Wednesday, September 30, 1998

As My Mother Lies Dying

He sits upon the golden throne,

Robed in ermine-lined velvet.  His red cloak

Cascades over the stairs and seems to fill the great hall.

Timidly, you stand at the entrance.  He holds out His hand.  

"Come, beloved daughter, sit with me."

Then does joy overwhelm!  

And you, dear one, who in dispair may have sometimes felt 

You were not anyone's anything,

Know at last that you are of the royalist of blood.

You are the Daughter of the King!

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Jury of her Peers

    Looking down at the long table, she assumed that the two men seated across from each other were the opposing lawyers.  Another man, a younger one, sat near the head of the table.  

Must be a clerk, she thought. A para-legal, or whatever they call it.

The prospective jurors came, one at a time, to sit at the head of the table and answer the para-legal's questions.  The lawyers listened intently and made notes on their little yellow pads.  Strain as she would, she could not make out what was being said down there.  It made her so fidgety to almost-but-not-quite hear, that she dropped a knitting stitch.   Darn! she thought, and quickly picked it up again.

It had been a long day, this jury-picking process.  Her eyelids were heavy, and her bones weary of sitting on the hard chair.  She was seated up on the jury platform with nineteen others, waiting for her turn to be interviewed.  Yes, it had been a long time indeed since Judge Gannon had greeted them in the large room just off the jurors' lounge, at 8:35 that morning. There must have been 400 people assembled.  How she had managed to get into town that early was a wonder, public transportation being what it is.  She had had little sleep the night before, just for worrying about being late, but had enjoyed being among the scurrying people coming to their jobs in the city.  It made her feel alive, "in the main stream," as they say.  She pretended she was one of them, on her way to HER job, too.  Cal, her younger son used to tease that she was an actress at heart, always playing out a scenerio in her head.  Well, in a way, this jury summons IS my job, she thought.

My temporary one, anyway.

"There's a certain excitement about the first day of Civil Court session and choosing the jurors for the next six weeks," Judge Gannon had said.  She had looked around at the people seated near her.  They really don't look too excited, she had thought.  I'd say more bored...some of them even scowly, but none of them excited.  No, definitely not excited.

They want to be somewheres else, most of them..  Now, me, I like being here just fine.  It's better than sitting home watching the television, or making apple pies for grandchildren who never come to eat them because their parents are too busy to bring them to visit.  It sure beats straightening up a lonely old house, too, 

which doesn't need straightening up anymore, anyway.  I don't mess it up much,

me there all alone. When Wiley and the kids filled it, it needed straightening twenty times a day.  Now I do it out of habit...or for something to accomplish.  No, I like it just fine being here.  I hope I'm  picked for a long, drawn-out trial.

"Paneled jurors," the bailiff who had led them from the great room to this courtroom had called them.  "You are now paneled jurors for Case #14.  After the twenty of you have all been interviewed," he explained, "sixteen will be chosen for jury duty.  Twelve jurors, plus four alternates.  This will be our last jury selection case of the day, since it's already after three o'clock.  Our rule is 'one day or one case,' so if you're not chosen today, you'll get credit for having served, and will not likely be subpoenaed again for at least two years." 

Nell knew that in two years she would be too old to serve.  Seventy was the cut-off, someone in the lounge had said that morning.  She was going on seventy in five months.  So they will choose me for sure today, she thought, else, why would they have summoned me after all these years of leaving me be?  They want to give me my chance now before it's too late.  I'll be picked for sure for Case #14;  I know it.  The prospect made her tingle and she dropped another stitch.

At last it was her turn.  Carefully, she made her way past the two jurors to the left of her in the row, and slowly and deliberately, so as not to fall and ruin her big moment, she descended the steps from the jurors' platform and took her place at the table.

"Good afternoon,"  the para-legal said.  He seemed quite a nice young man, one his mother could be proud of.

"Good afternoon," Nell said, feeling a rush of affection for him.  She smiled as she would have to Cal, or to her daughter Janey, or to Wiley, Jr.  That is, if they were ever around her long enough to be smiled to.

"State your name, please."

"Nell Daniels," she said.

"Have you ever been called by any other name?"

"Not that I know of.  Unless you mean mother, of course.....or grandma.  My husband Wiley used to call me Esmeralda, but that was a private joke."

She thought she saw one of the lawyers, the handsome one, grin.  Janey would have said he was "a real HUNK."  Janey's language was too flip for a mother of two, one in junior high and one just about ready for college.  Janey, child of the sixties, was still somewhat of a rebel.  

The other lawyer, with his head down, scribbled furiously on his pad.  Janey would have said he needs a cricket in his pants, Nell thought.  I'll just bet he's a sourpuss at home, too.

"What is your birthdate, please?"  This from the para-legal.

"February 4, 1929," Nell said.

He looked surprised.  "Really?  1929?"

"Would I lie?" she asked.

"Judas!" the Hunk whispered to Sourpuss.  "That makes her almost seventy!"  

She shot him a look, and was pleased to see he had the decency to blush.

The para-legal continued.  "Are you single, married, divorced or widowed?"

