A place at the table

C. R. Dixon and two of his second wife’s grandchildren.

He was never spoken of at his grandfather’s table, and no place setting ever arranged for him. Even so, he moved about our 1965 holiday home as if an ‘essential presence.’ I pictured him watching the Thanksgiving turkey being carved as the sweet potatoes were passed, and I saw him sympathize as “we the kids” cringed (and cried foul!) at my mother’s edict to enjoy all of my grandmother’s green Jell-O holiday concoction.

In his mind’s eye he must have watched us move about at Christmas, unwrapping the coveted “I wants” and the gifts of a childhood he should have had, but must have only wondered about. For you see, his place at his grandfather’s table had been given away – to me.

His name was “Daniel,”[1] and it would be many years before we met. Growing up with sisters I had always wanted a brother, and the very idea of Daniel out there somewhere seemed to fit the bill. I don’t remember when I first learned about him.

I only knew that his grandfather, C.R. Dixon,[2] had married my grandmother Alta V. Lee as his second wife and with those starry-eyed nuptials the rumor of a “lost grandson” had tagged along.[3] I acted the part of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as I eavesdropped on adult conversations about where Daniel might be.[4] No one really knew. And no one seemed to be trying very hard to look for him. Those were different times.

From my youthful vantage point I assimilated what I could about Daniel. In the 1960s, family secrets still held great power and the ten-year-old genealogist in me was trying to piece together the facts. I did learn that Daniel’s mother had made some difficult life-style choices and, unable to care for her son, had taken Daniel as a baby to live with her sister “Polly” and Daniel’s grandmother, Clifford Dixon’s first wife.[5]

At that point, “the telling” gets foggy. It seems Edna’s circumstances changed somehow, and that Polly, a young professional, could no longer raise her sister’s now six-year-old son. “Aunt Polly,” feeling too much responsibility, decided to return Daniel to his errant mother. Daniel’s mother was by then living in the flower power days of – where else? – San Francisco.     

In the spring of 2004 I decided it was time I went looking for him. 

So Polly returned Daniel to his mother. This arrangement barely lasted any time at all before Daniel’s mother, also unable to cope with a young boy, placed her son in a Catholic orphanage and walked away. Fortunately for Daniel, he was later adopted into a solid family, but one that came with its own issues.

The years rolled by, but Daniel’s fate never really left me. In the spring of 2004 I decided it was time I went looking for him. Daniel had been smart. He had been looking for his family, too. With clues here and there, I managed to trace Daniel’s story through adoption message board web sites. Discovering a post of his, I learned he knew almost nothing about his mother’s father – a man who had been, for all intents and purposes, my grandfather. The “existential genealogist” in me would not be still. I needed to contact “Daniel.”

We arranged to meet at a freeway-side “greasy spoon” of equal distance from both of us. Finally, I would be meeting this idealized brother of my childhood. Finally, I could tell him what little I knew about his grandfather, and, yes, perhaps relieve myself of some childhood survivor’s guilt. After all, I had lived the life of “the grandson”; Daniel had not.

Two grandsons meet — in 2004.

For me this was to be more than a meeting to compare our lives. Oddly enough, I had some things I needed to return to Daniel. After C.R. Dixon had passed away in the 1980s, I had inherited a few of his personal effects. Among them were a man’s signet ring and two carved wooden statues that Daniel’s grandfather had picked up in Madagascar as a Merchant Marine. I’d harbored these items for almost twenty years, but these things weren’t mine – they were Daniel’s.

Meetings like this often don’t go as planned and this one was to be no exception. Somehow I had thought that Daniel would be excited to “find his way home,” and back to some semblance of a connection to his maternal grandfather. I was naïve and ignorant in this regard. Daniel was no longer ten years old. Our conversation was cordial but stilted. Though Daniel recounted his life’s story with a wry humor, his fifty-year-old eyes still reflected little back. Daniel wanted one thing – no pity. His understanding was deep, but there would be no family reunion here and no place for recompense.

There was however one bright spot in all of this. As I returned the wooden statues from Madagascar to Daniel, I explained to him that these had been his grandfather’s – and that they were now to be only his. As I did this, his eyes shone brightly with awe and pride for his grandfather. And in the flash of that brief moment I saw the heart of a ten-year-old boy return home again, to stay – if only for a minute.

Notes

[1] “Daniel” is a pseudonym for the purposes of this post, as is the name “Polly.”

[2] Clifford Reid Dixon (1912–1985), second husband of Alta Violet (Sage) Lee.

[3] Jeff Record, White lies, Vita Brevis, 31 May 2017.

[4] “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” an American spy-fiction television series 1964–68.

[5] Edna Sofia (Hakkinen) Dixon (1913–2007), first wife of C.R. Dixon.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

5 thoughts on “A place at the table

  1. Another interesting story. I am the family genealogist to I discovered other family members who were either adopted or left to live in other relatives homes. I had found their descendants and it gave me great pleasure to explain the situation so they would be of total understanding.

  2. If the 2nd wife was Violet (Sage) Lee then she was the step grandmother of your Daniel therefore making her part of my family –Oh the Mysteries we ring up. The family historians have a wonderful time–we are a nosy group. I love it. I would like to be able to get a time machine and go back and visit some of our ancestors–don’t think I would want to stay tho–I like the opiods we have today –can’t stand pain and I think our older relatives had to bear a lot of pain. If you hear from your Daniel give him my regards and tell him he is quite a fellow to be a member of such a clan.

    Frieda Bompassee Peachey

  3. I too had lost relatives; an aunt, an uncle and seven cousins (all halves, of course). And found because I had posted the maiden name of their mother in my genealogical searches.

    A lot of questions answered, others unresolved.

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