Fragments of May 4: Looking Inside the Keep Forever Box
The cardboard box is torn and taped. Before it held the childhood photographs, Boy Scout medals and other items that belonged to Bill Shroeder, one of the students killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970, it contained a new kitchen pot. David Tuttle’s grandmother, Florence Schroeder, brought the box with her when she moved into David’s house in 2006. Even though Florence had marked the box “Keep Forever” years earlier, she told her grandson she was ready for him to throw it away. He didn’t.
David was only a month old when his Uncle Billy died. He grew up feeling his uncle’s absence in his grandmother’s house, where there were things that didn’t belong to anyone. The RISK game, the extra bed in his other uncle’s room, the duffle bag with the name “Bill” on it. But it was through the contents of the “Keep Forever” box, especially the letters, that David got to know the uncle he wished could have seen him grow up.
Bill had written dozens of letters to Florence while he was in college, updates about school and work, sometimes with little pictures drawn under the return address. Bill was funny. He studied hard. He recommended popular songs he thought his mother would like. He told her about staying up all night talking with his friends, his trips to the Allegheny Mountains and Mexico and his ambivalence about being in the Army ROTC. “But I don’t have any worry about the future,” Bill wrote three months before his death. “I’ll always be rolling along, having a great life.”
David thinks about Bill every day, partly because of David’s other uncle, Rudy, Bill’s younger brother. While Bill excelled at everything -- sports, school, life generally -- Rudy did not. Bill encouraged him. Uncle Rudy became like a father to David. But Rudy struggled. When he was 49, he killed himself. If Bill was still alive, David thinks Rudy would be too. “I’ve said it before, I think one bullet took both my uncles.”
Jacqueline Marino is a journalism professor at Kent State University.