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Law and order

I should have told the two separate callers about my criminal past. Maybe then they would have made haste and never dared to call us again. After all, my own brush with the law goes back nearly eight decades. These two newbies were comparatively rank amateurs!

They tried to convince us that the old grandma scam was fact, not fiction, that they had one of our grandchildren and we needed to provide ransom money. They knew that our grandchildren are our treasures, valued far more than our own lives. They knew that we’d go to any lengths for them.

They thought we were easy marks.

But as soon as the call started with the distressed-sounding young voice pleading for grandma, we were no longer victims but plot-zappers. In all these collective grandparenting years we have never been known to any of our grandchildren or great-grandchildren as grandma or grandpa.

We had the perps at the very outset of the call. I only hope we taught them a lesson.

But who am I to be so self-righteous anyway? Who am I to talk? I had an encounter with the law when I was 3 years old. It was for what we would now call assault and battery. Then it was known as hitting Leon.

Oh, that is a day I will never forget. Right now I am the sole survivor of that incident so I’d best record it for posterity. Auntie Bessie is long gone. So is Sam the Cop (in caps because that was his name!). And most sadly to me, so is Leon.

From the start, you should know that I did not kill Leon, my cousin, my peer, and one of my best friends ever. He lived on for more than 75 years after the incident, unimpaired by my attempts to do him in.

And I was never arrested or convicted after promising never to whack Leon on the head with a spoon again. I made that vow through a thick fog of tears and terror. I, the criminal, at age 3, a disgrace for my family and for the Jewish people. It was a trauma that now, these many years later, still strikes fear in my essence.

The story was pretty simple. I was right! Everyone else was wrong. Period.

It was summer and I was sitting on the grass in Parksville at our Bauman House kuchalein, creating elaborate castles. I had a pail that I filled with damp soil, and a spoon with which to build the beautiful structures. I was very calm and happy and already surrounded by several lovely and sumptuous palaces. I remember adding a road to connect one to the other.

My peace and tranquility obviously grated on my cousin Leon. At that moment he had nothing better to do than to destroy the results of my labors. He could have done so verbally, telling me they were ugly and wouldn’t survive the next round of rain. That would have hurt, but not as much as what he actually did. Leon stormed over and stomped all of my castles, deliberately, with malice toward all and charity toward none. My elegant neighborhood under construction now looked like a war zone.

I was more than agitated. I was seeking instant revenge. I already had a nice solid soup spoon in my hand so I didn’t waste time searching for an implement. I just whacked him repeatedly until he ran off in hysterics, screaming for help.

His mother, my Aunt Fannie, doubtless would have defended him and accused me of some crime of insolence or whatever other improperly used word she could come up with in her Yiddish-accented English. But Fannie was not to be seen. Neither was my mother. Since in those days no one at all was interested in harming us, our mothers felt we were safe playing in the fenced-in front yard, minus hovering or constant supervision. I guess we proved them wrong!

So Leon ran off screaming for Fannie, who didn’t hear him whatsoever. That was bad luck for me as well as for him. Fannie would have told me never to hit him with a spoon again, and that would have been the end. I might have blustered that he started it, a favorite phrase of children intent on mayhem when other words fail them. But no need for a good defense. Aunty Bessie was tuned in to the whole saga and came charging over to me, her ample bosom heaving with the effort of simple movement, with venom in her eyes, and a powerful threat oozing from her brain to her mouth. “You,” she shrieked at the 3-year-old child that I was, “are coming with me to Sam the Cop. You will go to reform school.” At that point in life I hadn’t even started nursery school. Was I to go directly to the dreaded reform school?

That actual scene, honestly portrayed, with no exaggeration at all, took place 79 summers ago, and I am still able to regenerate the abject terror that raced through my little body.

Aunty Bessie grabbed me and marched me down to the village, about a five-minute walk. We found Sam the Cop at his usual perch, sitting on the bench outside the drugstore, the same bench where passengers awaited the Short Line bus back to New York City.

Sam was a short man, and as I remember him now, I realize we knew nothing at all about him aside from his job. Was he married? Where did he live? Did he have children? In a tiny hamlet like Parksville, how was it even possible that Sam could live amongst us for many decades and reveal nothing about himself at all? This was a mystery that I had no inclination to solve at the age of 3. All I knew was that he had a pistol on his hips and he wore a blue uniform that said Parksville Police on it, and I’m pretty sure that description was added to my memory when I became old enough to recognize a pistol and to read. He was the law and the only person ever known to be a member of the Parksville Police Department. A department of one!

Sam kept himself busy directing traffic and strutting through town, but now he had a real case to handle. Assault and battery!

Bessie was a compelling prosecutor. Life imprisonment would have been her thrust. Luckily Sam had a bit more compassion, as I sobbed and trembled before him. He consoled me right away. No, there would be no reform school! Relief poured out of my very pores!

He extracted a promise that I would never hit Leon with a spoon again. Silly man. He didn’t say I couldn’t hit him with something else.

And so, throughout my childhood, Leon and I had many fights, some indeed a tad violent (but he always started), and my chosen weapon was never again a spoon.

Let this be a warning to those phony kidnappers calling me with their requests for ransom. I myself am a tough old lady, with a long criminal history. Challenge me at your own risk.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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