Thursday, May 7, 2009
The wisdom of Solomon
A few evenings ago, I was walking through Walmart preoccupied with trying to remember what was written on the list left on the kitchen counter. Somewhere between Health and Beauty Aids and Pet Food, I noticed a man. He was well dressed and had a certain bearing that bespoke kindness and gentility. He was African American--not common in western Maine, an area renowned for lack of melanin. The man smiled and nodded at me. There was something familiar about him and I thought instantly of Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy and then, as the synapses of memory darted around my brain, I remembered why that thought came to mind and smiled and nodded back. There was a moment's hesitation for us both but then we each kept walking.
Many years ago, the probate court contacted me and asked me to represent an elderly woman whose daughter was petitioning for guardianship. The daughter and mother were estranged and had been for some 30 years. It was far too late to repair the relationship, the elderly woman did not even remember that she had a daughter and the daughter, who was a grandmother herself, still clung to hurt that was decades old.
When I went to visit the woman in the nursing home, I learned that the daughter had never visited but was in contact with the nursing home and was very concerned because many evenings a gentleman--an African American gentleman--would visit and help the woman with her meal, watch television with her and sometimes take her out of the nursing home on day trips to the mountains, to the lake or even to the coast. While she was not always lucid, she was able to articulate the importance of those car trips and the companionship. She told me about seeing the Rangely Lakes from the Height of Land, she told me about watching the waves crash into the rocky coast, she told me about going out to eat in restaurants and about how free she felt when she was able to leave the nursing home in her own car with her friend driving.
As they say, the plot started to thicken. The woman had few assets, the car was really about all she had--and the car was not expensive--its only value was in providing an escape and an opportunity for pleasure. The gentleman was a widower and had lived across the hall from the woman before the nursing home when she had lived on her own in an apartment. They were friends, they often shared meals and TV time. She had a car, he could drive. They both liked to see new things and gradually for her--everything she saw was new.
The woman did not care or understand about the guardianship but she cared greatly if a guardian would restrict the visits from her friend and the trips in the car. The daughter was honest when I talked to her, she was embarrassed by the unseemliness of it all and wanted to put a stop to it.
We went to court and presented our case. The visit logs from the nursing home spoke for themselves. The woman was there but unable to testify. She did not recognize her daughter and the daughter did not go to her. The gentleman testified about the friendship and the meals and the TV shows and the car rides and there was only one pair of dry eyes left in the courtroom. The Judge allowed the car rides and visits to continue. The daughter got the guardianship appointment with the provision that there be no interference with the car rides or the visits. That day, the Judge successfully did what King Solomon proposed so many millenia ago. He split the baby.
Within a few weeks, I saw the obituary in the paper and there was no mention of the gentleman under Loved Ones Left Behind.