Monday, April 11, 2011

Transplant Magnolias

As I’m sure I have established by now, Diamond Magnolias are a force to be reckoned with.  They face tremendous adversity without breaking a sweat, they are incredibly resourceful and they can respond perfectly to even the most shocking situation.  To put it in the vernacular of Baby Belle 1:  They totally rock.

I hope you’re not still reeling from the little bombshell I dropped about the North having their very own born and bred rednecks, because you may need to sit down for this one as well:  There are some women so amazing that, in spite of the location of their birth and upbringing, we Southerners will adopt them and bestow the title of Diamond Magnolia upon them.

When I went to law school, I met all sorts of different folks from all sorts of walks of life.  There were the fresh faced tykes who checked out of undergrad and went directly into post-grad, there were folks—like myself—who took a little time off in between schools in order to get married and/or seriously assess what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives and there were folks who pulled themselves up from the burning rubble that had been their previous life in order to get a new start for themselves and their families and maybe even help those that really needed it.

The red-headed lady who I ran into on the front steps of the law school while she had a cigarette dangling from her lips was decidedly in the aforementioned category three—although I didn’t realize it at the time.  No, at the time I didn’t really know what to make of her and I really wasn’t sure that I liked her all that much.  She was loud, she smoked and she had a habit of saying whatever came to her mind regardless of the consequences. 

I got to know her a little bit better over the years and I learned that she was from Michigan, in her thirties, had two children and was a single mother.  I didn’t even know the whole story yet, but I was blown away by the little bit of information I did know.  I only had a husband and a dog and it was all I could do to keep up with them and learn to be a lawyer at the same time. 

As I discovered later, she got pregnant and married at a young age and she dropped out of high school.  Her family struggled financially for a while until her husband got into the Army.  While they moved all over Hell and half of Georgia for the Service, she raised her children, worked, studied like a mad woman and received her GED.

As most Army folk do, they ended up at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville.  Unfortunately, she and her husband decided to split up.  Most people would do well to simply maintain the status quo during such a situation, but she enrolled in and put herself through Fayetteville State University.  After that, it was on to Campbell Law where I met her.

She never did learn to hold her tongue, but I came to appreciate the way she steadfastly refused to cater to the politics that unfortunately went on at the school.  I was also impressed by the fact that she put her children first and defended them fiercely like a mother bear.  It was clear that she was trying to better herself for her children and I couldn’t think of a more noble cause.

She worked just as hard as everybody else—if not harder on occasion—and we established a bond like comrades tend to do when they hunker down in the trenches to avoid enemy fire.  We managed to make it through to get our diplomas and we somehow managed to pass the Godforsaken Bar Exam and then we went out into the world like little tadpoles into the great big ocean.

As tends to happen, we lost track of each other, but I heard over the years that she stayed in Fayetteville to practice law.

This past Sunday, I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom watching my Baby Belles’ valiant attempts to relocate all of the water from the tub out onto the bathroom floor when I got an email on my little electronic doohickey.  One of my other classmates who had done a much better job of keeping up with our schoolmate informed the rest of us that our schoolmate was dead. 

I was reeling.  In spite of my mathematical retardation, I managed to figure out that she couldn’t have been past her mid forties.  The notice stated that she was preceded in death by her daughter in 2009 and my heart broke into little pieces.  Even before I was a parent, I was impressed with her mothering, but since then I’d had my own precious bundles and I couldn’t fathom the type of pain she must have experienced...and I didn’t even know.  To borrow a term from our contracts and UCC professor, I was lower than whale spit.

It didn’t matter that the funeral was the very next day and all the way in Fayetteville.  I had to go.  It was a pitiful offering for all hadn’t done while she was alive, but it was all I had. 

When I arrived at the funeral home, I was glad to see that lots of other people respected her as well.  There were a lot of folks.  I learned that she devoted her legal career to watching out for all children that came across her path.  She was a legal mother bear and—from what I knew about her personality—I had no doubt in the world that she was formidable at her job.  As a matter of fact, a clear majority of the mourners were the parents and children that she helped.

After losing her daughter, my friend learned that she had lung cancer.  As was her character, she fought it valiantly, but she suffered greatly.  When she became too sick to work, someone suggested that she place her law license on disability status and she said hell no—she’d worked too hard for the damned thing and she wasn’t giving it up even a little bit.  It was just like her and I know exactly how she felt.      

Nope, it doesn’t matter where someone was born—a gal that tough is a Diamond Magnolia regardless.  I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s still looking out for children and that you still don’t want to cross her.  Rest in peace, darlin’.

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