By Laura P. Valtorta
My mentor, a Jewish attorney, older than 90, five feet tall, with a hummingbird physique is planning to visit her family in a Big City next month. Her children are doctors. She resists moving to the Big City because here she is an attorney. There, she would be “somebody’s mother.”
She has a bum knee. It’s nothing life threatening but the idea that she might not return home to Columbia floats around, because of her age. She hates staying home all the time. I offered to take her to the Pancake House for lunch next week, and that was an exciting idea I told her I would drive and park close to the front door. For a woman who prides herself on her career as a solo practitioner, and her graduation from law school in 1940 as the only woman in her class, not being able to get around is a nasty impediment. She walked 22 blocks a day until last year. The knee.
I’m supposed to be a writer. What if I never wrote about her philosophy (become a professional, work for yourself, never hate anyone, learn the law, stay away from Worker’s Compensation), her flirtatious treatment of men, her way of addressing waitresses, “I want HOT coffee,” or her knack for lending support to all my efforts, with a touch of sarcasm? Would I go to hell? Jews don’t believe in the afterlife. Neither do I. But there must be retribution for the inability to celebrate a life that has meant something to me. What if the punishment were mediocrity?
I first saw Jerry (not her name) in 1993. She was out walking the 22 blocks, and I saw her from my office across the street. I left that office and worked for a big attorney for a while. He weighed over 250 pounds. Then I tired of the yelling and returned to Attorney Row, introduced myself to Judith and rented the office upstairs. She had Republicans in the building, a secretary and two salesmen, but because they were nice and talkative, she tolerated them and rolled her eyes when they turned away. We went to events together. The Capitol City Club. Women Lawyers’ meetings. Movies about the Holocaust. Talks by Jewish writers. Nickelodeon. She was never afraid of the R-rated. We liked Monsoon Wedding, Road to Perdition, Spellbound, the one about the bee. She made me sit through The Pianist when the musician was hiding from the Nazis. We both complained about French sadomasochism and Nicholson as a retired insurance salesman. She taught me you could demand the price of the ticket if you disliked the movie.
We talked and talked about our families. Her husbands, her children, her grandchildren. My husband and children. She went to college at 16. She played on the basketball team. Both parents wanted her to get as much education as possible. They wanted her to “become something.”
She did. What about me? If I can’t make her live through my fiction, I will freeze in the dark waters of the River Styx. I will burn in eighth circle of hell. I will rot forever in the suburbs of Columbia.