Lessons learned long ago

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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It was 1951 and I was in Mrs. Lewis' third-grade class at Columbus School in Cicero. Our class went out for recess; it was wet and about 35 degrees. Roberta, a classmate, lost her shoe, slipped and fell into a puddle.

Every time she tried to get up, three boys kept pushing her down. I, and others, watched on the fringe of the harassment. The bell rang and we all headed back to class. Roberta finally got up. Crying, with wet feet and pants and carrying her shoe, she joined the end of the line.

Back in school, Roberta, sobbing, told Mrs. Lewis what happened. Livid, Mrs. Lewis asked Roberta to name the boys. She did, but included me because I was so close to the deed, though I did nothing.

Mrs. Lewis made the four of us take off our shoes and socks and walk around the classroom to "see how it felt." Still livid, Mrs. Lewis dressed us down. Because of the excitement, I said nothing.

Mrs. Lewis then gave each of us a note, telling of the deed for our parents to sign and return. I was very upset for, again, I had done nothing.

My father angrily asked why I would do such a thing. I replied that I was just standing very close to the deed, but I had done nothing. He admonished me to tell the truth; I said I was. Next, he called Roberta on the phone (her family and ours were friends) to settle this.

Sternly, he told her my story to be sure of the accusation. Roberta relented and said because I was so close and she was so upset, she included me in the group and did not really see me do anything.

Conversation over, I felt some relief as my dad turned to me – but it wasn't over.

He was glad I told the truth, but he wanted to know why I stood there and did nothing. I shrugged with no answer. He sternly told me it was my duty to help anyone in trouble, especially a young girl, a lady or anyone else who needed help.

Disappointed in me, he said he expected me to always do this in the future.

I'm 75 years old and have always tried to do the best I possibly could to follow his code. I sincerely believe I have, and have passed this on to my five sons, who I know are doing this, making both of us extremely proud and knowing this code will span many generations.

This changed my life and the lives of many others and others still to come. Mrs. Lewis taught all of us about the feelings of others and the repercussions of our acts, and the follow-up on discipline that is often lacking today.

Jim Zak

North Riverside

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