Monday, March 21, 2016

Alligator Candy

Saturday morning and I was checking email and making lists for things that had to be done. NPR's Weekend Edition was nattering away and I wasn't actually listening till a few words near the end, caught my attention --Kushner, brother, bike, woods.

All at once I was riveted -- the speaker was David Kushner and he was there to discuss his just released book ALLIGATOR CANDY -- a memoir about the effect the brutal abduction and murder of his eleven year old brother in 1973 had on him and his family.

In 1973 John and I were teaching at Independent Day School on the outskirts of Tampa. The whole thrust of the school was to allow children the freedom to learn on their own terms, the freedom to explore and grow at their own pace. Some folks called it 'the hippie school' but there was a lot of learning and creativity going on. Lots of peace and love and brotherhood, lots of art and nature study on the idyllic lakeside campus.

And then, in October of '73, one of our IDS students disappeared during a Sunday bike ride from his home to a nearby convenience store. Jonathan Kushner was eleven. 

His mother had been the teacher of the Lamaze class I'd taken the previous year to prepare for the birth of my first child; I think, though I can't be positive, that his older brother was in my English class.  

During eight long days, the community searched for Jonathan until finally the wife of one of the abductors notified law enforcement and told them where the boy's body was.

I remember the stark horror of the time and I remember going to the Kushner's house to offer support and condolences, only to burst into tears when Jon's mother opened the door, as I thought about my own son who was safe while hers . . . And then it was she who comforted me. 

I remember the funeral at the synagogue and the rabbi saying that Jews weren't afraid to question God, to be angry with God and to ask why such a thing could happen -- a reaction that seemed and seems most sensible to me.

I remember when the service was over and the bereaved parents and brothers walked down the aisle, the father with his arms spread to encompass his family so that they moved as a single unit.

And after that . . . I never knew how the family dealt with the aftermath of this horror. By this time we'd bought our farm in the mountains and were, after this shattering of illusions, all the more determined to move. 

So of course I had to read the book.

The author, David Kushner, a well known journalist, was only four at the time of the murder and the book is told  first from his perspective as a four year old who feels that somehow this was his fault because his brother had been going to the store to buy 'alligator candy' for him.

And then it's told from the perspective of the thirteen year old David who has never been told the ugly details surrounding his brother's death and so goes to the newspaper archives to find out for himself, rather than open this old wound with his parents, who have been struggling to give their two remaining sons as normal and free a life as possible.

Finally, it's the story told by the adult David, who is trying to understand how his parents were able to cope with this most terrible loss and trying, as well, to be able to give his own child the same freedom his parents allowed him.

The memoir is a testimony to love that never dies, to the coping mechanisms that allow life to go on, and to the grace that can emerge in the wake of horror.  Kushner captures so well the innocence of that time and chronicles the bravery of a family, facing the unfaceable, bearing the unbearable.

HERE is the Weekend Edition program I spoke of in the beginning.


Ms. A said...

I can only imagine what going through something like that would do to a family. The grief and long term effects would be horrible. How would one ever have any kind of normal life after that and not be smothered by overprotective parents?

A Bit of the Blarney said...

I, too, heard this on NPR. At the time, I asked myself, "How did they manage to stay sane after this?" How does anyone cope after such a horrific deed, whether they be kidnapping, shootings or accidents. May God bless them all in their grief.

Barbara Rogers said...

I also lived and worked in Tampa at the time of this awful deed. I had 2 sons as well, 6 and 9 year olds. But I don't remember the kidnapping. It is awful, and I have no recollection. Perhaps it's buried somewhere in my psyche. I do want to read the book of course. Now maybe I can deal with it.

NCmountainwoman said...

I heard part of the interview. After reading your post I went back to listen to the whole interview. I'm not at all sure I will read the book although I would definitely do so if I knew the people involved.

Anvilcloud said...

This is the thing that we most dread. It is probably good for Kushner to write this book.