Richard Nixon on Clinton Street in Defiance, OH 1957
I was looking on FaceBook the other day, checking up on high school friends from Defiance and a name jumped out at me that I had not seen for more than 30 years: Ernie Humbert. It got me to thinking about my childhood and the kinds of major events that broke apart my world at least for a short period of time. And there were some. What I am talking about are deaths and/or murders.
These days, when a murder is committed that bears some relationship to school children, grief counselors are brought in to help the kids deal with and process the emotions that are generated by the actions. Luckily my kids did not experience any murders or deaths that were sufficient to require professional help. And this despite going to public schools in a large city. And two of them went to the science/math magnet high school in the 'bad' part of Seattle.
Even though I went to high school in small town Ohio, during those halcyon days that preceded the worst of the anti war and civil rights riots, we had two rather lurid murders.
The first involved Ernie. He was a senior in high school in 1965, so he was five years ahead of me. I was a 7th grader at the time. But DefianceJjunior High was next door and physically connected to the high school. The junior high and the high school shared the gym and the stage, and the choir and band rooms and we watched the high schoolers from a distance with the sort of admiration reserved now for heads of state. They were the almost grownups--the kids that knew what was going on. The cool ones. Ernie worked as a soda jerk for Kuntz's drug store, which was a major stop after school for students from both the high school and junior. Ernie waited on me a time or two, but as I was a junior high student, I was beneath notice. Small cokes were a nickel and you could add a flavor for 5 cents more. I started with cherry and moved to chocolate. Ernie had a ready smile and from what I could see, worked very hard.
One day, he took a large fruit knife from Kuntz's drug store and walked over to the Toons' house by St. John's Catholic Chuch. Seems that he had developed a relationship with the mother of the family--a deep relationship. And for reasons that I still do not know, he took the knife and stabbed the father as he was sitting on the couch watching a game on tv, killing him. You can imagine that in small town Ohio, this was an electrifying event, given the young age of the murderer and his affair with Mrs. Toons . Yet, I remember very little of what happened after that. I know that Ernie went to prison but I have heard that he got a college degree while incarcerated, and was released after a number of years, having paid his debt to society. No one even thought of prosecuting Mrs. Toons for having sex with an underage male, as would be the case today.
The other tragic deaths in Defiance that I remember occurred when a mother from our parish went crazy and shot her children, killing one or two, before turning the gun on herself, and committing suicide. One of her kids, Mike, a guy who was two years older than I was, survived, albeit with bullets in his head. My dad, the pediatrician, treated him, but never mentioned to my recollection, word one about it. I remember hearing from Mike, who hung out with a fast crowd at the time, that because of the bullet wounds, he could not drink alcohol for a while, the only mention he made of the tragedy to me. Again, I do not remember that anything was done to psychologically help the remaining children of the family, or for those kids who were close to the family, or for their schoolmates. Things were different 45 years ago.
But it makes me realize that living in a small town does not protect you from the depredations of the world. In fact, it can give you a false sense of security. I would not trade my upbringing there for any other, but I enjoy and appreciate all the benefits I derive from living in a large city today. And I wonder if sometimes the dangers of living in a large city are exaggerated when compared to those of a small town. The plural of anecdote is not data, but still I wonder.
Have a good weekend, everyone.