Miles Borden, "the First Man That You Meet"
April is National Poetry Month, so I thought I'd share a poem I found quite recently, along with a bit of family history.
“He’s The First Man That You Meet When You Go Into A Town” – Sergt. Miles Borden
He’s the first man that you meet
When you go into a town:
And you’re apt to long remember
His ready smile or frown…
If you hear a screeching siren
Just behind you… as you ride
There a taut and ghastly patter
That goes on in you inside…
And you “hope he has a ticket”
(To some gay policeman’s dance)
But, and if his look is wicked…
You demurely meet his glance
Well you get your first impression
From the first cop that you see:
And he marks that town forever
In your living memory…
But remember he’s on duty
Early morn and late at night
And he is your best protector
With the firemen… get that right…
And he safely guides your children
‘Cross the highways at school street,
In the stinging frost of winter
When he too has frozen feet:
In the March wind and the springtime
In the summer, autumn fall
He is ever on his duty
And responsive to your call:
So we hail out great policemen
In each city, town… and place…
As throughout his tour of duty
He proceeds at steady pace!
-By Lawrence F. Deutzman*
I found this clipping within the DeGarmo Family Collection, among my mother's papers, Elsie Borden DeGarmo Smith (1928-2020). Mom grew up in Kings Park, NY, and left her home on the north shore of Long Island at the age of 17 for college in Plattsburgh. She then went to work, marrying Lindley S. DeGarmo, and raising a family in the Hudson Valley where the DeGarmo's had lived since the 1660s.
The subject of the poem was her father, my grandfather, Miles S. Borden (1905-1984). She would have been a sophomore in college when this poem was published.
Miles Borden was born in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, and moved to Kings Park (Town of Smithtown) in 1924, at the age of 19. He worked for a large company that constructed smoke stacks throughout the world. In Kings Park, he helped construct the original smoke stacks for the powerhouse at the state hospital. He was also sent to Cuba on a job. In 1926, he married a local girl, Bessie Mae McDowell and together they had 5 children. Miles worked in construction and with the highway department, before joining the Smithtown Police Force in 1937.
Miles worked his way through the ranks (patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant), and by 1960 he was promoted to Captain of the Suffolk County Police Department's 4th Precinct with a regular complement of 53 men. Along the way he graduated from the FBI National Police Academy (1952). He also attended the NY School of Detectives, the St. Lawrence University Institute on Juvenile Delinquency (1953), and received a certificate from the NY Narcotics Bureau (1959). Miles Borden served as President of the Suffolk County Police Association, and 2nd Vice President of the State Chapter of the FBI Academy Association.
Miles was also active in community affairs. He was President of the Kings Park Fire Department; active in local and county chapters of the Boy Scouts of America; charter member and on the board of the Kings Park Boat Club; and member of the Kings Park United Methodist Church.
In 1965, when I was 8 years old, my grandfather retired with his wife Bessie to Kissimee, in central Florida. Visits with my grandparents were frequent during my childhood, and I loved to hear their family stories. However, having access to the photographs, newspaper clippings and other papers that my mother saved (and then her family saved) for this extended family collection, helped me round out the story of this 1948 poem and my grandfather's police work.
*Note: Lawrence F. Deutzman (1880-1952) was the editor and publisher of 5 weekly newspapers in Suffolk County (Smithtown Messenger, Central Islip Messenger, Lake Ronkonkoma Mirror, Port Jefferson Messenger, Stony Brook Gazette). He was a native of New York City, and began his career as a Pinkerton Detective, and served in World War I in Army Intelligence and received the Purple Heart. He had moved to Smithtown in 1922 (2 years before Miles), where he got into the newspaper business and became very active in local community affairs and politics. No doubt, that in this one-time small community on Long Island, he knew Miles Borden quite well, and immortalized him in this poem as a public servant for the people of Kings Park.
Todd DeGarmo is the founding director of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library, in Glens Falls, NY, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s worked as a public sector folklorist and educator in various venues for over 42 years, and is the editor of Voices: Journal of New York Folklore. He lives in the upper Hudson Valley of upstate New York, a stone’s throw from the Battenkill near the Vermont border.