Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 09 January 2016

Good morning,

All week I have had brushes with motherhood.  A prospective client shops for an attorney to file a paternity action before her maternity leave ends.  Friends bring their new baby to my house for a visit.  Another friend tells me that his wife strives to be the best mother possible to their lively three-year-old.  Did the prodigal son come home for the holidays, he messages.  Yes, yes, he did.

Driving the Prius through rain the other day reminded me of an April storm over Louisiana, a virtual lifetime ago.

Heavy with the child who would become my only son, I climbed into the Cessna 206, hoisted by the pilot, steadied behind by my co-counsel, Joshua Joy Dara.  The trial bags had already been stowed.  Joshua handed my pocketbook to me as I settled and swung himself into the seat beside me.  "Please, get comfortable, watch the baby, are you warm enough?"  I envied Elizabeth, Joshua's wife.  His lilting Nigerian accent flowed over me, soothing the tension knotting my shoulders.

I had already lost one child, the twin of the boy still in me.  I did not want to sacrifice the remaining baby to a rancher's two-thousand acres.  But I had a hearing to hold, a restraining order to seek, a bank to stop.  I would fly.

Our pilot spoke through the microphone, checking instruments, talking to the Springdale tower.  Soon we rose to the air and I leaned back against the seat.  I trusted this plane more than the others which our firm provided for these flights around the country.  The Cessna 150 seemed too small; its bolts rattled.  The big plane, the one which our boss bought from the governor's office, felt ponderous, too heavy for the light winds over Arkansas.  This 206 glided to and from the runway and skimmed the clouds.  And I trusted our pilot.  But still:  At 20 weeks, I had not yet gotten beyond the tricky bit of pregnancy.

And I wanted this baby.

We landed without incident.  Our client waited at the small airport and drove us to the courthouse.  There we met a banker and his lawyer, tense-faced, angry.  They felt entitled to foreclose.  We represented the era of farmers protesting the whiplash of the cash-flow decade, the droughts and land-value drops which followed the 1970s, the missed interest payments and failed crops.  We symbolized the liberal notion that debt should be restructured or forgiven, that farmers should get another chance.    They despised us.

An old grey judge lumbered to the bench.  Joshua and I had co-opted the table at the right -- the "bride's side".  The rancher sat beside us in his Sunday best: No jacket but a button-shirt and pressed pants.  The Farm Credit lawyer and his client wore somber black at the table on our left.

I did not hide my condition.  I wore a maternity dress, a long jacket, and a fake wedding ring -- this last, something I saw as a necessary concession to the conservative south.  My boss did not require it but I had found that judges did not respond well to the idea of an unwed woman with child at the Bar.

As the bailiff called the case, I felt the first twinge.  I turned to Joshua and whispered, "Don't panic, but I think I'm in labor."  His eyes widened.  I could not stop his alarm but I placed one hand on his arm.  I rose.  "Your honor, if I may speak?"  The judge nodded, clearly accustomed to the decorum, but certainly not anticipating my request.

"I will be conducting this hearing, but given my condition, may I have my co-counsel carry exhibits, and handle objections?"  I knew Joshua had the case law memorized.  I knew I could count on him.

My opposing counsel stood as though to protest but the judge waved one hand.  "Certainly, Mrs. Corley," the judge intoned.  "And Officer, please provide the petitioner's counsel with anything she needs while she is a guest in our Courtroom."  I gave the judge and the banker's attorney my sweetest smile and called my first witness.

The labor pains increased as the hearing progressed.  Two hours later, the judge granted my restraining order and I turned to my co-counsel.  "We have to get out of here, now.  Really.  Is the pilot here?"  Joshua gathered our bags and I started from the courtroom, our client ahead of us clearing the aisle.

The banker glared at me as I moved beyond the spot where he still stood with his attorney.  He turned towards my opposing counsel and spat his anger in tones loud enough to reach me as I exited the courtroom:  "I can't believe you got beat by a pregnant crippled girl from Arkansas."

A half-hour later our pilot went through his instrument checks as a storm gathered to the south of the airport.  I leaned forward, my voice quavering and weak.  "Joe," I said, to the pilot, whom I knew to be a grandfather.  "I'm not happy about having this baby in Arkansas.  I'm damn sure not having it in Louisiana.  Please get me home!"

The pilot smiled, his face crinkling, his eyes steady.  "Sit back, Corinne.  I'll get us there."

He started down the runway and I faced the window, watching the black clouds as we rose.  I felt the force of the heavy air, heard the pilot quietly assure the tower that he could clear the storm.  
Lightening flashed.  I heard Joshua praying.  "Mary, Mother of the Christ child, please protect us," he whispered, as the rain started and the Cessna climbed.

Our pilot worked part-time for my firm but full time for Sam Walton.  He radioed Springdale when we got in range.  He identified himself and asked them to call his boss.  "Tell Mr. Walton that I've got one of the Arens lawyers on board and she's about to have a baby."   I closed my eyes as another contraction hit.  I whispered, "hold on, baby, hold on."  Rain pummeled the craft as we slipped down the runway, a perfect landing, smooth as silk.

Strong hands lifted me to a stretcher and into an ambulance.  The last thing I saw before the doors closed, through the falling rain, was Joshua's broad face.  His lips moved.  I knew he was still praying.

It's eight o'clock on a Saturday here in Kansas City, nearly two-and-a-half decades after that eerie landing in Springdale.  Sometimes I wonder if I imagined that flight; the storm which chased us north; the kindness of the strangers who helped me that day.  Like much of my life, my time in Arkansas seems to have happened to someone else, or perhaps to have been a dream that I had.  But then I drag a box from the attic and sort through old papers.  I find the fading sonograms, the little bundle of hospital bracelets, the receipts for baby clothes, and a box of business cards bearing my name and an office address in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I smile.  The prodigal son came into this world at 34 weeks gestation, smiling, laughing, three months after that hearing in Louisiana where a pregnant crippled girl convinced a Republican judge that the Federal Land Bank had over-stepped its legal rights.  I don't know what became of that rancher.  But for that moment, his life stabilized.  He clasped my hand as he helped me into the back of his Oldsmobile for the rickety ride to the Natchitoches airport.  You've no idea what this means to me and my family, he said.  I thought I did but  I did not contradict him.  I just smiled, and closed my eyes, and silently told my baby, Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S.  I might have told this story before today, in a long-ago entry.  If so, my apologies for repeating myself.  On another note, if you want to learn about what happened to my dear friend Joshua Joy Dara after his time with the Arens & Alexander law firm, please click HERE.

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.