The Gifted Young Professional

In the summer of 1981, when I was clerking at the Wise Carter law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, and living at my grandmother’s house, I walked the five blocks to my job in downtown Jackson. Pedestrian commuting was not the rule in Jackson, but my other option was to drive Bigmama’s 1965 land shark Cadillac, fondly known as “Big Blue.“ At that time, but not much longer, Big Blue still backed up when put in reverse. I preferred to walk. 

Each morning, I arrived at work earlier and earlier. I’m sure the law partners thought I was the most diligent summer clerk ever. I was not. I was trying to beat the heat.  

Halfway through my commute, I would slip into the lobby of the Magnolia Federal Building and stand there, play-acting like I had bank business, my face bright red, my entire being willing the air conditioner to freeze-dry the sweat on my body like the freeze-dried coffee crystals advertised on TV when I was a child. I only had three outfits to wear to work, four if you counted the second blouse I would swap out on my cream colored suit. (I originally had four full outfits, but my sister, who was already practicing law in Jackson, rightly advised me that Jackson law firms were not ready for women to wear pants to work, a revelation that cut my wardrobe by a fourth.) I could not afford to wilt and weep in my Lohman’s discount silk blouse. 

When I exited Magnolia Federal and crossed Capital Street, one block down, I could see First National Bank, whose sign reported the time and temperature. Every day, I clocked its reading like a meteorologist. At that point I’d lived away from Mississippi for twelve years, and I was disbelieving at what it claimed. Not yet nine o’clock, and the temperature would be in the nineties. As the days went by, summer came upon us, and the temperature crawled into the triple digits…at 8:30 in the damn morning. 

Walking to work meant walking home from work—funny that. A different weather phenomenon caught me in the afternoon. All day, the heat would build up, getting hotter and hotter. The hot sun sucked the moisture from the earth into the sky (yes, water raised via evaporation has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is into the clouds.) By the time the clock struck five, the clouds had swelled to bursting, and, suddenly, they did burst. The heavens opened up, and, I mean, it rained. Heavy, splattering drops. 

Of course, the clouds waited until I was exactly halfway back to Bigmama’s house before they gave up the struggle and released their water. Magnolia Federal was closed by then. Getting caught in the deluge once was all it took. After that, I stayed late at work, watching the large black hands of the Lamar Life clock tick past five o’clock, waiting for the growl of thunder, the splatting of rain’s approach, the clock’s black hands greying in the rain then disappearing. When the rain had expended itself, I left the office for Bigmama’s house.

The law partners thought I was sooooo hardworking, coming in early, staying late.

I received a job offer at the end of the summer, which led me to practice law in Jackson for 19 years. My savings are all the result of that legal stint. Yeah, I worked really hard; at one point, for about a two-year stretch, I arrived at the office at 5am and stayed until 7pm. But everything was predicated on that initial work experience, fidgeting in the lobby of Magnolia Federal, watching the rain march down Congress Street until it enveloped our office building.

When we evaluate how our life has unfolded, it’s always righteous to examine how luck and factors outside our control contributed to our success. The weather in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1981 was one of my unearned assists. Thank you, Universe, for that gift.

Me, early after I gave up practicing law to become a writer

Comments (4)

  • Great story! And you did that for a couple of years? Our first summer in Florida, we bought a second car after I got caught in a thunder and lightening storm on the way home from college. I was taking a shortcut through a cemetery. Plenty of trees but no shelter ? I was not well acclimated to the southern climate at the time ? I’m not sure I am now, 30 years later.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      No, the walking only took place during my summer internship, about 4 months. I did return for a full-time job, but I drove to work then. My most exposure to the heat after that was lunchtime when a group of us would walk down Capitol Street with the men panting like vampires in the sun. And the weather led you to buy a 2nd car–that’s strong. I’ve always maintained my early childhood experience of playing tennis on hard courts in Jackson conditioned me like a cold-blooded lizard to withstand the heat, but, man, it had its limits. 🙂

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