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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

Hours

  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Picture Books We Love

The Right Judgment

Shortly after learning to drive, in 1984, I was slowly cruising the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, glancing at apartment buildings to left and right, looking for To Rent signs. The flashing lights of a police car lit up my rearview mirror. Since I’d been driving at twenty miles per hour I was confused to be pulled over. The officer responded to my humble query by informing me that I’d just run a stop sign. Since it was a moving violation, I’d have to appear before a judge. This was not an auspicious beginning to my driving career. I was very anxious the morning of my court appointment. The courtroom was enormous, seating perhaps three hundred, and I could only find a place near the back of the room. I was startled to understand that none of these people were spectators: all had received tickets. I wondered what sort of protocol could possibly result in a judge assessing every one of us. A few minutes after the appointed hour, a court officer demanded, “All rise!”  We stood up, and the judge entered, mounting to the seat behind his bench at the front of the courtroom.  He looked imposing in his black robes. The judge shuffled some papers and chatted with several court officers. Then he thumped his gavel loudly and declared in a vigorous voice, “These are minor peccadilloes. Cases dismissed!” He rose, descended, and left through the back door. We hundreds of violators looked at each other in wonderment, gradually rose from our seats, and left the courtroom en masse. I decided that Chicago justice was a very fine thing. Two years later, I received another ticket for going through a stop sign and I reported to that court hearing sure that the case would be summarily dismissed. To my shock, this time I had to wait nearly an hour, and I was called up to appear before the judge individually. I was given a rapid dressing down, then fined seventy dollars. Still, that first experience of having my case surprisingly dismissed has stayed with me, coloring my every experience with traffic law. I remain hopeful that all will be forgiven. I tell this story as prelude to reporting something rather confusing that happened at a party a few weeks ago. I was two beers into a long conversation when a friend distracted me with the news that I should pay attention to what a different group was discussing. “She wants to tell you something.” A woman I recognized addressed me directly. “I have a confession to make. A big confession. Are you ready?” Since I knew her only very slightly I was alarmed, but I asked her to continue. “Last December I was in the store at The Eric Carle Museum and I saw a copy of A Child’s Christmas In Wales and I just fell in love with it. I knew I didn’t have the money to buy it, and I looked over at the cash register and you were there, and you looked so nice. I thought that even if you stopped me after I had left the store with the book in my purse I could talk my way out of it. I was so surprised it was easy to take the book. It’s the first time in my life that I ever stole anything and I’m so ashamed.” However, she was not in the process of handing me a check made out to The Eric Carle Museum. I felt embarrassed. Five or six people were listening to her tell me the story. I laughed, and bought some time by asking, “Was it the Trina Schart Hyman? The Chris Raschka? The Edward Ardizzone?  We have several different editions.” “It was illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, yes.” I flashed on that miscreant Dylan Thomas, and found myself saying, “Well, I love that edition too, but it doesn’t sell very well. I forgive you.” She looked concerned. “What were those other versions?” The conversation continued. After the party, I considered what had happened. She must have been hoping to have her guilt resolved one way or the other, and perhaps she had wanted me to ask her to pay for the book? Why had I failed to do so? It was that Chicago judge’s fault. Ever since experiencing the rush of pleasure at being forgiven for a crime I hadn’t meant to commit, I have doubted the automatic application of rules and punishments. Since I like being forgiven myself, I tend to forgive others. Still, the bookstore’s profits help pay for general operating expenses, so by taking the book, this woman had effectively forced a non-profit organization to cover for her theft. In my position, what would Eric Carle have said, I wondered? Eric probably would have gently hinted that this might be a good moment to make a donation to the museum’s Annual Fund. (By the way, in the late 1980s several major federal undercover investigations of the Chicago judicial system sent hundreds of people to prison, including several traffic court judges.)

by admin_2

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 11th, 2010 at 11:35 am and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Comments

Andy Laties
Monday, December 12, 2010 - 2:52 pm
thanks, bev
Bev Richey
Saturday, December 12, 2010 - 3:04 pm
thanks for your past and present thoughts...and feelings

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