Monthly Archives: July 2014

In Loving Memory: Grace Evelyn Brown (1921-2014)

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Although she grew up without any siblings, Grandma made the world her extended family. She was always genuinely interested in others. Her compassionate personality shined through even at an early age, when, for one of her first playmates, she befriended a physically disabled boy who had  survived polio. And from then on, she firmly established herself as a future nurturer and caregiver.

If someone met Grandma for the first time, they would immediately notice she was a rather petite woman, standing only about 5 feet tall. Some people would say that’s tiny. I prefer to remember that she may have been small in stature but she unquestionably had a great, big … mouth.

When she felt passionately about something, she let you know it! In fact, as I feel her spirit with us today, some of us not getting along with each other like we used to, some of the family absent, I am reminded of something she always used to say. I can hear her looking down at all of us gathered around her grave and saying, “No. This won’t do. I told you … I wanted a booth! By the window. Not that window.” Ah, the words are as true today as the day she last spoke them. (This is a bit of an inside joke, but Grandma was perhaps the pickiest restaurant patron a hostess could be made to seat. I refuse to believe she would be content with her cemetery plot, since it’s clearly not a booth.)

I would be remiss to remember Grandma and not address her love life. Sadly, she was predeceased by her husband, Francis Allen Brown. I can envision them together in Heaven now. Grandpa is looking young and dapper in his crisp Army uniform. Grandma is youthful and slender, elegantly dressed and donning a classic hat from her glory days. As Grandma advances toward Grandpa, his arms are open wide for a welcoming embrace. Her determined stride is no longer hindered by age and infirmity. Grandma looks deeply into Grandpa’s eyes and exclaims, “Where’s my cat, Maggie?”

Come to think of it, I have no idea how Grandpa would know the answer to that question, seeing as he never met Maggie. Always the optimist, I remember Grandma wiping away tears and reflecting after her husband of several decades lost his battle with cancer and saying, “Well, I suppose now I can finally have a cat.”

Grandma was genuinely interested in all of our lives and was sincerely cherished by the people who were fortunate enough to know her. Even if it was at her own expense, she would joke around to put people at ease in a way that was infectious. 

She might not have been one to use the L-word gratuitously, but her love for her family was evident from her actions. For me personally, I remember as a child waking up so many times and hearing her voice coming from our kitchen. This was always a bittersweet moment. She didn’t live with us. Having her visit in the morning meant one thing for sure, my father’s health had failed again during the night.

But it also meant so many more important things to me. It meant I had my safety net of love, stability, and emotional support. That it was ok I was scared but that I didn’t have to be alone.

And so in remembering the important role Grandma played in my childhood, I feel I must share a story she told and re-told over the years. It’s possible you’ve already heard it. Forgive me for retelling it one last time, but it always makes me smile.

A great thing about your grandparents is that they have a much higher threshold for tolerating mischief than your own parents. Grandma was no exception to this rule when it came to me as a little boy. My favorite story she would tell about me as a toddler goes something like this…

When I was around 3 years old, Grandma would visit my house regularly. Each time, I would ask if we could hang out together, just one on one. We would sit together in the living room on the edge of the sofa. 

My little feet would dangle off the edge and not touch the floor… Her little feet would dangle off the edge and not touch the floor…

And I would confide in her my deepest, darkest little toddler secrets.

On one particular occasion, I came to greet her near the entrance of our home with my hands held behind my back. “Grandma, I have a secret,” I whispered. “Oh? What is it, Dear?” She replied.

My voice went low and grew deeply serious. “Don’t tell mom, ok?”

“Your secret’s safe with me, Dear.” She said, sealing her lips, making a locking gesture & then miming throwing the key away over her shoulder.

I sheepishly presented my contraband to her: scissors and a pair of tiny socks with the tops chopped off. “I shortened my socks!”

She erupted with laughter, which only called attention to the scene of the crime. My mom raced in, saw the mutilated socks, my expression of terror and Grandma’s tears from laughter.

“How am I going to punish him when you’re laughing like that???” She scolded.

Well, Grandma thought this was the funniest thing ever. So she shared it with her female co-workers, who all agreed there are few things more adorable than someone else’s toddler destroying anything of value.

