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Interchange – Ernest Lockridge: The Nostalgia of Emptiness in Raintree County

Interchange – Ernest Lockridge: The Nostalgia of Emptiness in Raintree County

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Photo Credit: Hugh Hazelrigg

Host Doug Storm ends our three-part series on Bloomington author Ross Lockridge, Jr. and his bestselling novel of 1948 with an interview with Ernest Lockridge, the oldest child of Ross Lockridge, Jr.

In the program Ernest Lockridge discusses his answers to the mystery of his father’s suicide elaborated in his book Skeleton Key to the Suicide of My Father Ross Lockridge, Jr. laying emphasis on what he calls “the culture of pedophilia” of the 1940s Bloomington made prominent by Alfred Kinsey.

Ernest’s brother, Larry Lockridge, strongly opposes this view and offers what he calls a “refutation” to Ernest’s allegations against their grandfather: “Larry Lockridge’s Response to Ernest Lockridge.”

Both brothers have prepared statements as coda to this series of radio programs which offer a kind of “last word” on the subject. Those statements made via email to Interchange Producer Doug Storm follow directly below.

More about Ernest Lockridge, his Skeleton Key to the Suicide, his novels, memoirs, and paintings can be found online here: Paintings of Ernest Lockridge.

The two previous shows in the series:

Interchange – Taking the Measure of Raintree County

Interchange – Larry Lockridge: In the Shade of the Raintree

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Larry Lockridge’s refutation of the allegations made by Ernest Lockridge in his book Skeleton Key to the Suicide of My Father, Ross Lockridge, Jr.

“It wasn’t the lack of evidence, it was the considerable counter-evidence I accumulated during my research for my biography of Ross Lockridge, Jr., Shade of the Raintree, that led me totally to reject my brother Ernest’s theory that childhood sexual abuse of Ross Junior by Ross Senior was the “skeleton key” to the tragedy. I have posted this counter-evidence, some eighteen items, on my brother Ross III’s website, www.raintreecounty.com under “The Biography.” The single piece of counter-evidence people find most convincing concerns an arrangement Ross Junior made with Ross Senior in January of 1947. Ernest was then eight years old and not taking well to the cold weather in Manistee, Michigan where our family was staying. Ross Junior arranged for Ernest to live in Bloomington at his father’s house for four months. The idea was that he would enroll in third grade at Elm Heights elementary school and Ross Senior would teach him recitation. Elsie Lockridge and occasionally Lillian Lockridge would also be in residence, but Ernest and his grandfather would be unsupervised in the large house. If Ross Junior knew that his father had sexually abused himself as a child, would he have put Ernest in such terrible jeopardy? The answer is so emphatically no that this single item is in itself sufficient to discredit Ernest’s entire theory; his key simply doesn’t fit. (With respect to his health, other arrangements could have been made: Ernest could have stayed, as Larry subsequently did, with his mother’s relatives, the Mumbys, within easier walking distance of Elm Heights.)

“I cannot disprove Ernest’s memories of fondling by his grandfather during sleepovers after the suicide of Ross Junior. None of the rest of us encountered such behavior in this grandfather we loved and respected, so these memories are truly shocking. Assuming some truth in them, I suspect Ross Senior’s behavior was yet another bitter consequence of the suicide itself, some totally inappropriate attempt at bonding with the surviving elder grandson by a depressed and guilty person—as parents of suicides usually are. This is an explanation, not an exculpation. It is also a possibility Ernest nowhere considers. It could explain the lack of continuity between Ross Senior’s behavior before the suicide, where I have proved beyond any doubt that there was no sexual abuse, and Ross Senior’s behavior after the suicide as Ernest has described it. Again, the “skeleton key’ Ernest insists on to explaining our father’s suicide doesn’t fit, whatever his own subsequent victimization.”

Larry Lockridge, May 14, 2014, via email to Doug Storm

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Ernest Lockridge Responds:

“Larry posits that grief might have caused a decent man, a Doctor Jekyll, to become a sexual monster, a Mister Hyde, and that this might explain Grandpa’s attack on me on the heels of my father’s suicide. By this logic, Bruce’s drowning years earlier might just as well have caused Grandpa to molest Shockley.

“There was no grief or love propelling the indignant, imperious Mister Hyde who attacked me violently. A predator who had invested so much precious time and energy prepping me was claiming his just reward.

“My sainted father would never have abandoned me to a deviant? Last time I looked this is the same father who abandoned his entire family, the lot of us, wife and four kids, without even acknowledging our existence.

“Embedded in SKELETON KEY TO THE SUICIDE OF MY FATHER is the covert culture of pervasive pedophilia, incest, and childhood sexual abuse, cocooned by institutional protection and denial, and permitted to persist, and to wreak unacknowledged havoc in the lives of innocents. Only now are we recognizing the role of denial and naiveté in perpetuating this plague on humanity. We are also just beginning to acknowledge and understand the leading role incestuous pedophilia plays in the tragedy of suicide.

“Larry’s “counter-evidence” counters nothing; rather, it unwittingly re-inscribes the menu of lethal canards that nourish the pedophile. My brother’s entire argument, the rotting foundation of “the biography,” is an epiphany of denial, a tedious mishmash of naiveté and questionable recall that fails to acknowledge the fiendish wiliness and persistence of the pedophile, and how families close ranks to appease and protect him even as he gluts himself at the family trough. “Grandpa would never have done a thing like that”; “Grandma would never have stood for it”; “but he never did anything to me”; “he’s too old, feeble, harmless” (whereas, pedophiles become “harmless” only after the coffin-lid is nailed down); “it’s a one-off thing”; “‘what we had together’ was unique, my being so special and all.”

“Even Custodians of the Family Honor have a minimal responsibility to bring themselves up to date. Rejecting SKELETON KEY rejects what at long last is becoming factually and irrefutably known regarding the domestic pedophile, his victim, and the deplorable propensity of other family-members to do literally anything to make it all just disappear.

Ernest Lockridge, May 15, 2014, via email to Doug Storm

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