Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sorry to have been missing for so long ...

I know.  It’s been a long time between posts -- maybe the longest time ever.  But the first 3 months of the year have become busier than ever due to the increasing number of African American-related events that have found their way onto my calendar; more each year. 

To completely confuse matters -- I was not only scheduled beyond reasonable expectations, but received a jury summons right in the middle of it all, and for reasons beyond my ken, I reached a point where I simply stopped everything until I could catch the ring on this merry-go-round and ride until some destination would reveal itself. 

Last week, as ordered, I found myself seated in the jury assembly room in the Martinez County Courthouse at the appointed hour of 8 am. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask for release from duty (I’ve been called before but never served) because -- down deep -- I know that this is one of the rights guaranteed by the constitution to any American citizen accused of a crime.  The only way those rights can be guaranteed is if ordinary people like me participate in the process.  I have never, and would not ever opt out.

But in the end, that’s precisely what I managed to do.  At least a deferral was granted at the very last step in the process of jury selection.

We were the last 65 potential jurors in a roomful of twice that many.  We were led to the third floor courtroom of Judge Barbara Zuniga for final selection.  The Bailiff set the tone.  This was serious.  I had no idea how that process would go, never having reached this far.  We sat in awed silence as he prepared us for next steps.

Finally, we were suddenly on automatic.  “All rise!” and a slim and attractive blond robed woman entered from her chambers to do what to her must have been ritual and dull.  To those gathered before her, it was surely not.

I’d entered with the first 18 and therefore filed into the actual upholstered chairs of the jury stand.  The rest were seated as “audience.” 

She told us what we might expect over the days ahead; that those remaining in the pool were to return next Tuesday morning at the appointed hour to be examined by the attorneys, and that she didn’t expect this particular case to last more than 5 months. 

Also in her preparatory speech she pretty much erased any excuses that those of us seated before her might be harboring.  It said clearly on our summons that any reason for non-serving had to be submitted 5 days prior to the date issued on the summons. 

Yet, here on the paper before me now was a new form that clearly stated, “I would like to be excused because ...”.  She ended her presentation with the words that everyone would be excused now to return on Tuesday, but that those of us who felt that we had any reason not to serve at this time should remain in the room.   This was unexpected.

Five months.  At my age this could easily be the rest of my life, right?  And here I am with speaking engagements that have been building over the past 3 months (January - the King Holidays; February -  Black History Month; and March - Womens’ History Month), and my unique role with the National Park Service would suggest that I would need to cancel all of those (now advertised) dates with no one to send as replacement speakers.  The full impact of those facts suddenly rose to be dealt with.  And not from the standpoint of ego needs, but simply from the very practical standpoint of my status as the resident  “elder” whose memory has become an irreplaceable asset to the work of interpretation of the Rosie stories of the Home Front.

Only this past week a major newspaper story had been published in all of the local papers about my talk at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, and flyers were being distributed about Alameda County 5th District Supervisor Keith Carson's Family History Day in Berkeley -- in which I was to be one of 3 panelists.

And, I’ve been invited to be a guest lecturer at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California (50 minute flight) where I will be their guest on campus for 3 days and 2 nights.  I’m scheduled to fly up on Wednesday, March 23rd to meet with classes in multicultural studies.

Impulsively, I managed to get enough of that into two paragraphs (starting with my age), and -- the judge must surely have seen the news articles -- and hand it to the bailiff.
It was no more than five minutes later when -- after disappearing into the judges chambers with our little slips in hand -- the bailiff returned and called my name.

“Mrs. Soskin?  You are granted a deferral for 11 months.  You may leave the courtroom and return to the Jury Assistance Desk downstairs off the main lobby to arrange for your return. “

I signed on to be re-summoned on November 1st.

You just never know.  And by then I will have celebrated my 90th birthday!

Now, which do you suppose warranted the deferral, a consideration of my age, or, my new-found rather fragile celebrity?  We'll never know.