Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reporting for Jury Duty

I grew up watching Perry Mason and Matlock, so my expectations for jury duty were pretty high. 

With fifty or so other Wayne County residents, I reported to the courthouse Monday morning to serve my civic duty. We have a nice courthouse, with exceptionally tall ceilings, large windows, spots of stained glass and a budget that apparently doesn't support air conditioning on 85-degree days. 

This was my first experience with jury duty, so I read from front to back the handy booklet they give you at check-in. I was especially interested in the glossary in the back, so I could at least pretend to know what they were talking about. I usually have the Dateline cases solved by the time we get to this point in the show, so I needed to brush up a bit. 

The judge weeded through the fodder pretty quickly once we got started. He asked if anyone was currently convicted of a felony or on probation. As fate might have it, the gentleman to my left was excused during that time. I have a real knack for picking a seat. 

Down the line we were asked if we knew anyone in law enforcement well enough that our opinion could be swayed, or we could obtain special information about the case. I was shocked at how many people in our random sample of fifty folks are related to police officers. My personal favorite example was the gal whose great uncle was a traffic cop. With more questioning, we learned he died three years ago, so she felt confident she could keep quiet about the case, should she be selected as one of the twelve. 

I considered raising my hand and telling the judge that my date to the winter semi-formal dance my senior year of high school is now an undercover officer, but I didn't want to get into the messy details of adolescence.

Four selected jurors were quite vocal in their belief that the defendant was guilty until proven innocent (rather than innocent until proven guilty) so that got them on the fast track for dismissal. I wondered what jaded life experience had gotten the four to that point, but I didn't ask questions. By this time, we were an hour into the process and nine seats remained open. My goal was to avoid all eye contact so perhaps they would forget I was there. 

While sitting on the sidelines, admittedly just waiting for my name to be called, I thought about all the things I could - and should - have been doing on that Monday:
Exploring outside with Caroline
Visiting Grandma
Writing scripts for three agronomy videos to be shot next week 
Answering Monday morning emails
Grocery shopping
Laundry to the line
Prepping dinner
Rescheduling a dentist appointment
Creating marketing pieces for a February 2019 event
and so much more.
Instead, I sat in a hot, old room waiting to be casted onto the 2018 version of 12 Angry Men

Then came Roger. 
Roger was probably fifty-five, but on this particular day he appeared to be closer to seventy-five. He moved extremely slowly to the jury box and wasn't stable when moving between the rows of chairs. His hair was unkept. His sweatshirt had stains down the front. She was unshaven. His white K-Swiss shoes were grass stained.
The judge asked Roger if there was any reason why he couldn't serve on a jury for the next three days. 
"I'm having a hard time staying awake. I'll admit, I fell asleep during the movie, here in the beginning," he went on to quietly tell the judge. 
"Sir, you'll have to speak up. This is being recorded and we cannot make out what you're saying. Do you have a special circumstance that is making you so tired this morning?" the judge asked. 
"I went to work at 10:00 last night. Got off at 7:00.......I went to my mother's and gave her a bath......I'm trying to get her into a nursing home but I can't afford that right now.....Then I came here......I'm just tired," Roger finished, slowly and still a bit muffled. 
"When do you go back to work?" asked the judge. 
" 10:00," Roger said with his head down. 

Instantly, my better-things-to-do list became incredibly insignificant and trivial. I became sincerely grateful for a night of rest with Caroline's sleep talking as my only interruption.  I closed my eyes and prayed for Roger, his mother, and rest for both. I prayed that God would bless him in a special way this week. 
Roger was dismissed. I hope he went straight home and slept before reporting back to work. 

Two other men were dismissed from duty because they admitted that if they didn't report to work that day, they would not have the funds to pay child support. My case for inconvenience was growing weaker and weaker. 

One lady admitted she has trouble paying attention, and if they put her in a room with windows for three days, all she'll do is watch the leaves blow in the breeze. The entire east wall of the courtroom was windows. She was sent on her merry way. 

One by one, the selection process narrowed down the pool of viable jury candidates. I became more vested in the process because I realized I was quite capable of serving in such a way. Caroline was taken care of for the day, dentist appointments could be rescheduled, I have a good sense of right from wrong, and I was capable of listening to facts and making my own judgement. 

