Every now and then, someone at my family's church will say, "I wonder what ever happened to Stevie."
Stevie and his parents, "the Johnsons," began attending our church in the middle 1950s when I was about 8 years old.
Like the other kids, I disliked Stevie and was afraid of him. Stevie was a bully who hit, kicked, shoved and used bad words.
When Stevie misbehaved in church, his father took him to a small back room reserved for crying infants and unruly children and gave him a good licking. My friends and I thought he had it coming. We felt smug as, sitting in our pews, we heard Stevie whimper and sometimes scream, and we could hear the blows.
At least partly because of Stevie, the Johnsons didn't fit in at church and made few friends.
My father, a kind man who often befriended people who were "different," invited the family for dinner. He was annoyed by my lack of enthusiasm and made it clear I was to be nice to Stevie.
Stevie joined us at the table, though his parents told us he had to eat his meals by himself at home. I don't remember what he did or said, but I can still see his father pulling out a length of electrical cord, grabbing Stevie by the arm and hauling him away.
When Stevie's father returned after inflicting a nasty beating, the Johnsons implied Stevie was an evil child, and the only way to "save" him and raise him to be a law-abiding man was to beat the fear of God into him.
They told another parishioner that they sometimes imprisoned Stevie in a metal cage for much of the day.
The Johnsons didn't stay long and weren't invited back. They soon moved away.
Several years later, in 1962, a doctor named Kempe published a description of child abuse in the medical literature, an article titled "The Battered Child Syndrome."
It took quite a few more years for the concept to filter through the medical community and into public consciousness.
Today, if somebody pulled out an electrical cord and beat their child in public, the phones at departments of child protective services would ring off the hook, but it was different in the '50s.
Clearly, everybody in the church community disapproved of the Johnsons' harsh discipline, but it was no one's business how other people raised their children and unthinkable to interfere.
People did nothing, but their discomfort kept popping up for years as they mused, "I wonder what ever happened to Stevie." They really wanted to know, "Did he survive? Was he in prison? Did he grow up to abuse his own children as he had been abused?"
They also were saying, "What happened to Stevie was wrong," and, "We should have done something for him."
But because at that time and place it was outside the paradigm of good, kind, well-intentioned people to think of even obviously cruel discipline as a crime, nobody did.
Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, has served as La Plata County coroner
since January 2003.