Swamp Water Jurisprudence: The trusting mind of a child


 by Judge Dennis Challeen

Children, being new to this world, naturally accept without question what is told to them by parents, teachers and other authority figures.

A newlywed couple set up housekeeping and the wife was preparing a ham for dinner. She was cutting off the ends when her husband asked, “Why are you doing that?” She said that’s how her mother had taught her. He thought that was strange and suggested they should call her mother and find out why. Her mother on the phone explained that was how her mother taught her. So they called Grandmother for her explanation. Grandmother said they were a very poor family and had only one small roasting pan and so they always cut the ends off to make it fit.

Sometimes reasons for why we do things get lost as they pass from one generation to another.

One day the same husband came home and, being able to stay only briefly, tossed his coat on the bed. The wife quickly grabbed the coat and said, “Please don’t put your coat on the bed; coats should never be laid on beds.” He asked why, and she replied that was a rule in her family. So he phoned her mother, who agreed it was the rule in their house. Not satisfied, he called Grandmother, who explained when she was young many people had lice, so they took no chances with visitors spreading lice onto their beds. (With the return of treatment-resistant “super lice” maybe Grandmother’s rule should be reconsidered.)

Those of us older folk who grew up in the late ‘30s remember when food was not as abundant as it is today. We were scolded by our parents who had survived the Great Depression, not to “let our eyes be bigger than our stomachs,” and to never waste food. To this day I keep leftovers unnecessarily crowding our refrigerator.

My father was a soldier in World War I in France and the Army fed him mutton which to him was the worst food he ever ate. I grew up avoiding mutton. Decades later I was in Washington D.C. and my hosts announced they had reservations in a restaurant that served the “best rack of lamb in town.” I was about to tell them I didn’t eat lamb when it occurred to me I had never tasted lamb or mutton in my life. I had totally adopted my father’s dislikes. The lamb was great and I have since ordered it every chance I get.

As grade school students, we celebrated Columbus Day because, according to our teacher, he discovered the New World in 1492; it was and still is a national holiday. But now we know through DNA studies that the first Americans were of Asian origin, having crossed the Bering Strait thousands of years ago, to settle North America on down to South America. Columbus was a poor third because the Vikings beat him by a few hundred years. We also have learned that Columbus was not a nice person and abused the natives badly. What is a poor kid supposed to believe?

In the same grade school a classmate came up to me and asked “What’s so wonderful about Richard Strand?” (another classmate). “Nothing as far as I know,” I responded. With a puzzled look he said “Then why do we have to stand up and say, ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for Richard Strand’?”

When he was about five years old, my son decided he didn’t like onions. He didn’t arrive at this conclusion independently; he was copying his aunt who refused to eat onions, so they both picked them out of casseroles. One day I bought green onions (scallions) and began eating them at the dinner table; I called them “radishes” and he joined in and liked them. This went on for months until he came home justifiably angry at me because his classmates all laughed at him during lunch hour because he called green onions “radishes.” I probably wouldn’t have won parent of the year award but we laugh about it to this day – and he likes onions.

Child psychologists will tell us that our religious and political beliefs are usually passed on from our parents.

During one of his campaign speeches, President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), a Republican, was continually interrupted by a heckler who kept shouting, “I am a Democrat.”

Finally Roosevelt had to do something. With disarming gentleness he inquired, “May I ask the gentleman why he is a Democrat?”

“My grandfather was a Democrat,” replied the heckler. “My father was a Democrat. And I am a Democrat.”

“And suppose,” continued Roosevelt, “that your father had been a jackass, and his father had been a jackass. What would you be?”

The heckler shouted back, “A Republican!”

Roosevelt got the last laugh. He made it to Mt. Rushmore ... the heckler is lost in history.


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