Of the fifty or so who walked into the courthouse that morning, only seven were left as unselected. I was one of the seven. I took three flights of marble steps to the ground floor and texted Cody, letting him know I was able to communicate again. 

I blew out of those courthouse doors like a free woman. 
A free woman with a realization that God has a way of putting life's troubles, worries and problems in perspective. 
It took me over four hours of sitting and listening to strangers' experiences, priorities, home life and circumstances to realize how fortunate I am. All of that, before a minute of testimony was heard.

It is true:

I never even got to hear a minute of the trial, which turned out to be fine by me. Even though I truly believe my years of job shadowing Angela Lansbury would have paid off tremendously in that moment. 

Maybe next time. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Old Friend Leaving Town

I’m having a terribly hard time coming to terms with Elder-Beerman closing. 

Some of my earliest memories were walking from the parking garage across the sky bridge to the massive department store. I remember when Mom would have gifts wrapped and how precisely the paper was folded, tied with a perfect, sparkling bow. I remember eating at the restaurant with Grandma. I’m not certain of the year, but at some point they closed that restaurant. It should have been a sure sign, then: you stop feeding people, the end is inevitably near. I think the year was something like 1989.

In my teen years Mom took me to the Clinique counter to learn more about applying make-up. Suzy also did my make-up for the county 4-H fair queen contests I participated in. When I was crowned queen, mom took me back to Elder-Beerman to find a couple suitable dresses to wear to present ribbons and trophies. 
Then I moved to college, but not before visiting the grand old store for things that college girls wear: jeans that wouldn’t fit after the first semester, sweaters that would make me cringe when looking at photos a decade later and shirts that made it quite obvious why I didn’t meet my husband during my four years at Purdue. 

My first job out of college took me to Washington, DC. Before leaving, I burned up my 20% off coupons, card holder rewards incentives and yellow dot coupons. I remember finding a pair of business gauchos I loved, so I bought them in every color Elder-Beerman had available. I invested in comfortable pumps that would get me from my apartment in Arlington to my office at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue. They had a good sole and sturdy heel. Both were required; I stepped on a lot of sidewalk grates. 

One of my favorite memories from Washington actually included Elder-Beerman. I worked at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association out east. One afternoon, we were having a meeting about animal health and all the leaders from that industry were welcomed to our office. One of the key influencers on The Hill, shot callers, Big Dogs – we actually called her Mrs. BAYER – came to our office for the event. She made over my necklace and asked who my designer was? 

I remember thinking: “Lady, I’m barely making rent in a ground floor apartment where my windows are chalked shut with a 2 x 4. I plan my meals around which political reception I’m going to attend for the food. I don’t have a personal jewelry designer!”

Of course, I didn’t say that. I thanked her for the ravishing compliment and told her my designer’s name was Erica Lyons. She’d claimed to have never heard of her. That was probably because this woman didn’t shop the discount section of Elder-Beerman.

In 2016 I visited a corner of the store that I never knew existed as a child: the maternity section. I sincerely remember in that moment thinking how Elder-Beerman has seen me grow up, through so many phases of life. 

Now, as a mother, my visits to the beloved department store require a trip to the second floor where the children’s clothes are. My focus has changed to stocking a future closet with things which are on sale now, that Caroline can eventually grow into. 

My wardrobe has shrunk tremendously over the years, for a couple reasons: 1) I’ve learned to find a few staple pieces that will remain in style despite the trends, so at my age I focus more on classic than what is currently in style; 2) it is more fun to shop for someone with rolls on her thighs (to clarify, I’m talking about Caroline), than to be in a ladies’ dressing room, myself, and 3) two words: Farm. Payment. 

In fact, in 2018 my goal was to see how long I could go without spending a penny on myself. This challenge excluded things like face cream or toothpaste but focused on frivolous spending on things I wanted rather than needed. I’m proud to say that I did not spend a penny on myself this year until we took mom to Nashville the last weekend in April. I stopped by Elder-Beerman several times January through April, but my Platinum Elite card never came out of my purse. 


Is my foolish personal goal the reason they’re closing?? I’m going to be sick. 