"Widowed, sorry to say.  Wiley passed on seven years ago.  It was the cigarettes.  I told him they would do it, but he never listened.  I tried them once.  The cigarettes, that is.  But I couldn't keep my eyes from tearing, and I coughed and coughed.  He used to say, when we were first married, 'come on, Esmeralda, have a puff with me,' but after that first time, I wouldn't."

The young man cleared his throat.  "Yes mam," he said.  "Well, let's get on, shall we?  Do you have children?"

"I've got three.  Least ways, I used to.  Now they all have children of their own, and I don't see them more than Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I tell them I'd be more than happy to babysit.  I'd even be willing to hop a plane and go fetch them.  But they say it would be too much for me.  Too much indeed!  What they mean is they think I'm too old to take care of them properly.  Well, they're wrong!  I could do a darn-site better than THEY do with them!"

"I'm sure you could, mam.  Now, then, this case will be tried by these two gentlemen:   Mr. John W. Carson of the firm of Walloby, Walloby, Carson & Scott, and by Mr. Anthony F. Bianchi of the firm of Bianchi & Bianchi.  Are you acquainted with, or have you ever had any business or personal dealings with, or dealings of any kind with either of them or with any members of their firms, such as would jeopardize your honest consideration and judgment of this case?"


"This case is a product liability case and involves a motorcyclist and a helmet-manufacturer.  Do you have any feeling, negative or otherwise, about either of these two such persons?"

"Which two such?  You mean helmet manufacturers?  I never in my life knew a helmet manufacturer.  Least ways, I never KNEW that I knew one.  And the motorcyclist....was he hurt bad?"

"M’am, we're not here to go into the facts of the case right at this moment.  Please, just answer the question."

"I forget exactly what it was.  I have a general idea, of course.  Could you repeat it for me please like a good boy?"

"Do you have any feeling, negative or otherwise, about motorcyclists?"  

"I'm not sure."

"M’am, I'm sorry, but 'I'm not sure' just won't do in this instance."

"Well, I'm trying to be perfectly honest.  Honest, I am!"

"I'm sure you are, m’am.  I'm sure you are.  But what we need here is a definite yes or no answer."

"Well, I have nothing against them, but I think they must have a death wish.  They have no protection whatsoever riding one of those things!  And if they think a helmet takes the place of  'Body by Fisher', they're crazy, poor things!   Wiley, Jr., when he was seventeen, wanted to buy one.  A cycle.  He had the money, but his father and I said no way.  Bad enough being out there in a car!"

He sighed.  "Yes or no?"


"Thank you.  Now then, do you have a driver's license?"

"I almost got one once.  It was right after Wiley took sick.  I got a learner's permit and an instructor and everything, but it just made my nerves all jangled to even think of driving.  So I called that radio all-night talk-show host....what was his name?  Remember....he used to be on KDKA?   Perry Martin or something like that.  I said, 'Perry, I'm sixty-one and my husband is sick bad and can't get out anymore, so do you think I should learn to drive?  His car's just sitting in the garage, and I sure could use the transportation.'  And Perry said, 'Well, I don't know.  Sixty-one is pretty old to be starting out learning to drive.'  And so I said, 'Well, my father (God rest his soul) always used to say you're never too old to learn until you're six-feet under.'  And Perry says..."

"M’am, I wonder if we could get on with this, please?  We have eight more jurors to be interviewed."

"Of course.  I'm sorry if I took up too much of your time.  Thank you for your patience."

"Oh, no, mam," he said.  "Not at all!  And  you're most welcome for my 'patience,' such as it was."  

He looked rueful... guilty, almost, so she hurried to say,  "Oh!  How nice it is to hear a young man say 'your welcome' instead of 'no problem.'  I hate that 'no problem,' don't you?  I thank the grocery clerk for bagging my groceries, and he says 'no problem.'  I acknowledge with gratitude when a gentleman holds a door for me (although this happens seldom these days, believe me!) and he says 'no problem.'  No problem!  No problem!  That's the trouble with people nowadays...

Anyway, it's so nice to hear 'you're welcome,' for a change.  I thank you for it."

Sourpuss riffled through some papers at his elbow.  "Ah...Bill," he said to the para-legal, "I think we've heard enough from this juror at this point to make our choice.  We'll be here to midnight if we don't move on."

The para-legal nodded.  "That will be all then, mam.  Please just take your seat again up on the platform and wait there until the remainder of the jurors have been interviewed.  Thank you."

"No problem," she said.

She thought then that Sourpuss mumbled something about one having definitely flown over the cuckoo's nest, but maybe she heard wrong.

The Hunk smiled sweetly at her and courteously half-rose out of his chair as she got up to leave the table.

She felt like crying as she reached her seat and another juror brushed past her in the aisle to go down for his interview.  I don't think it went well at all," she thought.  What did I do wrong?  I answered all the questions.  Willingly, too. And honestly as well.   They won't choose me.  I just know it!  They won't choose me, and I won't ever get another chance."

As it turned out, she was exactly right.

