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Dimly Seen

July 22, 2022

(after endless editing)

In 1903 Harry Dickinson left Newcastle, England to live in Brooklyn, New York. The
story goes that at 22 he came to play English football, employed by the “Immigrant
Leagues” that were created by and for those coming to America. After three years of
play, his knee was injured enough that any income derived from his play ended. He
then became a bricklayer for the Carlin Construction Company of New York City.

In 1906 Lucy Hill and her siblings left Holly Hall in England and arrived in America.
She was, by family accounts, “old” at 25. She worked as a “piecener” at the spinning
mills of textile factories and was to support herself with similar work in America.
Lucy somehow connected with Harry and they were married in 1908. Neither had
graduated from eighth grade.

The sense of distant relatives was that Harry was not a nice man. It was said that his father, a wine taster, was an alcoholic, consequently he never drank a drop.

As was expected, especially for this newly married “older” couple in their mid ‘20’s, a baby was immediately conceived and born in December 1909 – my father George, named after an uncle who had died at sea in the merchant marines.


When my father was one, Lucy discovered that she was pregnant, again, at 27. Harry
did not know. Earning a living hauling brick after being a soccer star was difficult for
Harry, and life with a new baby was not easy for Lucy. Apparently, life was so difficult
that Lucy sought out an abortion – fully secret from Harry.


My father’s mother died while having that abortion. Their son, one-year-old George
Dickinson was then sent to Canada to live with his mother’s sisters – described as
“spinsters”. The removal of pain in the vacuum of immigrant life, detached from
family, makes sense, if you did not love your son.


Things would be repeated.


The devastation of Harry, simultaneously finding out that your wife was not only
having your second child, but that she and that child had died, and her death was
because she could not accept having another child with you, is not any easy
apprehension. But it happened. Its impact had the resonant devastation that echoed
throughout an entire century of three generations.

 
For five years up in Toronto, George would wander away. His aunts feverishly looked
for the 4-year-old. When they found him on one of those occasions, George was
walking upon the docks of Lake Ontario. In relief and consternation, they asked him
“Why did you leave, Georgie?” His answer: “I was looking for my Mum.”


Harry, my grandfather, died the year that I was born, 1955. His lifelong pivot from a
double homicide, ended a family that had no recorded history, but had undeniable
facts that I was forced to deal with my entire life.

The difficult fact was that upon her death, my grandfather Harry had her body
shipped to Northern Westchester – a virtual wilderness to those who lived in
Brooklyn in 1911 – to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla – a truly beautiful place. In
the early 20th century, Westchester County was essentially farms and summer homes
for the rich. But the cemetery was right off the railroad line. Lucy was the only
Dickinson buried there, as Harry was to be buried in Queens, with his second, and
ultimately third wives.

Clearly Harry Dickinson wanted to exile his dead wife as far out of his sight and mind as possible. The inexpensive cast grave marker was much the worse for wear, but was probably affordable for a bricklayer, especially given the circumstances. But it was more than that.

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