a partner, that also loved carrying one of those spots in our car. One night, we respond to a foot chase in 009 and as we approach, see the ofndr. running S/B across 51st St. We turn down the street and my partner lights up the guy with that gazillion candle power light. The bad guy then hits a vacant lot to go E/B. I stop, my partner jumps out of the car with the light in his hand. I punch the gas to get around to the next block to cut the ofndr off. Oh, BTW, my partner’s light is still plugged into the lighter. As I make the corners, I hear it banging off of parked cars, at the end of it’s 30′ cord. Get around the block, and bad guy is coming out of the lot onto Marshfield. Myself and a tac car grab him, guns on him, spread out on the sidewalk. My partner comes out of the lot, covered in mud. He went down in the lot chasing the guy. My partner says “We got to stop doing this Police shit. Someone’s going to get hurt really bad.” Then he sees the remnants of his spot light about 10′ behind our car, attached to it’s power cord. He looked like a kid that got coal under the tree for Christmas. He picks it up and says “If this thing still works, I’m writing the company.” And in the middle of this my cell rings. Wife says “Pick me up a pack of cigs on the way home.” (Ok,Ok, hon, a little busy right now.)

    My partner died by his own hand about a year after this. I have that busted up, yellow, spotlight in my garage. Every now and then I see it and start with a smile, then start cracking up, thinking of him and the shit we did on the street. RIP DD, A/1V/C.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s