Today’s news:

Neighbor to Neighbor: Turn of year brought joyous, tragic events

That morning, I received a call from my friend, Mrs. Kim, from Big Apple Farm on 230th Street and Merrick Boulevard. She told me her sister-in-law had told her she could smell gas near her fruit and vegetable store on the northeast corner of Merrick Boulevard and 227th Street. She wasn't sure what to do.Mrs. Kim immediately called 311, and then called me to see if that was enough. Just to make sure, I called 911 and KeySpan. 911 transferred me to the Fire Department which had already responded by the time I called with the following advice from KeySpan: "If you are indoors and smell gas, open a window or door; do not smoke or light a match; do not turn any switch on or of since that might create a dangerous spark; leave the building and call 911 and KeySpan, (718-643-4050). These two good Laurelton neighbor/merchants, alert to possible trouble, took action promptly and the result was a rapid repair job that must have been quite extensive since KeySpan was working in the street for more than a day.Many years ago, there was a gas explosion in Jamaica that destroyed an entire block. That, too, was a winter event. Since it left many families homeless, I helped my mother carry blankets and warm clothing to a collection site. Natural gas, Keyspan tells us, is odorless. It is an additive that we smell that alerts us to danger. Please heed the warning and take prompt action as mentioned above.We hope that everyone who celebrates Christmas had a blessed day and that those who don't celebrate Christmas (or those who had to work), found some pleasure in the day as well. I spent the better part of the day in Hillside Manor, Jamaica Estates. This is a very attractive rehabilitation/nursing home that was tastefully decorated for Hanukkah Christmas, and Kwanzaa.Some of the nurses wore Santa hats, as did some of the patients and residents. There was special food, including Cornish hens and non-alcoholic eggnog. What was most pleasing was the fact that there were many visitors, even many whole families. There were also many patients who were well enough to travel who were bundled up and wheeled out to waiting transportation so they could spend the day at home with family or friends for a change of scene.Of course, there were some people who were too ill to enjoy the day, or visitors, but, for the most part, there was a cheerful mood which I found very encouraging. I hope the patients and staff felt that way too.The following day was a sad contrast after hearing about a treacherous earthquake, followed by a tidal wave, followed by successive waves that caused death and destruction beyond comprehension. Reports say over 150,000 people died, sucked off beautiful land by an angry sea. Our prayers and hearts go out to all concerned.President Bush immediately made plans for monetary and other assistance but, as usual, some of those who never want to credit our government for the generosity that we show every nation where disaster occurs, decried us as stingy. Those people, of course, did not surpass what we promised, nor did they meet our promise. They are the same people who refuse to recognize and credit our countrymen and women who are building roads, schools, providing sanitation, food, and yes, safety and medical help to those in need, to many nations around the world.As the New Year begins, I hope you will feel grateful to this country for the home and opportunities you have here and will be willing to defend her in word and deed to those who are against her. May God bless our United States of America and all of us in 2005, and may God help all those who are suffering.

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