Wednesday, January 27, 2010

" . . . it was the spring of hope"

I am traveling, but rumor (from a most reliable source) tells me that the Village is being dissembled - piece by porcelain piece. My heart flutters at the thought of the hundreds of boxes neatly packed and ready for transport. I await word that the snow has been cleared, spring has come, and the age of Dickens has passed.


One thing we have plenty of down here is Baptists, not just Southern Baptists (you can't throw a dead cat around without hitting one of those) but we have all flavors of Baptists - American, Free Will, Independent, Missionary, Reformed, etc. I love the names: "Eleventh Hour Baptist Church", "Living Victory Baptist Church", "Free Gift Baptist Church" and my favorite - "Souls Afire Baptist Church" - I kid you not. And there is always the mother of all churches, The First Baptist Church downtown. (Every town in the south has one.)

Every Sunday, their pews were filled with those who sought repentance and came to hear the hell, fire, and brimstone the preachers had to offer. At least that was my opinion growing up. And if, the Sunday service wasn't enough, you came back Sunday evening for youth activities (to keep you off the streets and on the straight and narrow way.) Of course, the Baptist ladies knew it would only stick for so long, so they would drag everyone back in Wednesday night for "refresher" to make sure you stayed holy until the next Sunday came around.

Of course, my family was Presbyterian and thanks to John Calvin and his road map of predestination, I wasn't subjected to all that. My life was pre-ordained. My friends who were Methodist (Baptist-lite) usually had something fun planned by the church youth directors on Sunday night, but they figured you could make it until the following Sunday. The Episcopalians would have cocktails and light hoers devours Sunday evening and after choir practice on Wednesday, everyone went out for pizza and beer. I wasn't sure about the Lutherans, they weren't the most lively bunch.

But to this day, the Baptist keep everyone on the righteous track. Nothing is ever planned in town on Wednesday evening because of Baptist prayer meeting. The assumption is you are either a Baptist attending prayer meeting or you are not a Baptist and should spend Wednesday evening pondering your loss soul and how you are going to ever get salvation.

The Baptist church ladies still have an air of temperance about them that keeps their husbands in check. Granted dancing is allowed and Bingo and the state lottery is tolerated, but we are only taking small steps here. A Baptist church lady will quickly tell you it is a slippery slope to Hell. First, it's Bingo, then lottery tickets, then the next thing you know women are spending all their grocery money on video poker and leaving their children locked in the car in the parking lot.

Everything rocked along in town with the churches. That was until the First Baptist Church's long time pastor retired and they hired a new one. They talked about their new preacher for weeks. He was going to revitalize the church, bring young people back to the pews. He had degrees and diplomas, some of the likes they had never seen. He even had movie star good looks (a point that was not lost on the church ladies of the pulpit committee.)

To convince him to accept their church, the committee had told him how dedicated the church was to the ministry and God, how the church had maintained growth and attendance year after year. They explained the importance of the Sunday service in the spiritual life of the congregation and how the pulpit committee had been sent with one objective in mind - fine a preacher who would continue to lead the congregation down their spiritual path.

The first Sunday he preached, they all were amazed with his articulate sermon. His words saved souls and offered salvation. That was until they realized that it was 12:15 before they got out of preaching. Now, everyone went to the Country Club for lunch on Sunday. Churches generally got out around noon. (The Episcopals usually wrapped up by 11:50 so they could eat and get early tee times.) But 12:15 put all the Baptists in the back of the line for lunch. That would not do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Mountain House at High Acres

When my parents bought the farm in the mountains there was much discussion about building a house, not just what to build, but how to build it. The location was not an issue. There was an apple orchard located on a peak of the farm that offered a 270 degree view of hills and valleys that included three states. And, although the sunsets were spectacular, the winds could also be quite stiff at times. But my parents had their heart set on that house site. Stanbury, the farm overseer, just stood there, scratched his head, put his cap back on, and said, "Well, we'll have to nail the shingles on real tight."

Now my mother, being very practical, found a grand old Victorian house in our home town they were razing to make room for a bank. She took it upon herself to purchase the home and have the company tearing it down number the pieces (that is the windows, the staircase, the doors, doorways, arches, and any other architectural pieces worth saving). Then she informed my father it was up to him to get it transported to the farm. My father's response was, "Then what?" "We'll use the pieces to build the house," was my mother's reply. 

