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Correction Appended: March 24, 2003
Frank described his soft, round baby boy as "a little Buddha" and recalls listening to the child softly sing himself to sleep in his crib for about a quarter of an hour every night. He even reminisced with John recently about it, when he visited him in prison. "You know," Frank remembers his son saying, "that's actually my earliest memory, singing myself to sleep." The quiet concert lasted until John was about 4 and had to share his bedroom with his brother. "Connell, three years older, told John to shut up. He didn't like him singing at night," Frank recalls. "So poor John's singing days really kind of came to an end."
The family lived in a rented house on Buffalo Avenue in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Md., a house dwarfed bythe huge Victorians nearby. Marilyn stopped taking college classes to take care of Connell, then John and eventually little sister Naomi. She nursed each of the younger two until they were about 4 years old, in John's case stopping "cold turkey" on his fourth birthday. The house could be dim and dreary, with "too many dishes in the sink," says a neighbor, Jim Colwell. "It was kind of a turnoff to hang out with them." But his ex-wife Judy remembers Marilyn as "the kind of mother who would get down on the floor and play with her kids, and she would do that even if her house was a mess." They used to shop together for clothes at the local thrift stores; the Lindhs were very frugal, especially when Frank was working his way through law school at Georgetown University. They drove a car handed down from her parents, and she sometimes worked retail jobs to make ends meet. To be sure the kids were eating some vegetables, Judy Colwell says, Marilyn would sneak some eggplant into the spaghetti sauce.
The Lindhs eventually saved enough to buy a white brick rambler on
The Lindhs eventually saved enough to buy a white brick rambler on Walden Road in Silver Spring, Md. It was a neighborhood of aspiring professionals, lawyers, lobbyists and professors whom Frank liked to surprise with a visit, bearing a plate of homemade brownies. He used to wear a costume when he took the kids trick-or-treating. One year John dressed as a toilet seat, in an outfit he made himself with lots of tin foil. At Christmas they decorated a live tree and planted it in the yard. "They took life seriously; they took their family seriously," says Gilcher. "They were the kind of people who didn't just go with the flow."
Gilcher saw in John a future scholar, an "intellectual of some kind," and John's close friends were the same way, especially after third grade. John and some of his brightest pals left Takoma Park Elementary School and rode the bus for 45 minutes to attend a program for highly gifted kids, housed in portable classrooms at Kensington Parkwood Elementary School. "We were kind of the not-cool kids," recalls classmate Adam Parr. On the playgrounds the cool kids played soccer; John and his pals created games out of their heads, fantasy games involving knights and ogres or movie characters. This was a time "to act like something you're not," says Parr, "like a policeman."