She didn’t realize it at the time, but Grandma’s grumpy, old curmudgeon of a boss had overheard the story (which I guess warmed his heart a little bit). At the end of the day, he stormed up to her desk, looking quite sinister. Was she in trouble? Would he demand that she work late?

“Well, Evelyn” he bellowed, “I want you to know that I have had a terrible day. Just terrible.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” “Yes. I don’t see that I have much choice in the matter. Clearly, I’m going to have to … go home early … and shorten my socks!”

And to this day, it has been my natural impulse to want to share silly stories and life moments with Grandma. Many times, that meant dialing her phone repeatedly and getting a busy signal, since the rest of the family was probably doing the same thing.

When I would finally reach Grandma, I’d share a work story of how an odd-looking fellow with thick, Coke-bottle glasses took the witness stand that day. As soon as he was addressed by the Court as “Mr. Magoo” (true story), I had to race to the exit and scream with unprofessional laughter in the hallway.

She would reply with her own story of going to the doctor’s office and being placed on a treadmill for a stress test. As the machine warmed up, Grandma stood there puzzled. The treadmill began to move slowly and then flung her off like a conveyor belt, with the doctor ordering her to “stop fooling around!”

We would eventually calm ourselves down from fits of laughter, and I’d hear her say “Ok, goodnight, Dear.”

So now it’s sinking in that I can’t do that anymore. I guess I don’t have much choice. I’ll just have to go home … and shorten my socks.

I love you, Grandma!

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When Life Gives You Cucumbers…

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Day-to-day operations in a typical law office are much more tedious than television would have you believe. It’s a lot of paperwork. “CYA letters,” creating paper trails are a must.

As I often do, I recently had a conversation with a client in which I reminded her about some documents I needed her to provide me. Of course, as all attorneys know, if there’s no paper trail, the conversation never happened. So naturally I had to draft a reminder letter to my client, reminding her again about our reminder conversation we just had.

With our deadline for these documents quickly approaching, you can imagine the relief I felt when I saw a handwritten envelope addressed to me from this particular client in my mailbox. I opened the letter, expecting a reply. Instead, I found a grocery list. That’s all – just a grocery list. It included cucumbers and some other items whose spelling made me guess. But it clearly was not a federal or state income tax return.

This incident got me thinking about what other interesting mail I have received over the years. On the positive side, I get thank you cards. One time a satisfied client even baked me some tasty brownies and sent them in a FedEx box. (I would not have eaten them if they were from a disgruntled former client!) On the stranger side, I have received a cardboard diagram complete with dozens of pills glued to it from a client wishing to help me visualize what medications she took. The street value of the painkillers probably was significant, but my boss at the time made me flush this correspondence. Back in the pre-camera phone days, another client took the time to photograph, develop and snail mail me a pic of a toilet full of neon orange urine, so I could better understand the side effects of some anti-psychotic meds. You can imagine my elation when I opened that letter.

They say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” What the heck are you supposed to make when life gives you cucumbers? Pickles, I guess. And this grocery list had suddenly put me into quite a pickle of a situation. Our already-extended deadline was approaching, and opposing counsel was accusing my client and I of stalling.

A normal person would see this list and give the client the benefit of the doubt. Simple mistake, right? But I’m not a normal person. I’m a lawyer, damn it! We are an industry that divides the world into “lawyers” and “non-lawyers.” Furthermore, I certainly do not deal with anything close to normal people when it comes to opposing counsel.

How do you inform a client that a grocery list is not a satisfactory substitute for income verification? How do you tell opposing counsel that you need more time, because your client has been delayed in the produce department? None of this was covered in law school. There’s no continuing education course on this subject either. I’ve checked. It does not exist.

When in doubt, you Bill-Clinton it. Yes, I have made our former president into a verb. But whenever I use this expression, people instantly know what I mean. You find a way to squeeze an acceptable droplet of truth out of a convoluted mess and share that tiny snapshot of an explanation with the key players in your case. You do this in a way to avoid your client accusing you of accusing her of being absent-minded and in a way that keeps opposing counsel from pursuing the nuclear option of contempt of court.

In short, life as a lawyer is a constant juggling act. Sometimes you get thrown an extra bowling pin to juggle. Other times it’s a cucumber or chainsaw. You just need to continue riding that unicycle and keep all the balls in the air.

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