So the numbered pieces were loaded and transported up to the farm. As it was being unloaded, Stanbury stood there, scratched his head, looked at my Dad, and said, "What ar we supposed to do with this?" Dad looked at him and smiled, "Build a house." This where it got interesting.

If my mother thought the grand home that was torn down was going to be replicated on the farm, she was sadly mistaken. Several weeks later when we went up to the farm, I was a little taken aback to find a large 2 story plain square building on the house site. When we entered the structure, I was surprised to find the grand staircase in the main hall, as well the ornate archway leading into the great room which had all the windows stacked on the floor. Perhaps, I thought, it was going to take some time to come together. I could tell by the look on my mother's face this was not what she had in mind.

"Where are my white columns?" my mother asked quietly. My father pulled her aside for a conference, where he explained that due to the exact location she had chosen to build, unless they had done some very expensive excavation, which was not in the budget, the footprint of the house was relegated to it's square shape. "But, it's so plain", she said. "It just looks that way now", my father assured her. "We just got started. Give it some time."

A month or so later we went back to check on the progress of Mama's house - and it had progressed. There was now siding - rough hewn siding (that Stanbury proudly told her came from Poplar trees from the farm). All the large windows with their casings were installed, as was the enormous formal white front door with its fancy facing and side windows. A small portico had been built over the door, and there in front were Mama's white columns. However, all of this was overshadowed by the barn red color Dad had the house painted. And, this much red with bright white trim made a statement. Mom was less than thrilled.

But we loved the house. It had large rooms and plenty of space for our many friends who came to visit. Mom busied herself decorating. Dad had his back deck to serve cocktails while we enjoyed the sunsets. The furniture was fairly eclectic from the full size church pew that served one side of the long kitchen table to the mahogany chairs in the small den to the old iron beds in the bedrooms. But one thing was consistent - none of the house was finished on the inside. It was always a work in progress. 

We were always sanding and stripping the ornate moldings, adding insulation to the rooms (there was never enough), paneling rooms (it was not unusual to be in a room with bare insulation showing between the studs), or painting or staining some surface. And yes, Stanbury was right - we were constantly having to replace shingles. It never ended. When Mama sold the farm, the house still had unfinished rooms - and that was 30 years after we built it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From the Bowels of Antique Stores

Down here we love antique furniture. I think a lot of this comes from all those stories we grew up hearing from our grandparents and great aunts about General Sherman's troops looting the old family home place of all the old furniture and carrying it up north. (Although I never understood what they were going to do with it, because part of my rearing was that Yankees had no taste. So they certainly couldn't appreciate the fine mahogany and cherry furniture they stole from us. But I digress.)

My mother loves antique furniture and to give her credit, she likes the beautiful English pieces, not the primitive early American stuff. Her home now reflects years of searching for and buying individual pieces. Now, none of these are museum quality, but they are all solid wood with well worn patina and in good shape. As for the provenance, she may not be able to tell you the historical background, but she can tell you where every piece came from and how it was procured. And most of it was extremely painful - for my brother and me.

Now, today I appreciate her collection. However, when you are 6 or 7 years old, and the main goal of your day is to get to the beach to start your vacation, or to your grandmother's house as soon as possible, shopping for antiques is not a top priority. But when we were children, to get anywhere in the rural south, you did not take the interstate, you took the back roads. And, these roads were full of two things - motor inns (the old long one story motels that catered to the tourists (the yankees from up north) heading to Florida, with names like "The Stonewall Jackson Motor Inn", "The Sand Man Inn", and my favorite "The Dixie Dew Drop Inn") and antique stores (where we southerners were given the opportunity to buy back our purloined possessions.)

My brother and I could spot an antique store a mile away and had a whole bag of tricks to attempt to detract Mom and Dad's attention so they would not notice one of these emporiums as we passed. Of course their desire to stop was even greater than our desire to continue and since Dad was driving, we rarely succeeded. Therefore, we spent an ungodly amount of time in the dimly lit, dusty bowels of roadside antique stores. Dad was always on the lookout for books to add to his collection on the history of the War Between the States (or War of Northern Aggression - which ever you chose to call it) and chess sets. Mom was always eyeing some chest of drawers, bed, or odd table.

