Monday, April 6, 2015


Marvin Dickson, 1925

Two years ago (April 15, 2013), I sat comfortably sipping my hot chocolate of an early Monday morning while perusing “The Lewiston Tribune.” I casually took in the headline of an article reprinted from May 15, 1930: “Kendrick School Teacher Car Thief on Side; Nabbed at Classroom Door.” I might have passed over it altogether had not the name in the first line riveted my attention. “Marvin Dickson.”

Marvin was my dad’s cousin, the only son of Ben and Ida Dickson, Grandma Ina’s brother. Born in 1910, he grew up at Gilbert on the homestead to the north of ours in the house that his father built. (The charming house was sometimes the subject of our posts until it was torn down in 2013.)

Now, I knew Marvin had been to the “pen,” not because my parents told me – they didn’t. Marvin died years before I was born. When I inquired about him, I was told that he was a flight instructor during WWII and died in a plane crash. He was married to Lillian and they had no children. And that’s all either of my parents told me.

No, I knew Marvin had been in the penitentiary because Ina mentioned it in her letter to my dad dated January 1, 1933. At that time, Marvin had been released, and Ina was indignant that he was ignoring her. She felt that she had been supportive of him through his trouble -- had even sent him a Christmas card while he was incarcerated -- and now he couldn’t give her the time of day. Marvin’s visits to her sister Bertha only served to hurt Ina more.

Why hadn't my parents told me about all this? Perhaps they felt Marvin had paid his debt to society and it wasn’t right to bring it up. Perhaps they felt it was old history and didn’t need to be rehashed. Undoubtedly a bit of humiliation lingered that a member of the family should commit a crime. They probably hoped it would never come up again and I didn’t need to know.

And you know, when I first read that article, I felt some of that humiliation. “How can The Trib dredge up this old, hurtful story?” I asked myself. But then I realized that it was 83 years ago and a matter of public record. Besides, they did me a favor. Now I know why Marvin went to the pen.

Nevertheless, I’ve mulled over whether to post this article for two years and not just because of Marvin. His “partners in crime” were also long-time Orofino people who, as far as I know, went on to quietly live decent lives and raise families. Is it really true that some 80+ years later the details no longer hurt anyone?  I decided to post the article but remove their names “in order to protect the innocent.” Come back tomorrow and read about “Marvin the car thief.” KW


Chris said...

Oh my. Delving into family history can have some strange results. I also know that things can get started and passed around that aren't true. I look forward to your tasteful tale of the event(s).

Kathy said...

Here's what sister Harriet had to say:
I knew Marvin Dickson had served time in the “pen”. Grandma Portfors told me. I don’t remember if she told me why he was there only that he stole something. She felt he had paid his debt to society and was not to be shunned. Grandpa Portfors was always quick to give someone a second chance and hired people who had made “mistakes.”

Hallie said...

I've pondered the question about whether it's hurtful to republish mistakes of the past. In some instances, the answer is yes. However, we trust the discretion of our author/editor and I believe this circumstance is fairly safe.