When I was a kid my family moved briefly from south-side St. Louis to the south suburbs. Mom and Dad did this in part because, frankly, I was getting my ass kicked in the St. Louis public school system. I was a bit of a runt and my big sister couldn’t watch over me all the time, of course. So we did a little stint in Ballwin, MO, before we packed up again and headed farther south to an even smaller town in St. Francois County. At the time, I think Farmington had a population of just over 9,000. It had three public elementary schools, one of which was a scant mile from our new-to-us house. My sister went on to start Middle School (that’s 6th through 8th grades in Farmington), and I was directed to the smallest of the three elementary schools to begin 4th grade. W.L. Johns was one of those schools small enough that each grade fit in one classroom. Twenty-four students in my group that fall of 1981, and I think there were 23 of us when we started 5th grade. When I joined that 4th grade class all those years ago, I was completely intimidated. Most of those kids had been growing up in the same zipcode and down the street from one another for years. They had a camaraderie and a kind of companionship that I hadn’t ever experienced in a school setting before. The teachers and students, the secretary and principal, the facilities man…everyone made W.L. Johns their own special family. I was just this runty little dork from “the city” who lived in that house down by Long Park. My sister wouldn’t be any where near me and I was petrified.
Imagine my surprise when kids started talking to me about something other than how hard they’d have to hit me to get my lunch money! I was already in love with the fact we could have a real honest-to-goodness garden in Farmington, but then this? Boys and girls who seemed to have no ill will or negative intentions? My old schoolmates from back then were just really nice kids. Financial strata, religion, ethnicity…those issues wouldn’t come to play for another few years…after we’d moved on to Middle School and found ourselves tossed in with the students from the other two elementary schools (that’s Jefferson and Washington, if you’re keeping track); or Senior High, when the kids from the parochial schools showed up (St. Joe and St. Paul). By the time I graduated high school, my little 4th grade group of 24 had swelled and merged and grown to a graduating class of 202. Still quite small by most urban standards, but I think I’ve always missed that less-than-two-dozen-classmates closeness. I hold those first friends made in Farmington as some of the dearest people I’ve ever met. I was profoundly fortunate to experience pre-teen life with them and finally see what can happen when you put a training bra in a freezer. Good times for 10-year girls in a small Midwestern town. I think it’s fair to say all the W.L. Johns kids still care about each other, even now, some 30 years later.
Anyone who’s come from or through a community like that, where the kids you go to school with live down the street and you ride bikes together through the summer; where your teachers come to your car wash and buy a cup of watery lemonade; where you can pick out of the crowd at high school graduation the exact faces you sat down to lunch with in primary school…. Well, that builds a connection you don’t get when your enrollment is in the thousands. That also means you don’t get the tax base, but…. Every district has its challenges. It may seem dullsville to some, but others of us are quite grateful for those little class rosters. And I know this isn’t a Southern Missouri rarity. School districts that maintain single-class enrollments and don’t have to jam 38 kids into an Algebra course are not unheard of in America or anywhere else on the globe. They just get harder to find as our national and global populations swell. This is why educators need more financial and creative support than ever before, but…. That’s a topic for another blog.
The appreciation for that time so long ago, and those boys and girls I went to W.L. Johns with, it’s just all right behind my eyes these days. Because one of my old classmates is in trouble now, and as word has spread of her plight almost everyone I went to grade and middle and high school with has put their hand in the air to ask how to help.
Jacque Sue (Rawson) Waller disappeared in the late afternoon or early evening Wednesday, June 1, from Jackson, in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. She was there to visit her estranged husband. Divorce papers were to be signed. He has explained to law enforcement officials that they argued, and that he left Jacque around 4:00 p.m. at his Jackson home. Waller says that’s the last time he saw her. Because he’s the last person to see Jacque, he is officially considered a “person of interest” in the case, but local news and family reports indicate he is not actively cooperating with police at this time. This seems bizarre-bordering-on-insane to anyone who knows Jacque, and who knows their five-year old triplets. I mean, it smells like fear, doesn’t it? It smells like secrets and deception. And every day that passes without some kind of news must be a dagger in the heart of Jacque’s parents, her brother and sister and everyone who knows her well.
I am not qualified to cast doubt or suspicion on the father of Jacque’s children. He’s doing that just fine on his own. And there is a possibility that he’s so in shock at her disappearance that he just can’t function in a manner most of us would find appropriate. That’s not the point I want to make here. Because, horrible to say, Jacque’s story of disappearance and mystery is not unusual. People of every age go missing on a frighteningly frequent basis. Consider Stacy Peterson: http://www.findstacypeterson.net/ or The Springfield Three: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Springfield_Three or Timothy Pitzen: http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US.
These are just a few examples. It happens all the time, and I think my point is that people only go missing because of the actions of other people. It’s one of the things we do. People make people go away, one way or another. Our actions cause pain, fear, injury or despair, and the results are that someone goes away…figuratively and too often quite literally…and perhaps whether they intended to or not. But personally, I don’t believe people can just up and vanish. I don’t believe there are no answers. The trick is in how to find them. There IS an explanation. We just must keep searching for it.
And so I’ve been pondering lately the powers we have. Our potential to succeed and to fail, to hurt and to heal, or to be just flat unaffected by the day-to-days of our own existence…. Life is a roller coaster journey for each of us, regardless whether we travel alone or in a pack. The marks we leave along our way and the impact we have…the power we each hold to do things that could be generally agreed as either good or ill. It is intense and intimidating. We are so capable of making things happen, and we often act with little comprehension of long-term ripple effects. We act out, or we withdraw. In either case, there is a cause and effect. And everything we set in motion is buffeted by the actions of others. Whatever has happened to Jacque, the response from across the region has been huge. Each member of law enforcement that has played a role has affected those they’ve spoken to. Each of Jacque’s friends who have told the story to someone else has set a ball moving. All my old school chums are hugging their own children and sisters and mothers a little tighter today because of what may have happened to Jacque weeks ago. People who seem to have no response…well…that has its own impact, too, doesn’t it?
Someone somewhere knows something about Jacque, and likewise about Stacy and about Timothy. In every case, for whatever reason, someone knows, but they keep it to themselves. Maybe because holding the information is so intoxicating? Or the fear of perceived guilt is so paralyzing? I don’t know. But as people we get a lot of power to make things happen. We can set things in motion. We can affect so much so quickly. And whomever knows the tiniest thing…has the teeniest insight into these aching holes of mystery…that person has the power to heal. To bring solace. To be forthright. In Jacque’s case, the person with information has the opportunity to be worthy of the character and strength Jacque provided her children, family and friends every day. We can only hope the ripple effects will be for good. Not for ill. Every family who is missing a loved one deserves nothing less.