That time I spent New Year’s in jail

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2016

By Frank Roberts

Here’s a story about Frank “Jailbird” Roberts and his teen sweetie, based on a recently found picture of the 15-year-old with long black hair, cuddling a mixed breed pup.

It happened New Year’s Eve, 1947. The NYC ball was dropping — folks were smooching and dancing. Fun time. I shared New Year’s Eve with my jailer. He was a nice fellow, though — left the cell door open, brought me some milk, talked to me for awhile. Then, he made me promise to stay behind bars, while he went home to be with family.

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A noisy heater fought against the chill of the cold night. I got hold of some comic books and read them several times. While most folks were welcoming ’48 traditionally, I cooled it in the can.

Thankfully, it was just a one-night stand. It was one long night. My buddy, Doug Scott, stopped by for a visit. He extended his sympathies and joined me in cussing the man who landed me in that predicament.

I was 17 or 18 and had been living in Nome, Alaska, for nearly a year, serving in the Army.

The weather may have been cold, but the people were warm and wonderful. The Hay family had practically adopted me. I ate almost as many meals in their home as I did at the restaurant on Front Street.

Someone else who warmed my heart was a tall, willowy young lady, Bettie Blakely. It was like-a-lot at first sight. We spent as much time together as we could. Often, we’d walk the shores of the Bering Sea and talk about our future. Things were getting serious.

Eventually, I popped the question and she popped the answer: Yes.

After that, things got sticky. First, my mother, in charge of the nurses’ department in one of New York City’s largest hospitals, was less than thrilled.

She contacted my commanding officer, Lt. Morgan, and told him to put the kibosh on my wedding plans.

So much for my family. Now, Bettie’s family. Momma was nice enough, but dear ol’ dad was in charge of that crew. He did not like servicemen, and he resented Bettie. His first wife was an Eskimo, and his daughter had her features.

Marion was very attractive, but Pa Blakely just harbored a resentment of his second wife’s daughter, who would have done anything to get away from him — even get married.

That might have meant happiness for her, and he would have none of that. He had a solution on how to dissolve our togetherness.

Blakely invited me to his house to help usher in the new year. He would be off work in a while, and he and the family would be home soon after that. He told me to go in if no one was home. It was getting too warm, too fuzzy, but I was naive and bought the invitation.

Meanwhile, he told the military powers-that-be that his humble home was off limits to service personnel. Somewhere, probably on a dark wall, the appropriate notice was posted.

That evening, Frankie made his merry way to Bettie’s home. When I got there, the place was empty. The door was open so I went in, sat and waited. Later, I found out that Pa Blakely was off in the shadows somewhere.

About 15 minutes later, “they” arrived — a sort-of military cop and his buddy. If memory serves, they came from an Air Force base several miles out of town. In town, the military contingent consisted of about a dozen, all of us with the Alaska Communications System.

They asked me, “don’t you know this place is off-limits? It was posted.” I was told that Pa Blakely would make a fuss if I wasn’t punished, so off I went to the one-man jail. It was there that I welcomed 1948.

The last I heard, Bettie got away as soon as she could and went to Los Angeles. Someone told me he thought she’d married a used car salesman or a truck driver.

She is about 80-some today, of course, if she is still around. In my memory, she is still a sweet youngster.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at