When the last racks are cleared later this spring, Richmond will have lost such a huge part of downtown. Nowhere else can you sit in your car and enjoy a JoyAnn Bakery treat, then walk across the street and try to fit into a pair of jeans because they’re a Door Buster bargain. I’ll really miss washing down that cookie with a big glass of guilt. Also, nowhere else in town can you bring in bags of Goodwill clothes and then receive coupons to purchase more things to fill your closet. The irony is abundant.  

Mom and I have already discussed making our last run to our beloved Elder-Beerman, together. It will be the end of an era in terms of visiting downtown Richmond, mother/daughter shopping days, actually visiting a store front to purchase clothes, then hiding them in the trunk until our husbands aren’t home so we can sneak multiple bags into the house. 

Oh, Elder-Beerman. You’ve been a good, fun and faithful friend. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Playing Second Fiddle

Two weeks ago my sister and I surprised Mom by taking her away - off the farm - for a weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. We had a really wonderful time together celebrating Mom's 65th (6-5!!!) birthday. I can't remember the last time the three of us shared a hotel room, but it brought back fond memories. Mom still put the unused hotel soaps and lotions in her suitcase so the staff would restock each day. Old habits die hard. 

We ate well over three days and didn't sit still much. In fact, I think the longest we were stationary was during a 2-hour show at the Grand Old Opry. One day we walked over five miles checking out the Music City attractions. We did take Mom to Broadway St. so she could experience the crowd, live music from the "next great ones" and stale beer smell. She didn't seem overly impressed, but I think she enjoyed the people watching. 

One stop we made on Broadway was to The Second Fiddle, an old honkytonk with a small stage and large assortment of historic Nashville memorabilia along the walls. 

We sat and watched a small band play a few old, recognizable classics. The lead singer obviously had the attention of the crowd with the microphone, but not without the talent of the few behind him. They truly were playing second fiddle at The Second Fiddle, I thought to myself. What a way to spend a Saturday. 

Each band member played passionately and loud, waiting for someone to drop a couple dollars in the tip jar next to the stage speakers. I noticed almost all of the band mates were wearing wedding rings. I wondered if their spouses were playing at a bar next door, or perhaps even waiting tables there. When they were done playing, they packed up and left so the next small gig could move in. But the band seemed to split, and all seemed to go separate directions. 

I thought about how I spend my time, where I invest my energy and where I might play second fiddle. Sometimes after my husband folds the towels I desperately want to re-fold them the way I prefer (with crisp, even folds), but in a rush to mark the next thing off my list, I put them away without doubling the effort, thankful for his contribution to our “band”. 

And while we were in Nashville for three days, I was constantly expecting Cody to call asking questions about how to prepare one of Caroline’s favorite meals, or what to give her for teething or how to properly put her hair in a ponytail, following her natural hair part. And do you know what? He never did. The only time he called me in three days was to ensure we weren’t at a Waffle House on Sunday morning when it made national news

Semen tank and open fire: 
Dad/Daughter bonding, I guess

The truth is, not all of us can lead the band at all times– though I think often as women we have a hard time realizing that. We have an instinct to lead all areas at all times with our hands in everything, and quickly become overwhelmed, stressed or short fused when things don’t go just as we planned. 

If you look around, you’ll find a large group of folks who are perfectly content playing second fiddle, doing what they need to do, to make a business work, a family function or an event go on without a hitch. You'll find people take care of small details quietly, and doing it well. You’ll see classmates who need not be the center of attention, custodians who never once complain (even during flu season…) and men who don’t drive the bus, but they sure keep it running. Those are the “second fiddles” who actually make the band sound great. Those are the people who play smaller roles to make life’s band grand. 

Those are also the people who don’t consider refolding the towels after someone else already has, they just put them away without another thought. Studies show that most second fiddle players are not mothers. I do all my own research. 

I guess if there was no one to play second fiddle we wouldn't have much of a band. Or church. Or school. Or business. Or home life to raise our families. 

So I return from Nashville with a new perspective, a new outlook on my role within our home and community and newfound respect for those perfectly content in the back row. 

You make life’s music worth listening to.

Save me a seat.