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A Night In Toronto

September 1, 2022

After Infinite Editing

In early August of 1959, I was four. My parents decided to do our first road trip in our new/used 1957 Fleetwood Cadillac. After visiting my mother’s family, we drove onto Toronto, to meet the three siblings of my father’s long dead mother. We had dinner at the house of the two spinster Hill sisters. They all talked, smoked, were delighted by the main course, a full cow’s tongue in its entirety – my wide eyes fully scorched upon it, especially when the farthest delicate tip was expertly carved off of its standing glory – set cold for summer dinner, upon greens with a side of giggling aspic with suspended green peas held in kinetic array within its molded shape.

This terror was soon matched by the calm, even detached recounting by my father’s uncle of my father’s five years living in Canada, with his aunts. When my father asked his uncle why he spent those years, when he was between one and six in Toronto, when his father was in a Brooklyn, his uncle simply said, “We are pretty sure that your mother died while having an abortion. She never wanted to have another child with your father.”

Perhaps it was the death of my father’s father the year I was born, or that Harry was simply a nasty man who buried his first two wives, but the truth dead-panned by my uncle, who I never saw again, was as simply recounted as a birthday or an anniversary.

At 6 my father was returned from Toronto to Brooklyn to be reunited with what he thought was his mom who would go on to have two more children. At 16, one afternoon he cycled home from high school and found his mother, or so he thought, in a vale of tears, where she blurted it out that she could no longer pretend to be his birth mother, and that his actual mom was dead. Until that evening in Toronto, I do not think my father knew how his mother died. The effort by his father to limit Lucy’s connection to him must have been fully baffling.

That night in Toronto, my father’s aunts then went on to add, “Georgie was always wandering off. We could not find him for hours. We came to look for him on the docks in Late Ontario, near our house, and once when we found him, he said ‘I was looking for my Mum.’”

He was the same age as I was, sitting there that evening in Canada, listening with eyes as wide as those looking at the cow tongue.

Why do I remember this?

Why did this happen at all?

Why were the kids there to hear it?

The break point in a young man’s life, was thus bluntly revealed not only to him, at 50, but to his entire family. It is clear to me that this was the fundamental reason he was “ferocious” for the next 27 years. The reason my siblings were who they became, why my mother was cowed, and I simply watched.

There is no reason in some things. There are often no rational truths that make sense in a chaotic childhood. Bringing up unknown devastation so simply, in front of his nephew’s children is a cold cruelty of an uncommon precision. Lucy’s sibling’s must have never forgiven Harry, and by extension, my father.

When we returned to Westchester, the life of our family began to be known to a five-year-old me. The unending daytime of school then nighttime of rages was a metronome of family ritual. Those patterns became more constricting as the dysfunction eroded any sense beyond survival.

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