I would follow Dad around. He was always very patient and would point out things of interest as a way of rewarding me for having some patience. Looking back on it, there was always something odd or peculiar to look at, a dentist's kit from the 1800's (a true box of torture), a butter press that put the impression of a flower on the freshly churned butter, or some odd tool I had never seen (before or since). Occasionally, he would find a chess set that interested him and we would buy that. He enjoyed talking with the owners of the stores. He struck up a conversation about chess with one proprietor that lead into a lifelong friendship. They played chess by correspondence for years, exchanging moves with the board and the pieces clearly marked on post cards.

Meanwhile my mother would locate some piece of furniture she wanted, bargain with the owner, and after she bought it, come to Dad to figure out how we were going to get it home. (Usually this required another trip.) On one particular adventure, Dad asked her if she was sure she only wanted one piece. When she questioned him, he smiled and said that he was sending a trailer the next week and would have plenty of room for furniture if she wanted to put an extra piece or two on it. As it turned out, in going through the books in the back room, he had found so many that he thought were valuable, that he had made an offer to buy the entire room of books. When Mama asked him what he planned to do with all the books that would not fit his collection, he just smiled and said he had already thought about that. He was going to donate them to our school library.

Mama took advantage of the delivery opportunity and bought a cherry bed and wash stand she had seen. Dad finalized all the arrangements and picked up two or three of the books to read while we were on vacation. "Dad," I asked. "Do you think I can get one of those books to read?" "Sure, just go back there and pick out one or two." We all climbed back in the car and hopefully headed for the beach. I watched the country side go by and my brother was ever vigilant for another antique store. Dad asked, "Did you find something you wanted to read?" "Yes, sir." Not that I had a choice, I thought to myself. You can't write your "What I did on My Summer Vacation" essay about Dad buying a room full of books if you hadn't read any of them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Great Expectations - Denied!

I walk in to chambers this morning and my fears are once again confirmed. She still stands - in totality. As I view Morston Steak and Kidney Pie, Wrenbury Bakery, Hather Harness, and Big Ben. Dickens may have said it best, "Did it ever strike you on such a morning as this that drowning would be happiness and peace."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"I only ask to be free . . ." Charles Dickens

Its still here - in all its splendor. Calgon, take me away.

From Here

One thing in the south, especially in a small town, is that "you're from here". Not that "there" is a problem, but it's not here. And, as my mother would say, "Our kind of people" are from here. Now most folks would never say that, and Lord knows they would deny that it mattered, but I can assure you they thought about "it", and "it" mattered. Now down here, for a long time, after the carpet baggers left, if you lived in a small southern town, folks didn't just move to your town. The population was fairly static, and no, we did not marry our cousins - we went off to school, found someone (preferably - one of our "kind"), fell in love, and brought 'em home. (If you're not "from here", but you "married someone from here", that qualifies.)

And, contrary to popular belief, being an "old family" does not necessarily mean you have "old money". Which brings up another sore point in the South - "old money" versus "new money". It's like I described it to my daughter - "old money" is like an comfortable sweater - it is well worn, goes unnoticed, and usually flies under the radar because it seems old fashioned. While "new money" is that flashy red car - it is fast, stylist, loud, and everyone knows about it. Of course my youngest daughter did not see a problem with a flashy red car. Obviously, I failed to make my point.

As time has moved on, people have moved in, and our town has grown - some. Being the friendly hospitable folks we are, we have welcomed them. Most are friendly. However, sometimes I understand how the native Americans felt when the Europeons first showed up. Hey, we're not dumb, we're willing to share, and there are some advantages to our way of living. There's a reason we're from here.

You will notice that there are very few grand buildings, statues, or monuments named after local people. However, if you pay attention to the street names in the older part of town, many will sound familiar. They are named after the old families in town. But, then if you are from here, you are already knew that. A friend of mine recently made a comment about an aquantience acting a little upity. My friend's comment was, "It's not like her family has a street named after them." That put it all in perspective.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Merry Ol' Dickens Christmas Village

It is still here - in living color, all 61 linear feet - unending and undying. And, with this eternal celebration of Christmas I am beginning to relate to Dicken's most famous character Ebeneezer Scrooge, who I am sure is represented somewhere amongst the thousand random figurines, when he said, " . . . every idiot who goes about with a 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." Bah Humbug!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Village is Alive and Well

It has taken on a life of its own and I think it is immortal. I came in this morning with my heart light with expectation - knowing I would finally see bare tops of cabinets and hundreds of boxes, packed and ready to be sent - somewhere. (The destination not yet determined.) But, alas my hopes were dashed and my heart sank as I saw the lights aglow and the merriment of the 1800's continue in chambers. Stay tuned as my "Death by Dickens" continues.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Demise of the Village

The Judge has retired, the chambers are closing, and the Village (See Jan 13) must be taken care of. Due to the Judge's health, the task of closing the chambers has been left to me and John, one of the attorneys. Taking care of the Dicken's Village was one task the Judge made sure was covered. She hired a friend of hers to come in and carefully pack each piece back into their respective boxes. Since a professional assembled it, we definitely needed a professional to properly to take it down and prepare it for storage.

