I was reminiscing with a friend the other day about our childhoods… about how different those days were for us when we were kids, about how it seems so different from the childhood our own kids are living.
When I was young… we played in the streets, we ran around Westwood woods, we walked to Bel-Aire school, we rode our bikes to the Cedar Creek market for candy, we sat in the yard. We played and talked… only stopping long enough to make our way back to our own homes for a quick bite to eat — then we were right back out…changing the games to the nighttime versions.
I imagine that our parents didn’t really give our freedom much thought back then. They nodded uneventfully each time we came in or left the house. We were young and happy and didn’t care about anything that took place outside of our neighborhood.
In late February in Tennessee, the weather is usually beginning to warm up. The kids are beginning to venture back outside and the ritual of hanging out on the streets and playing Ghosts in the Graveyard starts again. I remember the February of 1975 — the neighborhood was beginning to fill back up with all the kids and all the games and all the uneventful nods from our parents as we came and went without notice. I was only seven years old at the time, the youngest of the neighborhood kids — everyone’s kid sister. But, despite my age, the circumstances surrounding that time will forever be burned into my memory.
As a child, the last thing that I ever wanted to see on the television was the news. I didn’t care about anything that was happening in a world that I couldn’t see, that I didn’t know, that I didn’t care to understand — I was seven. My physical world only stretched as far as my legs would carry me. But, at the end of February in 1975, I watched the news — my world stretched to places I didn’t know existed.
A little girl was missing. She was our age — she could have been hanging out in the street with us, running, playing, gossiping. I watched intently to the evening news each night with my sisters and my parents. Each night the little girl never came home. Each night the hope faded. Each night our parents started taking notice of where we were going — I remember them watching us through the windows.
A month went by and still no sign of the little girl. A month of watching the evening news each night. A month of kids staying closer to home. Then they found her — just a few houses away from her own home. It was Easter Sunday.
Our isolated neighborhood world changed during that month — we stayed together more. Our parents asked more questions. Sometimes they would follow us in the car as we walked to school. My father would whistle loudly from the front porch and at least one of us had to respond — just so he knew. When night came our parents wanted us to come inside — and there we sat…with the news of that little girl.
Her death changed the mindset of an entire state, of an entire city, of our parents, of us. Her death changed the way parents in our neighborhood felt about the independence they had so carefree given to us. It changed the way we played and laughed and gossiped. It changed the way we treated each other — we became cautious, we became inquisitive, we became grown-ups — even me, at seven.
The carefree days of going and coming without notice ended during that time. I believe it changed how we would later parent our own children. I believe it changed the innocence of many kids and parents.
That little girl is still in the thoughts of the neighborhood kids — kids who never knew her except for what we saw on TV. We reminisce about our childhoods… we reminisce about our neighborhood… we reminisce about that February when our worlds stretched farther than we ever wanted.
Here is a brief overview of the case and it’s impact on Nashville. The person who committed this horrific crime was only recently brought to justice — we were already changed.
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