Jury Summons? Check.
Reader's Digest? Check.
Only thing not checked was my email and facebook. Scrolling through status updates, I spotted my friend from church, Laura Edgeworth's two word post: JURY DUTY.
I scurried out the door yesterday and dialed her cell as I drove. (I know, I know, Oprah. I shouldn't. But I did.) "Laura, this is Kathy. I just read you have jury duty. Me too!"
"No, I'm on Irby St. now. Where are you?"
"I'm on the Pamplico Highway. Which court?"
"Magistrate. Let's meet outside the lobby and sit together. This could actually be fun!"
We'd recently tried to schedule lunch but kept missing each other. My civic duty suddenly felt more like an adventure. Laura is like fun on steroids. Her own mother, Ernestine (my Sunday school teacher) even says she should be a Christian comedian but that the word comedian should come first.
We dovetailed at the door and together approached the guard and metal detection arch. I was scanned first then the uniformed authority figure took my purse with, "Ma'am, I have to search your bag. . .make sure you don't have a machine gun in there."
I handed him my pink and lime green purse with Scripture embroidered on it (a very threatening satchel) and joked with him, "Well, I packed my portable machine gun today so it'd fit in there."
In the flash it took to say that, Laura's horrified face reflected my own tardy thoughts, IDIOT! Keep your mouth shut! You don't kid with guards! Especially in government buildings and airports! (Laura has first hand experience with airport security. However, she learned from her wand encounters. No underwire bras on court or travel days. But that's another story, one she needs to blog!)
My guard laughed.
HE LAUGHED. Whew!
Laura and I took our seats in the quiet, packed courtroom. She did not want to serve. The man on my left did. "I'm Benji, like the dog," he introduced himself. I wasn't gonna say that. But I thought it. The southern gentlemen of a judge gave the "jew-raws" instructions. Obediently one by one, all 200 of us stood methodically, stated our names, jobs, spouse and spouse's job.
The nervous, bumbling man behind us stood up, dropped his keys to the floor and shattered the respectful silence dominating the room. Above the jingle jangle as they clattered to the floor, he stated his name and added, "I'm a comedian." I pivoted to see if he was kidding. Not even a smile.
I whispered to Laura, "He's serious. Did he drop the keys for shtick? If so, he should have tripped over the chair. Would have been funnier."
Trying to be invisible my good friend glared at me, threateningly, "Hush. Or I'm gonna hurt you."
"Laura, do you think there's such a thing as an employed comedian in Florence?"
"SHHHHH!" she scowled.
Laura truly did not want any attention, lest she have to serve her country, the land of the free and the home of the brave! She's such a coward.
I chided, "Laura! You should be proud to do your civic duty. What kind of American are you anyway? Humph! I bet you don't even love your mother or apple pie either!"
Eyes straight ahead, she grimaced, "I adore apple pie."
I raised my eyebrows in an I'm-gonna-tell-your-mother way, reached in my purse for pen and paper. Then I warned her, "I'm taking notes here and gonna write a blog about all this."
Laura quickly whispered through gritted teeth, "Oh awright. My mother's OK too." She's scared of Ernestine. She adores her too but won't admit it.
"Laura, this does not substitute for us doing lunch. It's stifling my conversation."
"Not much!" she reprimanded.
Benji's mother-in-law was also in the jury pool but he said, "No, it's not a problem. I like her. We get along fine." When she stood up he pointed her out to us.
My turn. I popped up too eagerly, "Kathryn T. Henderson, piano teacher. My husband, Doug Henderson, is a minister."
Benji handed me his business card with, "Call me. I have a son. Do you teach 8 year-olds?"
Another lady stood, stated her name then said, "Homemaker. My husband, Jim, works for the FBI." The whole courtroom audibly gasped and collectively created a vacuum in the already stuffy room.
"She may as well go home," Benji grinned.
Then they started choosing jurors case by case. Both sides had 6 chances to reject any juror. No one wanted Benji nor Laura but I was selected. Though I'd dreamed of saving the world from a rapist or murderer, I discovered that magistrate court is not about that. It's more about saving the world from a lousy roofer or when countertops go bad. My son asked if that meant there could be a counter suit. I take it for granite, Kent. My ideals and optimism about this whole event waned by the time I was selected.
One lady behind me was called upon to stand three times and all three times she was rejected. Her quiet expletives ranged from, "Oh crap!" the first time. Next time she stood, I heard "Oh hell!" (Her words, not mine.) Finally on the third time when she was rejected, she flopped down with a barely audible, "Thank You, Jesus!"
I leaned over to Benji, "I think she just got saved." He guffawed. Quite audibly. Laura glared, almost audibly. "So help me Kathy, if you mess up my mojo, I'll get ya!"
Finally it was over. I was to come back for the trial next morning at 9 AM. We passed my guard again. "Hey! Laura! Take a picture of us." More relaxed this time, she complied.
Then outside the building Benji introduced us to his mother-in-law and we got more pictures.
It was almost noon so Laura and I finally did lunch at Applebee's.
I finished up a piano lesson about 5 PM and stepped out to see my adult student, Linda, off as I was telling her about my day in court. She's retired from working at the courthouse so she laughed with me. Suddenly I looked across my neighbor's yard. Stepping out of a white car was a uniformed guard, his badge gleaming. "LINDA! That's him! I believe that's my guard!"
Am I dreaming? Maybe I'm getting arrested! I bet he's looking for me!
Linda followed me toward him and said, "Oh yes, he is the guard there. I know him."
"He-eeeey! Yoo hoooo!" I shouted to him, trying to look very non-machine-gunny. He squinted trying to recognize the crazy lady coming at him. In my most innocent voice, I continued, "I was at the court house today and had my picture taken with you!"
Might as well surrender and plead innocence before he spots me.
He flashed a smile brighter than his badge and grabbed me in a genuine hug. I felt his Kevlar bulletproof vest as he smiled, "I thought you looked familiar. We neighbors!" We introduced ourselves and all three chatted awhile.
Then this morning at the courthouse, when I saw him again, we were long lost friends. Neighbors actually. Who had to have their day in court to get acquainted. "Donnie, I'm sorry that we never met. I'm ashamed at being such a poor neighbor."
"Well, I haven't gotten over to meet you either."
"Then YOU should be ashamed too!" I safely teased. We agreed that Doug and he waving was about all folks do these days. But we also noted that something has been lost since front porch chats took place years ago. Maybe that's part of civic duty too.
God gets me. So he used my day in court and humor to bring me full circle, teaching me what it means to "Love your neighbor as yourself." It starts with meeting them!
I'll do better, Lord. Just don't let me get arrested in the meantime.
Free! Free at last!