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August 15, 2022

From endless editing

The day of my birth, August 21 was hot. Floods were raging through Pennsylvania. It was the 8th month of 1955, every one of which had been in pregnancy for my mother, now soon over. Pregnancy had no dietary or lifestyle changes, smoking was unabated, and my mother once proudly declared to me “I loved being pregnant! I loved being pregnant – I could drink and drink and drink and never get drunk!”

The drugs were administered but fewer of them for this fourth time in the eleven years and three previous pregnancies. Yet there would be little awareness of birth, save awakening to a visiting baby, soon rushed out of sight, for feeding. Being a boy, immediate circumcision. 

As it was for her previous children, mother’s milk was inferior to manmade nutrition. My father was absent for the messy necessity of birth, as were all his compatriots in fatherhood as well.  Then, after two nights recovery in the little Dobbs Ferry Hospital, my mother and I came home to five-and ten-year-old siblings, long out of diapers fully enmeshed in schooling. It was clear that in the 1950’s my parents were exhausted, so they opted for the easy name selection for their last child: after my Dad: George Arthur Dickinson, but Junior. I have no idea when, but to distinguish me, in utero, from by father they code-named me “Duo” (for “Junior”) and it stuck: like Muffy or Buffy or Skip or Trip (had I been the third).

The parties were over. The jazz was on the HiFi, and Manhattan was a nice place to visit. Meals were now nutritious from fresh frozen or canned, work was from a railroad, days started and ended by the train schedule. But this last, this third child was the last brick in building the family wall to the world after the chaos of war. The new Family Home was fully remade in the hopes of the parents, now filled by three new humans not even considered a dozen years before. 

Beyond re-location, the home was my mother’s first attempt at a full interior design. To my parents the complete segue from Jazz Life to Suburban Home creation demanded the legitimacy of provenance – even if it was purchased. Somehow the manifestation of their worth was found in the history of the things they collected. It was the validation of existing things, traditional patterns, and appropriate colors. The invention of a suburban legacy by my parents and so many others who were rushing to make a place for the survivors used instant history to simulate a culture.  Unlike the objects they bought and rooms they decorated; their children turned out not to be what they chose. Like any human, each became what was given to them, by nature or (the lack of) nurture, uncontrollable beyond conception and birth. 

Once they had secured their first purchased home, my father saw the need to immediately pay off the loan given to him by his friends to buy it – so there was no money for outside professionals to do the work of renovation. That meant that my father and mother did much of the home’s renovation themselves. Today this is called “DIY”. My father used my grandfather’s inherited tools in a shop he set up in the basement to build bookshelves, cabinets.  My mother dove into wallpapering and painting, both decorative and background. Their masterpiece, done when I was five, their last DIY effort, was to fully construct largely decorative bifold doors of extreme complexity between the formal dining room (used a few times a year) and the formal entry (never used) and the capacious living room. These wide bifold doors took months to build and install, and involved marbled mirror, gold leaf, curved oak and ornamental paint of my mother’s design and father’s execution. I am not sure we ever closed them.

When the weather was good multiple gardens were made, dug from raw overgrown grass. The stones that had created our exterior walls and patios were reset and re-pointed. All by my lawyer father, son of the contractor. 

The home thus became the projection of my parent’s worth. “Antiques” were found by “antiquing” in New York City, on day trips (with a purpose) or every once in a while, an auction. What was purchased were mostly nice reproductions of “classic” furniture or objects. I only know this because I was the executor of my parents’ estates, and in the evaluation of the contents of a life collecting, there was more name-brand than provenance. They simulated a family legacy that evaporated with them. 

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