A Life in Bullet Points

The Bronx, New York – 1908

  • My grandmother’s sister, Lilly, age ten, was babysitting for her three-year old brother, Matthew, when she took her eyes off of him for a brief moment. It was just long enough for him to crawl on the train tracks and get run over by the trolley.
  • The train took off baby Matthew’s legs and moments later he died. This incident would forever haunt my Aunt Lilly, altering the course of her life and negatively impacting future generations to come.
  • Lilly grew up, got married, and had a son in 1924. She named him Matthew after the brother that had died in her care.
  • When Mattie was a young man he fell in love with his childhood sweetheart, Virginia Green. His over protective mother did not like his girlfriend – she feared Virginia would take Mattie away from her. Mattie was used to his mother interfering in his life, and often felt responsible for her happiness. Lilly had smothered him, making him her sun, moon and stars, and he was the ever dutiful and loving son.
  • When Virginia got pregnant, Lilly demanded that she abort the baby, stating that Mattie was not ready to get married and start a family.
  • Virginia, deeply in love with Mattie, sadly followed Lilly’s instructions in hopes that they would eventually be married and things would be made right.
  • Shortly after this incident, Mattie was called to serve in the Merchant Marines for a couple of years and promised Virginia that when he returned they’d get married.
  •  Virginia waited patiently for her fiancé’s service to end. She was very eager to start their life together.
  • Not long after his return, Lilly, sensing the imminent marriage, and ever fearful of losing her son, demanded that Mattie postpone the wedding to get a 4 year college education. Lilly, still haunted by the past, would not loosen her grip. She would not allow Mattie to live his life outside of her control. Mattie was deeply conflicted.
  • Virginia was beyond devastated as Mattie explained his mother’s terms. She knew in her heart that Lilly would never allow her son to have a life with her.
  • Virginia’s father was a policeman. He kept his .38 caliber pistol on a shelf in the house.
  • At this point, Virginia had been pushed to her breaking point. She took her father’s pistol and went over to Mattie’s house. Later, her father would state that she seemed “happy as a lark.”
  • The papers read, “An attractive 21-year-old Bronx girl, daughter of a traffic cop, shot her 23-year-old fiance with her father’s service revolver early today in the kitchen of his home and then fatally wounded herself with a bullet to the brain. Matthew Kingston was shot once in the back, the bullet emerging from his chest. Both Matthew and Virginia were taken to Fordham Hospital. His condition was too serious for questioning and the motive remains a mystery. Present and asleep in the Kingston home at the time of the shooting was Matthew’s mother, Lillian Kingston.

My Auntie Lilly was eighty-five years old when she died. I have only wonderful memories of her. She lived in Florida and drove a cool turquoise car. She’d take my sisters and I shopping, played Crazy-Eights with us, and taught us how to roll cigarettes. She had a great sense of humor, though even as a child I sensed a pre-occupation, something heavy in her heart. I loved my Auntie Lilly.

The Aftermath

As with all incidents of this magnitude, there’s a psychological ripple that’s created. In my family, the ripple was more like a riptide. My grandmother, Ruth, Lilly’s younger sister, somehow processed these events to mean that life was treacherous and that no one could be trusted, especially not women. This is how she raised her son. My father. When my mother became pregnant at age 18 and married my father, she had no idea that she had entered into a family with this understanding of the world. Three daughters later, and the ripples are still being felt. It’s been over 100 years since baby Matthew lost his life.