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Alligator Candy by David Kushner

I went to Spring Training a few weeks ago.  Like any good reader, I bought a few books to make sure I had sufficient reading material.  Yes, that’s right.  Six books, for what amounted to a 2 1/2 day trip that was filled with baseball games, bars, and time with friends. I got through one book that weekend — Into the North Wind, the true story of one woman’s attempt to complete a 1,000 mile mountain bike race across Alaska.  In winter.

I started a second book as the weekend ended — The Wolf Road, a post-apocalyptic tale of a young woman’s efforts to survive human evil.

Now comes the third book, another recommendation from the fabulous Cinthia Ritchie. Alligator Candy by David Kushner. In 1973, when Kushner was four years old, his eleven-year-old brother disappeared. A week or so later, his body was found and two men were arrested for his kidnapping and murder. Alligator Candy is Kushner’s memoir — of the event and its aftermath. It spans decades of how his family dealt with the loss of a loved member and Kushner’s own struggle to find out the truth of the event. Whether his childhood memories of it were really accurate.

There’s a theme that runs through this memoir that hits particularly close to home for me. It is the fear we as parents have allowed to take over the need for freedom our children need. In 1973, I was nine years old. I had the run of our neighborhood. I walked to and from school. I roamed the neighborhood on my bike alone and with friends. After school, we’d meet up and play pickup games of baseball and football. We’d bicycle around and to and from different friends’ houses. We were free of our parents and adult supervision pretty much every day for hours at a time.

Thirty years later, when my older son was nine years old, there was no chance in hell he would be allowed to do any of that. My kids never got to the point where they could go to and from school on their own until they were sixteen and could drive. They didn’t have hours of freedom hardly ever, let alone every day, where they could act and make decisions without parental supervision. Pickup baseball games down at the nearby school or park?  Hardly, how can you do that if there aren’t any kids outside to pickup along the way?

Kushner’s brother died just before the onslaught of news of child disappearances and abductions became nightly fodder for the newscasts. Kushner wonders, as do I, whether this loss of freedom is in the best interests of our children. The ability to make mistakes when you’re out there on our own and then learn from those mistakes, instead of having every single activity planned and supervised by adults may be a thing we need to ensure our children have. I wonder that in particular now as my sons, aged 19 and 22, demonstrate a basic inability to make the right decisions as they try to live more or less on their own.

There’s a lot more to Kushner’s book than this, of course. It is the story of a family that suffers the most brutal kind of loss. And sticks together. There are a lot of layers to the story. Kushner’s own struggle. How his thoughts change as he goes from a four-year-old who didn’t really know what happened to a teenager who started to peel away the layers of the onion and learned more about both the tragedy and his own parents and surviving brother, and then on into adulthood and greater awareness of all of it.

If the subject matter would bother you, Alligator Candy would be a tough book to get through. But it is a pretty remarkable story. A true one, a heartbreaking one, but also one that shows how people can survive such incredible tragedies.



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