Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Back to Where It All Began (and Ended)


Because of my kid's interest in Colorado State University, I was able to spend yesterday in yesteryore, as it were, touring Greeley, Colorado, and visiting Philip K Dick's grave in Ft. Morgan. For those who don't know, Greeley is the town where Phil's parents met. The venerable Sam Umland has done extensive research on Phil's mother's family, and has produced addresses for a number of family homes and businesses, which made my visit much more productive Mother Dorothy was born in Cañon City, Colorado in 1900. Her father Evarestus, who seems to have gone by E. Grant and not Earl, was a lawyer, but kind of a flakey one, who would set off on various pie-in-the-sky get rich quick quests.

The Kindred family's financial struggles are writ large in the succession of smaller and sketchier abodes the family inhabited in Greeley from 1910-1920. You may remember that E. Grant was the grandfather who occasionally shot the family pets to save of feed costs during lean times, a scene revisited in Dick's Confessions of a Crap Artist.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you, Greeley is as unpleasant a place as you can imagine short of Gary, Indiana. The small town has become home to an absolutely massive meat packing plant, and the subsequent smells hang over the town like a scratch and sniff copy of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The small University of Northern Colorado doesn't add much "college town" feel to the place other than the occasional dilapidated frat house complete with weathered beer pong table in the front yard.

Umland writes, "E.G. shows up again, this time in Greeley, in 1913" [then quotes from the city directory] "Kindred E.G." (Edna), promoter, r 2036 8th Ave.14." This residence still exists, an elegant two-story house in an upper-middle-class area of Greeley near the University (what was then Colorado State Teacher's College). Evidently, he was doing well for himself."

Real estate sites list this house as one bed, one bath, just 450 sq. ft. But that's clearly incorrect. This appears to have been converted into an apartment house, as evidenced by the multiple mail boxes in front of the house. I also like the discarded sock next to the concrete path. A grumpy looking MAGA guy came out and eyed me as I took pictures.

Umland with more data from the city directory: "By 1915, the Kindred family had moved to a small, cramped (that is, "modest") home: "Kindred E.G." (Edna), promoter, r 1638 7th Ave."

This house is smaller and further from the wide thoroughfare of 8th Ave. Zillow's info describing a one bed/one bath house with just 590 sq. ft. seems accurate. You'll notice that E.G. Kindred is listed as "promoter." Umland notes in his notes, "I've been unable to ascertain precisely what a "promoter" is, but probably a "promoter" is some kind of entrepreneur." Sutin writes about Edgar Dick remembering the toddler Philip Dick as a "promoter." It's tempting to say 'here's our plucky entrepreneur who staves off the entropy of the Universe with his semi-legit flimflammery, like the so many of PKD's protagonists!"

But the odds were on the side of Entropy as E.G.'s fortunes waned further. Umland continues, "The next year, records indicate that Dorothy Grant Kindred attended Colorado State Teachers' College, Greeley (now the University of Northern Colorado) for one, perhaps two semesters, during the 1916-17 school year. No degree was awarded, of course. But in 1917, E.G. is again listed in Greeley as an attorney, his new home address 219 13th St. This house is gone or renumbered, but the address would have put the house next to the railroad tracks and in the lower-income area of Greeley. Times were obviously rough; the house could not have been very big (indeed, they continued to get smaller), and the city directory indicates that five people were living in it – the parents and three children. In 1918, Dorothy appears in the Greeley city directory, her occupation listed as "stenographer" (as her father's occupation once was); E.G. is listed as an attorney." 

Finally, E.G. splits the scene. Umland writes, "At any rate, 1919 seems to be an important year. By 1920, the following appears in the Greeley city directory: "Kindred, Dorothy, stenographer, rms 1412 7th ave." I assume this was a boarding house (the building no longer exists). Below her name is listed, "Kindred, Mrs. Edna, rms 1412 7th ave." E.G. is not listed. Given the fact that "Mrs. Edna Kindred" is listed, I take this to mean that she and E.G. separated sometime near the 1918/19 juncture, when Dorothy was 18 or 19 years old (Marion would have been about 13). So far as I have been able to ascertain, he never returned to Greeley to practice law or anything else."

So in this apartment building we would have had Dorothy, her mother Edna (Meemaw), and Dorothy's sister living together. I would assume "rms" means "rooms" so it's not likely they were sharing a room. But the decline in fortune is pronounced. 

There's a hardscrabble desperation to the whole scene. 

Umland makes a strong circumstantial case that a tuberculosis diagnosis for the Kindred family patriarch prompted the family move from a much more substantial farm and acreage in Iowa. The Dick family's arrival in Colorado is also mysterious as Sutin notes, "In 1914 [PKD's great-grandfather] William Dick suddenly decided to sell the farm [in Indiana County, Pennsylvania] 'without consulting the family.'"

In literary studies, "pathos" is sometimes understood as a very specific kind of pity, evoked by a person's lack of agency, their fundamental inability to alter the tragedy of their fate. 

It's certainly easy to feel that here for Dorothy and her family, more than a century later. But it's also easy to project that because a depressing origin story supplies a satisfying dramatic element to dry detail, too much of which has been lost to time. 

The takeaway from this, for me, is that Philip K Dick was not born to temporarily displaced middle-class parents, but rather both of his parents were shaped in very fundamental ways by grinding poverty. Edgar was the second of 14 children and the family, living on a small farm, ate in shifts. Edgar was able to obtain a degree from Georgetown University only because of his status as a veteran of World War I. 

Dorothy was able to attend college, only briefly, and was never awarded a degree. And while her father was a trained lawyer, his income and presence were unstable. It's also E.G. that Gregg Rickman suggests, rather compellingly, sexually molested Phil when he was a young boy. 

As Bill Hicks used to say, "It's a dark ride." 

In the Linn Grove Cemetery in Greeley we found the Kindred family plots, but no marked grave for Evarestus. We found George Kindred, E.G.'s father, who may have come to Greeley in search of a TB ward. 

In Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan, we found PKD's grave. It was my first visit to the site. Near Phil was Bessie Dick, Phil's paternal grandmother, along with Eunice Dick Tanner and Helen and Everett Dick who I believe were Edgar's siblings. 

Phil's grave only had a few trinkets: a Hot Wheels car and a picture with an inscription on the back that read, "There are better worlds, but we can't get to them." Talk about pathos. 

Thanks to Sam Umland for all his help!


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. THANKS and welcome back!

Akterja said...

I like your blog

Akterja said...


DickKöpfigSammeln said...

A very valuable add to my understanding of PKD. Thank you