When the Judge told me she had made these arrangements, I immediately got a key to her friend, Lisa, so she would have access to the Village. A week after that, we came in and there were 5 or 6 empty boxes - progress was being made. That was three months ago. Then nothing happened. Each morning John and I would come in and survey the Village. It did not seem like anything was missing - the carolers were still there posed in silent song in front of Sudbury Church and the kids in frozen position on the ice down the hill from King's Road Post Office. No, it looked like life in the village had not changed. And all the boxes were still empty. The Judge would call occasionally and ask about the Village and I would report about the progress, or lack thereof.

Finally one morning I came in to find the floor of my office covered with large dusty trash bags filled with empty Dept 56 Dickens Village boxes. The end was in sight.

Now, in making my final check list of things to do in closing down a federal judge's chambers, let's see here: pack the law library and ship it; meet with Circuit Designer to schedule movers; work with Telecommunications Manager to handle phone system, copier, and fax; coordinate dates with the Court Technology Team to dismantle computer systems; have Dept 56 Dickens Village properly dismantled, packed, and removed. Which one of these items does not fit? Some how I feel I am the only person in the history of the federal judiciary with this last item on my final check list. But there it is.

We have three weeks remaining and the Village is still intact, lights burning brightly. And, I cannot even turn those lights off. The Judge made sure that all the cords neatly plugged into plug strips that strategically hid behind file cabinets or above shelves. So until the entire village is dismantled it will continue to glow. It's a conspiracy. I can move a library, relocate a server, pack and coordinate the closure of 4000 square feet. But, 61 linear feet of porcelain is going to be the death of me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heavens to Dickens

When you walk into a judge's chambers you expect to see many things - attorneys, shelves of legal books, file cabinets, computers, an American flag. I doubt a porcelain Dickens Village by Dept. 56 would be on your list - especially 61 linear feet of it. Now don't get me wrong, our chambers are elegant, decorated with gold moire wallpaper over white wainscoting. Deep blue carpet takes you down the hall past offices with mahogany doors surrounded by detailed molding.

The Judge didn't care for the gray file cabinets, so she decided to bring her Christmas Village in one holiday season to brighten up the room. That was 8 or 9 pieces fourteen years ago. Being a little compulsive, when Dept. 56 added pieces, she wanted her collection to be complete. (She was their dream customer.) Soon she was out of room at home for the "village". Finally, her collection became so large, she had to employ the services of a "professional" young man from the local Christmas Shoppe to come set-up the village permanently. What started with the White Horse Bakery and the Fletcher Public House had grown to 25 - 30 pieces, including such as Giggelswick Mutton & Ham, Great Denton Mill, and Dursley Manor.

Now when I say "permanently" I mean each piece was nestled safely in a three tiered piece of white styrofoam (specially developed - I was told - for Dept 56 pieces) with official "snow" sprinkled around. Different varieties of trees were strategically placed among the houses, churches, and shops. The village continued growing around the room until the top of all three lateral files were covered with everything from Victoria & Albert Museum to Kensington Palace. So into the work room, which had a nice shelf space surrounding the top of the room the collection continued it's unparalleled growth to include the Globe Theatre, Chabury Train Station, and the continuing urban sprawl of cottages, banks, cobblers, and markets and all the accompanying characters. When the shelves in that room were full, did the madness stop? Not hardly, the pieces kept coming, they were just stored in the closet for safe keeping.

Now one thing about this display was its show stopping ability. You could have a US Marshal enter the room and start his introduction, "Good morning, I'm Marshal John Brown, and just wanted to . . ." and you would see his eyes wonder off to his left as he surveyed the village on the file cabinets. "Wow, I've never seen such a thing, " he'd say in amazement. I would immediately explain that it was not mine (I wanted to quickly divorce any thought of ownership from me) and direct his attention to the second part of the collection to even further astonish him. And, it never failed.