By five o'clock, she had already picked up her nine-dollars-plus-carfare in payment for doing her civic duty.  By five-o-twelve, she was on a bus, homeward bound, with office workers and junior executives and salesclerks and parking attendants  returning from their jobs after a long day.  She looked around at them affectionately.

We've all worked hard today, she thought.  All of us.  Including me.   It will be good to get home and put my feet up.  Oh, but how I wish I would be reporting  for jury duty Monday!  

She rummaged through her purse to make sure she had exact change for bus fare.  It was well after four o'clock, so she could not use her senior citizen pass.  Not during rush hour, she knew.  Well, that's only right.  Save the bus seats for working folks, and today that's me, too!  Glorious!  

With a satisfied sigh, she took the knitting from her little shopping bag, and, in spite of the bus's jostling ride through the city streets and in spite of the pain of arthritis in her fingers and disappointment in her heart, she soon had her knitting needles clicking merrily.  

Suddenly she had a thought.  Why, sitting up there on that platform, knitting away, I must have looked just like Madame Lafarge!  She smiled.  No wonder I wasn't picked.

Monday, September 7, 1998

Friends Forever

Hazel slowed at the school's entrance and maneuvered the station wagon into a parking spot that gave her a good vantage point to see her daughter Jenny when she would, as usual, come skipping out, surrounded by little friends.  Hazel smiled, anticipating the moment.  They put her in mind of little birds, all chattery and flittery and tippy-toed and full of energy.

The "little birds" in question emerged now.  Soon Jenny was at the car, with one of her friends, Kathy, right beside her.

Jenny had been lonely as an only child, but now, almost since the very day this kindergarten year had begun, she hadn't once mentioned her imaginary playmate -- the one she had invented and loved and included in their family group since she was two years old.

"Hi, Mummy!" Jenny said.  "Can we take Kathy home with us?  Her mummy says she can come play with me this afternoon."

"Sure!  Get in, girls!" Hazel said.

Once home, Hazel set out milk and cookies.  "Have your snack, girls," she said.  "Then you can go out and play."

With happy heart, Hazel watched the two of them together, dunking their Oreos and trying to get them to their mouths before the cookies fell, soft and saturated with milk, into their glasses.

Later, Kathy's mother came to take her home.  Hazel went out to the car to greet her.  "Did she behave?" Kathy's mother asked, as Kathy got into the car.

"Oh yes, as always!  She's welcome here anytime!" Hazel said.  "She and Jenny get along so well together."

Kathy and her mother left, and, taking Jenny's hand, Hazel walked with her up the slope of the lawn toward the house.  "She's so nice!" Hazel said.  "Isn't it fun to have a good friend?"

Jenny nodded.

Hazel remembered another friend, and smiling affectionately, asked, "Honey, what ever happened to Gluggly?  You never talk about him anymore."

Jenny said nothing.

"Remember how you even used to have me set a place for him at table every day?"

The hint of a smile played around Jenny's mouth, but still she made no answer.

Hazel persisted.  "Please tell me, Jen, what DID happen to Gluggly?  He was such a good buddy!"

Jenny dropped Hazel's hand and ran ahead of her up onto the porch.  "I don't know!" she called over her shoulder.  "Fell down a big hole, I guess!"  With that she opened the screen door and ran into the house.

Hazel grinned.  "Sic transit gloria," she thought.  "I shall miss you, dear Gluggly!"

Jenny ran up the stairs and into her room.  She belly-flopped onto her bed, lifted the side of the bedspread and poked her head under the bed.

"Glug?" she whispered.

No answer.

"Come on!" she said.  "I know you're under there.  I can see your green tail!"

No answer.

"Please Gluggly," she said.  "Are you mad at me?"

"YES, I'm mad!" Gluggly said.  "I heard what you told your mother out there!  You wish I would just go away, don't you?  Well, don't you?  Don't you?  Oh sure, I was good enough when you were all alone, but now you have your people friends!  Sure!  Forget the old alligator!  Forget Gluggy!  Who needs him anymore?  Fell down a big hole you guess!  What made you say that?  Is that what you wish?"

Gently, Jenny grabbed hold of his tail and pulled him out from under the bed.  "Oh Gluggly!" she said, and wiped her wet cheek with her open palm.  "I don't wish that at all!  I love you, Gluggly!  You're the dearest little alligator friend a girl ever had!  You taught me all you know.  I will love you forever!  It's just that I can't let Mummy or anyone else know you're still around.  They'll say I'm nothing but a baby."

She picked him up in her arms and brought him onto the bed.  She smoothed his long black coat tails and straightened his green bow tie.  "Please say you understand, Glug," she said.


"Please?  I don't know what I would do if you weren't here waiting for me!"

"Well....," he said.  "I guess so.  But no more talk about falling down a big hole, you hear?  Scared the bejeebers out of me!  Just the thought of it!"

They heard Jenny's mother's footsteps on the stairs.  Soon she appeared in the doorway of Jenny's room, a pile of folded clean laundry in her arms.

"Who are you talking to, Honey?"

"Nobody," Jenny said.  She gave Gluggly a quick wink.

"Humph!  Nobody indeed!" Gluggly said.

"Shhh," Jenny whispered, hugging him close.  "Be good."