There was a time during my early years as a Charleston lawyer when my mother’s morning call was the highlight of the day.
That’s how bad things were.
Her calls would come between ten and twelve each morning. They began the same way. She’d ask what I had eaten so far that day and I’d say not much.
- You’ve got to eat, she’d say.
- I do eat, I’d say.
Then she would proceed to tell me everything she had eaten in the last week or so, followed by a rundown of all the funerals she’d attended – some of which included food and eating – and all the friends and relatives who were sick, dying or in recovery.
Then she would get around to the ostensible point of the call, which was to ask how my practice was going.
- It’s going great, I’d say.
- I’m worried you don’t have any clients.
- I have clients.
- Are you making money?
Looking Busy on the Phone
Across from my third-floor office was a small business called Rosen Home Inspections. Our entrance doors faced each other across a creaky wooden landing. Sometimes when the low country swelter was unbearable – and if you’ve ever been to Charleston in August you know what I mean – we would open our outside windows and prop our front doors open to create a cooling updraft.
From where I sat at a modest pine desk – which had belonged to my father when he was principal of tiny Smoaks High School in South Carolina – I could look through the landing into the lobby of Rosen Home Inspections. There at the front desk sat a receptionist more than twice my size and age. We would make occasional eye contact. Her name was Pat and we became friends.
All day long Pat fought that phone. I don’t know exactly what Rosen Home Inspections did, but their phone rang constantly. Pat barked into the mouthpiece and jabbed buttons on the keypad. She would glance up at me and smile.
I knew she felt sorry for me. She was so busy and I was just sitting there. I started making a point of doing things to look busy. I’d shuffle papers, make new Rolodex tabs. Sometimes when she looked over I’d sort of wave her off, too intent on polishing my father’s desk with Fantastik to make further contact.
Mom to the Rescue
Sometimes the phone would actually ring. When it did I would leap from behind my desk and jam the receiver to my ear.
Of course it was usually my mother. But if Pat was watching I’d put on a little pantomime of gravitas. I would bring my free hand to my furrowed brow and circle my desk – this was back when callers were physically tethered by shiny black coiled cords to their dialing devices – and pretend I was in deep concentration as my mother asked what I had eaten.
- Not much.
- You’ve got to eat.
My mother would get around to asking if I’d made any money and sometimes I would say yes and sometimes no, but that wasn’t the point of the call. She was calling because she was my mother and she loved me.
Pat once said she watched me on one of these calls.
- That was a long one. Must have been serious business, she said.
- Yeah, I said. It was.
I have not seen Pat in 30 years, and I have not been back to that pastel-blue building in almost that long.
On Mother’s Day I think of those early days on Broad Street and how much my mother’s support meant to me. And oh, how I wish the phone would ring just one more time. To hear her voice again, asking if I had eaten, wondering if I was making money, calling out the names of those who had gone on to a better place.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.