Now the Judge took her collection seriously, much more so than the rest of us. I personally tried to ignore it. Every time I opened a file cabinet, I would hear the tinkle of porcelain as a some unstable piece teetered on the edge. I prayed this was not the time some rare, irreplaceable piece would tumble to the floor and shatter. And, trust me, even though the "village" was populated with hundreds of shoppers, vendors, hawkers, school children, carolers, families, and the occasional priest, the Judge knew each one intimately and there was little doubt she would know that one of "her people" were MIA. We would often come to work, find the lights off and her on a ladder, replacing burned out bulbs in the various shoppes, houses, and churches. Honestly, there were so many lit buildings, I never knew how she could tell there were bulbs burned out .

Once, two of the attorneys in the office replaced one of the Beefeaters, in their red Swiss Army uniforms guarding Kensington Palace, with a plastic Marvin the Marcian doll. Since the figure was just slightly larger than the "real" guards, and was marching in place with them, he went for weeks unnoticed by the Judge. The UPS man and the mailman took notice and shared in our joke. However, when the Judge learned of the interloper, she failed to see the humor in the situation.

What I failed to see was why in God's name, when we had one of the most lovely places to work, we were subjected to what I would equate to as Prime Time on HSN. I spent fourteen years trying to make peace with this village I had to live with daily, ignoring the constant comments of visitors about the collection, trying to avoid certain catastrophe when the inevitable happened and a rare piece fell to its demise as I just tried to do my job. I could relate to Marvin, just marching in step with the Beefeaters. Come on, you had to see humor in this.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Just Too Smart

When you work for a federal judge you don't like to think about security but bullet proof windows, a mail scanner, video cameras monitoring the building, and the US Marshals on call remind you every once in a while there are loony people out there. After the anthrax scare, we actually had to take a class sponsored by Homeland Security making us aware that we were the "First Line of Defense". That thought did not thrill me. Suddenly why was I on the front lines?

Then they went on to explain if we got a package that had a powder or residue that smelled like freshly cut grass, it was most likely phosgene. We were told not to smell it because it would damage our lungs. (Too late if we already smelled the "fresh grass" scent.) But not to worry about anything that smelled like almonds because it was either totally harmless or cyanide and we would be dead almost immediately. My favorite was to be very wary of packages with wires hanging from them or those that had "ticking" noises coming from inside. Duh! I've seen enough Road Runner shows on Saturday morning. It doesn't have to say "Acme Co." on the outside for me to figure that one out.

So I am in chambers, educated and vigilant. The mail comes daily - no smells, no wires, no sounds. Life is normal in Mayberry. Then one day I notice this square box that is wrapped in brown paper, which catches my attention since no one does that any more. When I look at the address label it is hand written and addressed to the Judge. I do not recognize the return name or address. The Judge is out for the day. When she calls in, I ask her about the package. She says she is clueless and doesn't recognize the name or address either. I tell her I have called the Marshals and they suggested I put it in a safe place and they will come down the next day and pick it up.

The next morning I come in and the box is open, sitting on my desk, with all the paper stuffing coming out of the top. I asked the Judge, "So you recognized the name on the box?" "No." "But, you opened the box?" "Well, someone had to open the box." "Uh, yeah, but we were going to let the Marshals do that, remember our conversation yesterday. The one about the safety concerns. You know you being a federal judge and all." And what followed, proved the theorem that you can be too smart. "Well, I got back last night and I looked at the box. And I thought, someone needs to open the box. And I knew you would be concerned about it damaging the chambers, so I took it out to the far corner of the parking lot before I opened it."

"And nothing happened?" I said sarcastically. "No, see it was just some makeup from my personal shopper, " she said proudly. "But you didn't know that until you opened the box?" "No, of course not. I would have told you if I did." By then she could tell I was aggravated, "I didn't mean to leave the trash on your desk, but I wanted to make sure it didn't mess up the chambers." I wanted to kill her, since the box had failed to but I thought I'd wait for the Marshals. Personally, I wanted to see their expressions when she explained to them the extent she went to make sure the package was far from the building before she opened it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Does the Queen Carry in her Purse?

I've often wondered: What does Queen Elizabeth carry in her purse? You know the one she always has hanging off her arm. The one that smartly matches her outfit (and usually her hat). Car keys? Probably not since she is always chauffeured around in a Rolls or a Bentley. I read that she drives her own Range Rover at Balmoral, but somehow I think they keep the keys up there. You know, hanging on the inside next to the back door. Does she even have a driver's permit? I digress.

