One of the things I enjoy most about writing these little pieces, whether for my old hometown newspaper or my firm’s newsletter, is the opportunity it gives me to chronicle a small part of the lives of some of the interesting people I’ve met on life’s journey. Very few if any have been more interesting than my great friend and long time law partner, Gordon. By the way, this is a Christmas story, sort of. Bear with me.
Gordon is probably the smartest person I have ever known. His IQ is off the charts. While born into an old Virginia family, an “FFV” (look it up), making his family hardcore Episcopalians, Gordon and his 4 siblings were sent by their parents to a nearby Catholic secondary school for academic purposes. The result was that he converted, seriously considered the priesthood, sending “his mother to bed for weeks,” as they used to say in the South. Unintended consequence.
This intense flirtation with the Vatican (He prefers to find churches where mass is celebrated in Latin) is only one indication that Gordon occasionally is “not of this world.” So, it is fair to say that he suffers from the baggage that often accompanies having a “beautiful mind.” He is absentminded.
Actually, those who know him only casually think of him that way. But having known him for almost 40 years, and having viewed up close his brilliant legal briefs and his broad range of tastes in reading and his art at political discourse and his acerbic attacks on pop culture, I have come to reject the “absent-minded” theory. Gordon’s aura is not that of the absent-minded, forgetful intellectual, but rather that of practiced indifference to convention. My opinion at least.
There is much evidence, however, to support the conclusion of forgetfulness and lack of awareness of the world around him. I will give a few examples from the period in my life a number of years ago known as the “great unpleasantness,” when I was forced by “circumstances” to live with Gordon for a while.
Not a sports fan, and not one apparently aware of such things as cable or satellite television (He was still using “rabbit ears” – look ‘em up), he noticed that I had difficulty withdrawing from ESPN and the world of games. So, kind soul that he is, Gordon subscribed to cable, making sure that he got the full sports package. He even sat down once during a Monday night NFL game and asked me to “explain football” to him. His reaction, just as my daughter Laura’s is when she asks her chemical engineer husband what he does at work, was, after about five minutes, “oh, never mind”.
Of course the rest of the story here is that after one month, the cable was cut by the cable company, due to failure by Gordon to pay the bill. Unfortunately, this was the least of the inconveniences that came from boarding with Gordon. Dark houses and cold showers occurred frequently, usually at the worst of times and sometimes even after my having heard Gordon on the phone (assuming that service was working) saying something like “why would you do that? You know I’ll pay eventually.” The back story here is that he “collected” the mail that came through his mail slot in a large cardboard box, which he sifted through once every several months. Some would say that he didn’t realize that his creditors worked on 30-day cycles. My opinion: defiant indifference.
One of my favorite stories from this part of my life, most of which I would like largely to forget, involves one weekend when my daughters were staying with me at Chez Gordon. I need to preface this part of the story by saying that Gordon’s house at the time (and probably now) made my old frat house on Rugby Road look like a sterile operating room.
Beautiful daughter Laura, age 6 or 7 at the time but wise beyond her years, is having cereal for breakfast. I get the milk out of the refrigerator and start to pour it in Laura’s bowl. She holds up her hand and legitimately asks “date?” Much relieved, I read out loud a day and month that has not yet passed. Laura then asks “year?” Life at Chez Gordon.
I said at the beginning of this column that this is a Christmas story. How so you say? Well, Christmas is Gordon’s time of the year. Regardless of the time of year it comes, as I’ll explain later.
More background. Gordon is what used to be referred to as a “confirmed bachelor.” In our early years at the firm, several of us tried to set him up with dates or find him a mate. In fact, we thought we had found the perfect companion for him, a wonderful lady named Carolyn who joined our firm. She seemed quite taken by Gordon, but he artfully managed to avoid her overtures, and his friends (me included) eventually came to realize that even if we could get the two of them together, it wouldn’t work. She was another Gordon. We concluded that neither of them would ever be able to find their own house. And Carolyn’s housekeeping skills made Gordon look like Martha Stewart.
So Gordon has no children, but has maintained a remarkable if not bizarre enthusiasm for the Christmas season. He has nieces and nephews back in Virginia and has been known as “Uncle Gordon” by the numerous offspring of his law partners over the last 40 years. One of the first words that come to mind when I think of him is “generous.” His Christmas fudge is legendary.
Now for a few Christmas stories, Gordon-style. For instance, the Christmas season he was letting me share his house, he went to the store one night and came back with a ton of wrapping paper and “five pairs of scissors because I am always losing them.” He sat down on his couch, coffee table in front of him, surrounded by several bags of gifts, and “went to work.” Having nothing else to do (the cable was cut by then), and knowing this would be a good show, I just sat back in my chair, beer in hand, and watched.
Sure enough, after about 15 minutes, a stream of curse words came from Gordon’s mouth. I asked what was wrong. Of course over that short period of time, and without ever leaving the couch, he had managed to lose all five pairs of scissors, some wrapped in packages, some under seat cushions, some behind the couch on the floor.
And there was the time Gordon had a huge, month-long trial in Morgantown in December. It ended around the 22nd or 23rd, and he seemed to have totally missed the season. But no! In mid-January he invited several couples over, my wife and me included, to decorate his tree, to string popcorn, to eat his Christmas fudge, and to drink hot toddies. Perry Como doing carols rang through his house.
I can’t do “A Gordon Christmas” without mention of the Christmas tree at his house. When it went up, it stayed up, sometimes for several years. So what you say, many do this? But his was not a fake tree; oh no, it was the real thing. Usually, it went through a life cycle from “freshly cut” to “droopy” to “ornaments falling off” to “fire hazard.” he end of the life cycle was usually when Gordon held his annual midsummer party for our summer law clerks, appropriately called the “Help me take down the Christmas tree and Drink Mint Juleps” party.
I won’t even get into the squirrel that lived in the Christmas tree during my stay. Another story for another day.
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.