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Neighbor to Neighbor: Family history teaches children ethics, morals

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District 29 Superintendent Michael Johnson’s moral and ethical principles, which recently appeared in a Queens weekly and which he encourages those at home to develop, are to be applauded. They are the same lessons and procedures our parents taught us, with the exception being we did not delve deeply into our cultural and familial heritage.

We did know that our paternal grandfather came from County Cork, Ireland, and our grandmother of that marriage was born in England. For a New York City police officer, raising a family of three boys and one girl on an inadequate salary was a rather daunting task for my grandfather, especially since all the agencies available to help those in need did not exist in those days.

What did exist was a strong religious background and a strict work ethic. None of those children was ever in trouble with the law, possibly because they were too busy trying to earn money to help at home.

It was fortunate that the three boys were blessed with beautiful voices, and even at the tender age of 8 our dad began singing in public, earning a pittance that he added to the amount he earned as an errand boy, and later an office boy. His earnings from these various jobs were contributed to the family for essentials.

We were told it was not an easy life, but the hard times and discrimination against the Irish were never considered to be the basis for bearing grudges nor getting even with anyone. The difficulties they faced were considered part of the strengthening of character that made them very grateful for the opportunities this country offered.

At the outbreak of World War I, all three brothers rushed to enlist. One brother joined the Army and one the Navy, but our dad was rejected because he was underweight and had a serious heart irregularity; however, he was determined to join and went on a two-week diet of bananas and water, along with a strict body-building regime.

When he tried to volunteer again, he was told to hurry up and get out of the enrollment office before he dropped dead. He was disappointed but tried to stay content by continuing his education and contributing in other ways to the war effort.

We knew little about our maternal ancestors. Our maternal grandfather came from Connecticut and had his own folding paper-box business, which our grandmother continued after his death. She came to the United States from England at 18, met and married our grandfather and had one girl and two boys.

They also had a strict religious background. Our mother often told us that after church services and meals on Sunday, they as children had to sit quietly all day with hands folded so they could think about how grateful they should be to have the blessings that had been afforded them. Our great grandmother eventually came to the United States, too.

She had gone from England to Mexico, where she lived for many years on an ostrich farm, before moving to California. She visited New York once while my sister and I were young. We were fortunate enough to meet her then and were impressed by her vivaciousness and the fact that she had outlived three husbands.

During World War II, all of our relatives who were left worked to support the war effort. Although our maternal grandmother still carried on her folding paper-box business, she had a second full-time job making parts for military radios.

By that time my sister had become a junior engineer and worked in an aircraft factory doing design and drafting work. We all contributed willingly in whatever ways we could, were victorious and helped develop stable governments in the countries of our former enemies.

Since then, we have aided those here and overseas when natural and other disasters have struck, only to hear many now say that this country deserves to be hated and that we owe everyone “big time.” I challenge anyone to find any other country that has tried to help others as much as this country has or any other country that has tried to make as many amends for any of its mistakes. We should all be grateful to this country for what we have.

Reach columnist Barbara Morris by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 140.

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