I began working for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services in the summer of 1993. Finally, I had arrived at my destination – public interest lawyering. As much as I loved being a student, I was ready to settle down. But for a year and a half break between seminary and law school, I had been attending school full-time since kindergarten.
My family was very much ready for me to settle down. My birth family had seen me off to college when I was 17 years old. For fourteen years, every time I spoke with my grandfather, he had two questions: 1) you working? and 2) how’s the weather? Granddaddy came from a long line of farmers, so I guess those were very important life questions to him.
I was a “good” kid, so I never dreaded Granddaddy’s questions. I had been working since my freshman year in college, through seminary, until law school. In law school, I worked only in the summers, causing me to be a bit creative in answering his questions during the school year. But I was always able to point to something that resembled work to him and almost always able to tell him about the weather.
My husband, Paul, supported us during law school. He worked full-time as a psychiatric aide at Duke University Medical Center. I met Paul when I was 19. He came from a working class family in east Tennessee. They were union people, having moved from the coal mining country across the border in Virginia.
Paul’s father died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Paul was just 13, leaving his mother to take care of two boys. There was little to no life insurance and Paul’s mother had been a traditional housewife. Literally overnight, Mary was forced into the job market with no college education and no job training. When I came along, she was working as a manager at a Hallmark store.
As Paul and my relationship became serious, I was sad that Paul’s father was not around. Both our mothers were single, and, oddly, as I moved through my twenties, I felt the father void in my life more acutely.