Vanished Without a Trace
Four years after Kurt’s disappearance, a visitor to the Newtons would be struck by how normally they are living with this most abnormal of burdens. Jill has opened a beauty shop downstairs in their home, and has a growing number of customers. Ron works fourteen-hour days for the highway department, and on weekends putters around in his shop, planning improvements to their home. Kimberly is a bright, winsome girl of ten, who swings from the weeping willow in the yard, loves baseball, and complains that her mother doesn’t allow her to ride her bicycle in the street like her friends do. “Ron’s constantly telling me I’ve got to let her do more,” Jill said.
There are changes, of course. They have sold their tent trailer and no longer go camping. There is laughter in the house, and there was a trip to Disneyland, but Kurt is always on the edge of things. “Kurt’s name is always around our household,” Jill says. “We say things like, ‘Kurt had a pair of pants like that,’ or ‘Wouldn’t Kurt have liked that.’ A boy moved next door after Kurt was lost, and he kept asking Kimberly, ‘Well, who is this Kurt? And where is he?
“People who don’t know me say how many children do I have, and I say two, a ten year old and an eight year old, and I don’t think about it because I will go on expecting that someday he’ll walk through that door, even at fifty years old — until somebody proves to me that I’m wrong.
‘ I think your mind has to rest. Now we can take a big gulp and say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to forget about it for a while and have a good time.’ It’s never ever forgotten, really. I know it’s there, and I know I’ll come back to it, but I’ve learned to glide around it. To keep on going.”
On Sundays there are picnics outside, or at the lakeside cabin two miles from their home. “We were extremely close before,” Jill says, “and we’re closer now. Ron was quiet before, and he’s quieter now. It’s still hard for the two of us to talk about it a lot. It’s like we’re careful not to rile too much up. We’ve accepted and are coping with the way things are. But isn’t it incredible that after all that’s happened during these four years we don’t know any more than we did when we first missed him?”
They speak about plans to convince the President to establish an agency to help parents whose children are missing. They think their experiences in distributing Kurt’s picture would be invaluable to anyone in a similar dilemma. And they still seek ideas. “If anyone can come up with anything and give me an address of how I can do it, that’s what I want.”
After spending a weekend with Ron and Jill and Kimberly, two images remain, as bright as Kurt’s blue eyes that seem to bum from his pictures. It is a Saturday night, and Kimberly is sitting cross-legged on the old brown sofa in their lakeside camp. She is dressed in a pink bunny suit, and her lovely brown hair is brushed down her back. It is late and the light in the cabin is dim and she is sleepy, but she wants to finish reading her book. The name of the book is Donn Fendler, Lost on a Mountain in Maine, the dramatic true story of the twelve-year-old scout from Rye, New York, who, against great odds, survived a nine-day trek to safety from mist-shrouded Baxter Peak. “I wonder if that’s how it was for Kurt,” she says softly, and when she is finished, the happy ending tucked in her mind, she is ready to sleep.
On Sunday the table is set outside the Newtons’ home for a traditional Sunday dinner of roast pork and potatoes. It is sunny and a wind is blowing; there is debate whether to eat indoors or out. Their garden is planted and staked out, and Jill sits in the warm grass of late spring. “I really enjoy watching things grow,” she says. “But I’m so impatient waiting for the produce.” Across the yard Kimberly is laughing as she sails on her rope swing. Ron, who is camera shy, is finding things to do to keep from being photographed.
“You know,” Jill says, “in a way I feel fortunate. I have a prayer. And I have tomorrow. And tomorrow may bring Kurt.”
This story’s appearance in Yankee Magazine in 1979 prompted an enormous response from people who thought they might have information about Kurt Newton’s whereabouts; as of today, however, he has not been found.