Then you have the normal things women carry, lipstick? Possible. I don't see her asking one of her ladies in waiting if she can borrow hers while they are in the loo. Kleenex? Never. I am sure if she needs such, she has fine Irish linen with her monogram on it. Glasses case? Perhaps, for her sunglasses, but then again you always see her with her hand shading her eyes, maybe she should add a pair of Ray Bans on her Christmas list. Gloves? Definitely. Maybe she carries her I-pod that President Obama gave her.

I will not even compare this to my purse but maybe that of my mother. My mother carried the normal required lipstick, powder compact, smashed Kleenexes, wallet, keys, hair comb, bobbie pins, usually an envelope with some list written on the back of it, and a ball point pen (as best I recall frequently one from the local bank.) But my mother was more prepared than most. My mother always had a package of Nabs. Now if are too young to know what I am talking about, I will educate you. Nabs were crackers made by Nabisco, that came in packs of 4 or 6, wrapped in cellophane. They could be regular Ritz type crackers or cheese crackers and sandwiched around either peanut butter or cheese.

Nabs to my mother were an all purpose first aid/child control device in cellophane. If either my brother or I got car sick, out came the Nabs to calm our upset tummies. When we had to wait a little longer than necessary when traveling to stop for a meal - Nabs, the perfect hors devours for a 6 year old. The whine of a tired child could always be calmed with the crunch of Nabs. They even made a great prize for the child who could be quiet the longest while in the car. Nabisco had no idea the power of their snack pack. But my mother did.

Yes, the Queen may have ruled the relm at one time, but I doubt she ever carried the power of Nabs in her purse.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Shelled Collection

I am not a collector - to me it is just more stuff to dust. Well, I'll qualify that. When I was younger I had an extensive beer can collection. After looking over the list of merit badges I could earn as a Girl Scout, the Collector Badge seemed an easily assumed target. So, always being the contrarian, I figured that beer cans would not only be interesting, but would probably not have been the first choice of Miss Emily, my scout leader. By the time I left for a college I had a fairly diverse collection. But I digress.

The Judge I worked for decided that I needed to collect tortoises. She was incredibly generous and I was definitely a beneficiary of her munificence. I cannot remember where it started, but since she and her family traveled extensively around the world, I amassed quite the collection. I have tortoises made from marble, jade, wood, cloisonne, bone, aluminum, plastic, glass, and, clay among other materials. I have a sterling silver tortoise that when wound up plays "Brahms Lullaby". I have a Waterford crystal tortoise. (Bet you didn't realize they made one - but they do.) I have a miniature silver tortoise with a hinged shell designed to hold a tooth in expectation for the tooth fairy.

However, the gifts did not stop with tortoise statuettes. I have a (seriously) beautiful desk lamp that has a series of tortoises of descending sizes (top to bottom) stacked on each other. I have beautifully embroidered pillows and a door stop. For entertaining, I have several Arthur Court pieces including a salad bowl, which is styled like a large upside down tortoise shell, a chip and dip tray, and other assorted trays and dishes. Probably the most colorful piece of my collection is a pair of hot pink flannel pajamas decorated with green tortoises, complete with a matching robe.

The irony is I never told her I liked tortoises. After 14 years of receiving them, I found myself having to continually clear some of the herd off my desk to work. But, they kept multiplying like Tribbles on Star Trek. The Judge would call in while on one of her trips and say, "I have a surprise that I cannot wait to show you." or "I saw something that I know you would love to have." or "You would not believe what I found today."

Oh, yes I would!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Miss Sylvia

As I have mentioned before, there have been a regular cast of characters that have come in and out of my life. Some larger than life, some hard to believe, but all seriously entertaining.

I worked for a Judge as her Judicial Assistant. Naturally, one of my jobs was, not necessarily to control who saw her, but at least to give her fair warning who was on their way down the hall to her office. I had only been working for her two or three weeks, when I looked up to see an older lady standing at my desk.

A little background here, the judge was not a trial judge, so we did not normally have anyone from the public in our chambers. Other than UPS, Fed-Ex, the mailman, and our significant others, the chambers were incredibly quiet. So I find myself looking at this lady who looks exactly like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillys accept a little taller and a little younger (picture the gray hair in the bun and the glasses). Before I can say anything, she says (in very country southern drawl), "Honey, is she back there?" "Yes, Mam, she is. May I help you?" I replied. Before I could say anything else, she had turned on her heels and was heading toward the Judge's office.

