A few weeks ago, a male friend and I went around trying to get signatures on a petition that requested that the City of Evanston enforce its noise ordinance and have a neighborhood business stop emitting disturbing noises. 

As one woman signed the petition, she asked, “Why is HE always with you?”  The question seemed a bit over the top, but I told her that my friend lived in my building. 

My answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity.  I assume she questioned me because my friend is mentally disabled, and although he is not “always with me,” she probably observed the two of us together as we taped noise coming from the aforementioned business onto her street and  whenever we happened to run into each other on her street. 

I wasn’t angry with the woman for asking the question, but it did give me pause.  People constantly make judgments about who should be with whom based on history, experiences, biases and prejudices. 

The good thing that came out of this woman’s question was that it made me go into the recesses of my mind and remember my mother’s behavior toward those “less fortunate” than she.

When my sister and I were kids, a man named Alfred used to come to our house. 

He often came by and did small jobs for our mom, but often he just dropped by and sat and sat.  He always sat in a chair between the doorway to the hall entrance and a high, antique secretary bookcase.  

I can still visualize him sitting there.  After a while, our mom would offer Alfred some refreshments, which he never refused but declined to wash his hands.  My sister and I wondered how he got away with that.  

Alfred would sit and sit for several hours without saying very much.  When he did try to tell our mom something, he stuttered. 

Our mom waited patiently until Alfred managed to finish what he wanted to say.  My sister and I gave Alfred our undivided attention when he spoke.  We were fascinated by the movement of his lips without words coming out.

People affectionately said Alfred was “slow.”  My sister and I don’t remember ever hearing anyone refer to him as “retarded.” 

Our mom made sure that my sister and I treated Alfred with respect, although we were allowed to call Alfred by his first name without a “Mr.” in front.  

Our mom sometimes sighed when she saw Alfred at the front door, but her kind and considerate behavior toward Alfred when he was in our home was a lesson planted in our minds forever: Treat those less fortunate than you with respect, patience and kindness.  Amen!

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...