Neighbor to Neighbor: Childhood conscience made me law-abiding

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When I was growing up, I had a hard act to follow - my big sister. She was cute, smart and obedient. One day, when I was still almost new, my maternal grandmother was pushing me in a carriage, while my sister Mary walked alongside holding onto the carriage handle.

A neighbor greeted Grannie by saying, "Hello, Mrs. Bennett. Is this the new grandchild?" Grannie acknowledged that to be the case, and drew back the cover so the neighbor's view would be unrestricted. After a quick look at me, and then at my sister, she looked back at Grannie and said "What a shame, Mrs. Bennett! She isn't at all pretty like the other little girl - in fact, she looks like you." Grannie, not being a violent type, laughed and walked on. Later, she generously called me "The Ugly Duckling" - supposing, or hoping that I would some day grow up to be "a beautiful swan." Although I do have a long neck, and my sister recently noted that there are a few white hairs showing on the side of my head, I'm afraid that, is where the anticipated comparison ends.

That oft-told story did give me great hope, though, as I was growing up. I have always been fascinated by animals, birds, fish and insects included. To be compared to a swan, even though deep down I always knew it was an impossibility, was flattering indeed. Some things just cannot ever happen, no matter how hard we hope.

Some time ago, a neighbor gave me a 45-minute speech on how too many people in our community disobeyed laws that were made to protect both individuals and the community. "Someone must teach everyone that no law should be broken," she admonished me. "I responded that my column, which appears weekly in multiple issues of The Times/Ledger newspapers, regularly addresses the subject. I also try to do likewise at meetings and on the street when it seems appropriate. Her response was, "You must do more. No one should break any law! We have to find some way to bring about this change."

Realizing that time was slipping away, I said I would have to move on. She acknowledged that she had spoken longer than she had intended and wanted to hurry back to her car to escape the cold, Although we were stranding mid-block and the light, was against her, she began to step off the curb into Merrick Boulevard, I admonished her to cross at the corner with the light. "Are you crazy? My car is right across the street."#

That was a statement of fact. Another statement of fact was that she herself was about to break more than one law, and I told her so. She said she knew all about that but trotted her way across anyway. Luckily for all concerned, she made it safely to the other side.

There will never be a time when someone doesn't break the law.

I couldn't help but think about another of my childhood incidents. It was my first venture outside by myself ... I suspected, when I got up that day, that it would be special. The sun was shining and, as we ate breakfast, mother kept telling me what a nice, big girl I had gotten to be, and how proud she was when I did exactly as she told me.

Then she put the big question before me: "Would you promise not to go in the street if I let you play outside alone?" I was shocked into silence for a few seconds because mother always seemed to be watching my every movement, as if I was a moving target.

I agreed. As I walked down the steps, the door closed behind me. I looked back and saw no one. I was very much alone on this entire, long 228th-Street block. Animals didn't run loose in those days.

There weren't even squirrels around back then. I watched a few birds fly by, but they didn't want to stay around. None of my playmates were out. I looked around again and saw no one. I learned that even little girls can become bored enough to seek adventure. I walked to the curb and gingerly put one toe in the street.

Like magic, the door flew open and Mother ran dawn the front steps, Before I knew what happened, I was back in the house, sitting on a hard seat, hardback chair with mother waving, her finger in front of my nose. "What did I tell you? What did you promise me? " I began to cry and apologize. "Where were you?" I asked. I didn't see you." Mother responded, "You didn't have to see me, God saw you, God sees everything you do" She told me I'd better remember that and believe me, I try.

I'm still trying. My big thing is to try to make things as easy as possible for me and for others. Breaking laws will make anyone with a conscience react differently than if he or she knew the right thing had been done.

Recently, someone I have known for many years (now an upstanding citizen) confessed to having entered this country illegally with another relative. "We were afraid coming in that way, We even had to hide." I could not help but wonder about the Diallo tragedy. How different things might have been had he waited to enter legally - better for everyone I think.

I hope a tragic accident doesn't become more tragic.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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