By the time I got around my desk to try to stop her, she was well on her way down the hall. She may have been older, but she definitely was not slow. I followed her into the Judge's office. "Miss Sylvia, what brings you to town?" the Judge said as she stood up from her desk. "Well, Pretty, I was on my way to the Bi-Lo, they are having a sale on butter, two for one, and just thought I'd stop by."

The Judge looked at me and could tell by the puzzled look on my face, I was clueless as to who this person was. "Miss Sylvia, did you meet my new assistant?" "Well, no." Then she turned, looked at me and said, "I bet you think I'm just this crazy lady, what coming in here and not telling you I am." That would be correct, I thought to myself. Then the Judge asked, "What have you been up to?" "Well, I don't have time to visit, I've got milk in the car. You know the Food Mart was running a sale on it this morning. But I've got something out there for you."

When I turned around with her to go to her car, I realized that would not be necesary. All 4 of our attorneys were standing in the doorway. "Well bless my soul, I didn't see y'all." Listening to the affectionate way they spoke to her, I knew there was a story here someone needed to tell me. As they all went to help her with what ever was in her car, I turned to the Judge. "What just happened here?" "That was Miss Sylvia." "I got that much." "She was a client of mine when I was in private practice. Her husband left her and I managed to get her a fairly significant divorce settlement and introduced her to a stock broker to help her invest her money. Don't let her fool you, she is a savy business woman." I realized quickly, I did not need make an enemy out of Miss Sylvia.

After I watched Miss Sylvia drive off in her new Lincoln Continental, I went into the kitchen to see what the attorneys were so excited about. Sitting on the kitchen table was this incredibly rich chocolate concoction, 2 plant cuttings wrapped in wet newspaper, a 12 pack of Diet 7-Up, and 3 random newspaper articles clipped from the local paper. From behind me, I heard the Judge laughing, "Oh, and by the way, she is also, a super cook. She is always bringing us some kind of dish. The cuttings are from her yard. You should see it - it is gorgeous." "What about the newspaper clippings and the Diet 7-Up?" "Well, we never know what the articles are going to be about. But they will be something she thinks we need to read. And, the 7-Up is for me. That's what I drink."

And that was my introduction to Miss Sylvia.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ladies of the Evening

When I was growing up there seemed to be a certain type of women I found intriguing. The funny thing was if I found them terribly interesting, my mother found them deplorable, and my father was amused. We all grew up with them. You know, the ones who always had the big hair, the tight skirts- a little higher than most, especially for their age, and a little more "color" on their faces than most ladies I knew. They could cuss and drink with the best of them and hold a cigarette like no other. I felt so dowdy next to them. And, they always seemed to be having more fun than anyone else.

My mother would always discuss them in hushed tones, liked if she raised her voice they might hear her, even though we were in our house, far removed from them. She kept telling me that there were just some things I was not old enough to understand. Dad would just roll his eyes and leave the room. I was confused.

I would see these ladies at the store when shopping with my mother, or hanging around the local bar and grill where we went to get our favorite hamburgers. One night Dad had taken us to real nice restaurant to celebrate one of our birthdays. You know the fancy kind that had a lobster tank - a big deal in the 70's. As we were leaving, one of these ladies came in with a nicely dressed gentleman. As soon as we got in the car. I quickly said to my mother, "See, I told you ladies like that are OK. If not, why would they be eating in such a fancy place and with such a nice man." My father just smiled and looked at my mom and said, "That's right, why else would she be in such a fancy place with such a nice man." My mother knew there was nothing proper she could say. Dad and I were both waiting for her answer - me, innocently, for an explanation and Dad, humorously, just to watch her squirm.

The Dirth of Alzheimer's

I have come to know a cruel and sinister foe that lurks amongst us. A disease that can strike someone at any time - at the top of their game, at an early age or at the end of their days when it is their time to enjoy family and friends. It comes quickly and silently, like a fog in the night. Before anyone knows it, they are lost in the dark mist, slowly slipping away, out of sight, out of our grasp. We can see them, make out their shadow. But, even as we reach out to save them, they slip away. In our attempts to hold them, hold onto their lives, to our memories, we are thwarted. The blank look looms with the stare that tells all and nothing. The smile that masks the confusion. They are there but they are not. Their souls have slowly vanished before our eyes, an evil allusion. All we have left are their memories, for they are gone - forever.