Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jury Duty - September 20, 2006

It’s been 20 years since I last saw my father in his judicial robes. It was Christmas 1986, I think. One of my aunt’s weddings, husband seven or eight. The guy who lasted just six weeks, a widower. After a whirlwind courtship, quick but tasteful wedding and extravagant honeymoon, the bills for all of it arrived and each realized the other didn’t have money to pay these or any of the other’s mounting debts. Each had married the other for financial stability. Uh oh. Just before each of her weddings, my sister and I would pull Dad aside and suggest that perhaps he not proclaim the “until death do you part” part of the ceremony because, really, it wasn’t going to happen. He’d scowl with the face of a protective older brother at us, always wanting to believe the best of his sister, our aunt, and everyone around him. But we could also see in his eyes he understood our cynical mischief and knew he’d be performing yet another of her ceremonies before too long.

But six weeks. That was a record even for her.

The last time I saw my father in his robes in a court? Well, I’m not sure I remember at all. It’s been at least 20 years, and likely closer to 25. I’m sure a I was a sullen adolescent, embarrassed so totally by my father that rolled my eyes in his court. I grimace thinking about it now.

When the judge walked into the jury pool room this morning to welcome the potential jurors, he was already robed for the day’s sessions. Before I knew what was happening, tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was struggling to maintain any sense of composure. I missed my father so much.

I didn’t anticipate this response to reporting for jury duty. Indeed, I brainstormed ways to get out of it, but didn’t act on any ideas because I knew my father would be horrified that I was trying to squirm my way out of my civic responsibilities. So I sucked it up, kissed my sleeping children before leaving to get to the courthouse at the appointed early hour and sat waiting for whatever came next. While I still hoped not to be actually seated on a jury, I never expected the tears and the flood of memories to be there.

I remembered his striped button-down oxford shirts and regimental striped ties. Often worn with striped trousers and suit coats. I remembered the way his appetite for all things mayonnaise caused the hem of the front of his robes to be just higher than the hem of the back of his robes. I remembered his office in the new capital building before the new courts building was completed. The awful easy listening music he played in there, and how he kept every single one of the school made trinkets given him by my sister, my brother and me. There were more than a couple of badly proportioned gavels from learning the lathe in shop class. I remember framed cartoons by the editorial cartoonist at the local newspaper, immortalizing my father’s tendency to “rest his eyes” during a portion of most proceedings.

I remembered the good parts and bad parts of our relationship. The moments we seemed to understand one another and the times we absolutely didn’t.

I’m not one of those people who believes in idealizing the dead. When Dad died, my sister talked about him as the perfect father. Well, he wasn’t. He was imperfect, to say the least, as I am, and as we all are. We had our share of conflicts. My sister and he had their own struggles, of course. Maybe her idealization from him in the first days and weeks after he died were her way of handling her sweeping grief. My brother and Dad had their own issues, too. But we loved him, and he loved us.

And yet the strength of my missing him at that moment in the jury pool room came as a complete surprise.

This last Sunday, the Parade magazine in the Sunday paper asked, “If You Had One Day with Someone Who’s Gone, Who Would it Be? What Would You Do? What Would You Say?” I thought about this hard during the rest of my time in the jury room.

If I had one day with someone who is gone, it would not be my father.

If I had one day, it would be with my husband’s late mother. I would ask her things, like, what was he like as a child, as a baby? How big was he when he was born? How was your labor? What was he like at 10, 15, 18? What was your greatest wish for him? Because these are things we do not know.

I would then introduce her to her grandchildren, my sons, my daughter whom we named after her, our two nephews. I would have her create a special memory with each of them. She would meet her other daughter-in-law, see her nieces, her older niece’s sweet husband, and her great niece and great nephew.

If I could muster the courage, I would ask her advice on how to manage the conflict we have with her surviving husband. Just one or two sentences on what to do. A hint or a push in the right direction.

I would give her time to find others she wanted to see, and then I would leave her alone with her sons, who still need her and miss her so much because she was taken away far too early. So she could see what good and strong men they have become.

If I were given one day with someone who is gone, it would not be my father. As much as I miss him, would like my children to know him, and much as there were things left unsaid, I think we understood each other. There were parts of each of us that infuriated the other. We agreed on very little and loved each other so much in doing so.

One of the disagreements we never fully resolved had to do with a Civics teacher when I was in high school. My teacher was an old school male chauvinist who referred to the girls in the class as “dollies” and believed girls were good for staying home to cook and clean and raise the children only. I challenged him on this, and challenged everything he said in class. As such, when report card time came around, I had a B instead of an A thanks to being marked down on class participation for my challenges (my written work was an A). I was furious but preferred the B to being quiet in the face of such awful crap being spewed at a class of majority smart girls. In my eyes it was pride and doing what was right and standing up tall.

My father found out about it and wanted me to get the A above all else. He suggested that I bake this teacher a pie.


My blood pressure still rises when I think about this over 20 years later. It was an argument we revisited many, many times. I often say that he never understood why that upset me so much. But I think he did. I think he did know, and he was just as stubborn as I can be. Because I understand, too. I understand that he was coming from an entirely different generation and understanding of authority and a desire for me to achieve and a desire to protect me from difficulty. Never the twain met, on this plane of existence anyway.

My dad once said, when he realized I wasn’t going to move back to the southwest, ever, “I wanted you to be independent, but not this independent.”

As much as I believe I have come to terms with your life, our relationship, and your death, here I am, Dad, your stubborn and independent daughter, crying at the sight of pleats in a judges robe.

I miss you.

1 comment:

Ruthie said...

This is such a sweet tribute to your father... I think it's so important to take time to remember people that are gone. Thank you for sharing this.