The Last Day of Innocence

The last day of innocence was an ordinary day. It was May 19, 1988.

It was my mother’s birthday and I brought my two children, ages 5 and 6 to my childhood home to celebrate with her. I grew up in Hubbard Woods Illinois. Hubbard Woods was so small it did not have its own zip code, but it did have a stop on the train line and a small downtown just west of the train station, so to us it was a town.

As a child, I walked to school there every day. I stopped at Kuecks & Hanus Drugstore for candy before school and ice cream on hot summer days. I wandered up and down all the shops with my friends, Fells to look at shoes, Mary Quaint to look at the latest mini dresses from London, and Charles A. Stevens for clothes. 

In the winter the village green opposite the train station was flooded so we could ice skate and in the summers we could walk to the beach. It was the late 60s and 70s and children were free-range and our town, like most, was safe.

Now it was 1988 and I was back on the Village Green with my children ages 5 and 6, my youngest was less than a month old in the stroller. The older children were playing on the playground while my mother and I sat and watched. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful spring day.

My mother wanted to leave and go to the bank in Glencoe, the next town north about one mile. I also needed to stop by the bank so I asked her to wait until the children were ready to leave.

She suggested that I leave them on the playground. “We’ll be right back and they will be perfectly safe,” she said. But again, this was 1988 no longer the age of free-range children. “No, I’m not leaving them,” I said and I gathered them up dealing with the typical complaints of children not ready to stop playing. I probably even bribed them with an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins.

We went about our ordinary day, blissfully unaware that it was the last day of innocence.

The following day Laurie Dann barricaded herself in Hubbard Woods School, just two blocks from that playground, and commenced by shooting six people and killing eight-year-old Nick Corwin. The first child to die in a school shooting. She left the school and ended up at a family friend’s home where she shot Phil Andrews and then turned the gun on herself and died.

10 years later, When those same children were in high school, Columbine happened. A year to the day later my son called me from the school on a payphone begging me to pick up his sister. Her name was on a “hit list” and he was terrified for her. I immediately called the school demanding to know what was going on and how they were planning on keeping my daughter safe. I knew full well I could walk in any door of that school and down the hallways to the classroom and never be stopped.

They assured me it was a hoax and she was safe. She called me begging to pick her up and I immediately did so. Perhaps she would have been safe, but the school could not make that kind of assurance in good faith.

Now those children have children–five between the two of them. My son’s wife is a teacher. Now, almost exactly 34 years later, they worry about this almost every day, on behalf of their beautiful children. For his wife.

My daughter told me tearfully yesterday that she worries that she doesn’t know what clothes her children wear to school every day in case she’s asked. That she saw a line of parents waiting to share their DNA after the shooting in Uvalde not knowing if their child was alive or dead.

I’m not the only parent who remembers their last day of innocence and unfortunately, I won’t be the last due to the insanity of lawmakers who will not pass any restrictive gun measures.I have family members that hunt. I get that. I have friends with handguns. I trust them. They don’t need their guns taken away.

Why can an 18-year-old buy a gun? WHY?

Why aren’t there more restrictive background checks? WHY?

Why does anyone need a semi-automatic weapon? WHY?

Why won’t lawmakers make changes? WHY

No one should know their last day of innocence.

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