Suppose you were an only child for the first 57 years of your life. Then suppose you received a letter intimating you had a half brother. How would you feel — other than astonished, curious, and skeptical?
Would you feel excited and overjoyed to have a sibling? Or would you feel uneasy and vexed of your otherwise stable life? Would you feel relieved and blessed that you hadn’t had to share the advantages of your childhood with a sibling? Or would you feel grieved and resentful that you’d had to weather the burdens of adulthood alone? Would you feel angered or amused by your philandering father? Would you feel protective or unsympathetic toward your cuckolded mother? Or, like me, would you feel absolutely nothing?
I did feel nothing when that letter arrived. What could I feel for a sibling when I’d never experienced one? Certainly, I could have no feelings about a complete stranger. But then, I’d never thought my father was a stranger — I’d always believed I knew where I was coming from — until I began to write this chronicle that I call Derek’s Legacy and rewrite my own history.
My father, Irving Salomon, who lived from 1897 to 1979, was born and raised in Chicago, as were his parents and most of his grandparents. Since Irving’s family was not well off, he delivered newspapers, did odd jobs, and became a stock boy for the Royal Metal Manufacturing Company, a metal-furniture firm. He was employed there until 1917, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Once WWI ended, he returned to Royal Metal, learned the business from the ground up, pulled it out of near bankruptcy, became its president, and pushed it through the depression.
Irving met my mother, Cecile, in 1937. She had been born and raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, had attempted a career in ballet, and had worked in her family’s business until Irving asked her to move to Chicago to become his secretary. They married in 1937, and I was born in 1938.
Initially, we lived in Michigan City, Indiana, where Irving operated Royal Metal and Pact Farm, a summer camp for underprivileged boys. During WWII, we also quartered in Washington D.C., where Irving, rejected by the Marines due to his age, was finally accepted by the Army for a Pentagon post. In 1945, when WWII ended, we moved to a ranch in San Diego County. Irving planned again to operate a camp for underprivileged youth, but this plan did not materialize because Irving soon became engrossed in ranching – breeding Herefords, Hampshires, and quarter horses – funding colleges on behalf of the Ford Foundation, raising funds for Eisenhower, and devoting himself to the United Nations efforts. By 1958, he was a veteran of UNESCO and the UN’s Economic and Social Council and was ripe for his appointment as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s General Assembly. Until his death, Irving continued to travel for the U.N. to serve on boards of numerous colleges and universities, to take an active interest in San Diego’s cultural life, and to enjoy ranching.
I grew up at the ranch, attending first grade in a one-room school there and then transferring to an elementary school in Valley Center. I attended high school in Escondido. In 1954 and 1955, when Irving became immersed in United Nations assignments, we took up temporary residence in New York, commuting to and from the ranch. I completed high school in New York and went on to earn my B.A. from Gouchet College in Baltimore. I married in San Diego in 1958, bore two children, became involved in many of San Diego’s cultural and scientific institutions, and in 1968 decided to earn a law degree at Cal Western.
In 1974, I became a law professor, teaching real property law and land use and negotiations, but after maintaining this career for 11 years, I wanted to bridge the gap between land-use planning in theory and in practice. Hoping to help San Diego become a well-planned city — and grow humanely with self-sustaining communities – I ran for city council. I was elected and reelected, serving eight frustrating but productive years. Then I retired from politics, regained my health, renewed my interest in writing and traveling — and began to determine whether or not I had a half brother.
Monday, July 8, 1996
My incipient ex-husband, Louis Wolfsheimer, called to tell me of a curious letter he’d received. It was from a Derek Taylor, who thought he might be my half brother. Louis seemed quite amused by this, chuckling and upbeat, which Louis seldom is. He offered to read the letter and then mail it to me. Astounding! Louis finally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Tuesday, July 9
Derek’s letter arrived today. The letter, addressed to Louis at his law firm, was dated July 7, 1996, and read, word for word.
Dear Mr. Wolfsheimer,
My name is Derek Taylor. I currently reside with my wife Julie, in Seattle Washington.
A few weeks ago, I attempted to reach you via telephone. I was informed by your secretary that you would be out of the office until July first. It was probably just as well, for I feel that I can better put into writing what is difficult for me to say in words – especially to a stranger on the telephone. This letter is of a personal nature. As you read through this, I realize that you may find this letter’s contents rather shocking. I know that I would be shocked if the roles were reversed.
I have spent the last several weeks in thought as to how I might write this letter, the words to choose, and so on. Despite this, I am still at a loss of how to do so gracefully, so I will be direct.
We have never actually met. I am writing the letter because I have reason to believe that I am related to your wife, Abbe. It is quite probable that I am Abbe’s half brother. The explanation of how Abbe and I are half siblings will not be comfortable to read, but I hope that you will continue reading. I will, for now attempt to keep the explanation concise.
I believe that Irving and Cecile had a strong marriage [sic]. Yet from the late nineteen-fifties through the early nineteen-sixties, Mr. Salomon was involved with my mother, Ethyl [sic] Mortensen Taylor. They first met at a political fund-raiser for Barry Goldwater in the late nineteen-fifties. From the details I have learned, they discovered they had a great deal in common; they were both natives of Chicago; they both served in the Virginia and Washington, D.C. areas during World War II; and they both had an interest in music, the arts, and world affairs. A relationship ensued and lasted until the early nineteen-sixties. The strength of that relationship was evidenced by the fact that in 1961, Mr. Salomon helped finance a nine-month stay in France and Switzerland for my mother and her family. My mother’s family included or course myself, my older sister Frieda and my mother’s husband Harry. It is my understanding that Mr. Salomon even accompanied us on the voyage to Europe aboard the SS United States, and while living in Switzerland, my mother would on occasion take my sister and me to visit Mr. Salomon in Paris. The details of those years have been provided to me by family members, especially my sister Frieda, who is ten years my senior and has vivid recollections of Mr. Salomon, whom she still refers to as “Colonel Salomon.” Among her many recollections are those of visits to the Rancho Lilac with my mother and me whenever Mrs. Salomon was absent, a private tour of the United Nations General Assembly chambers with Mr. Salomon while he served as U.S. delegate, and dining with Mr. Salomon and our mother aboard the S.S. United States, while my mother’s husband stayed in his quarters tending to me. Some of the details have been reluctantly provided by my mother’s husband, Harry. It is a mystery why he chose to tolerate this liaison, but he chose to look the other way. Perhaps he felt that in showing patience, his marriage to my mother would survive the relationship with Mr. Salomon; shortly after her liaison with Mr. Salomon ended, so did her marriage to Harry Taylor. She subsequently married a Mr. John Benoit and was married to him until she died of cancer in July 1966.
After her death, I was raised, at my mother’s request, by Harry Taylor, whom I believed to be my father, until the age of eighteen. It was then that I was told by my sister, Frieda, that in all probability, I was not Harry Taylor’s biological son, but the son of Irving Salomon. When I confronted Harry with this hurtful discovery, he reluctantly admitted that my sister’s assertion was quite probably true. In the ensuing years, I have questioned other relatives who were very close to my mother, and they, too, have confirmed the veracity of this story, even showing me a photograph of Mr. Salomon and my mother together, taken several months after my birth in 1960.
Like one who is adopted, my quest is not to find my “real” father, because I believe that one’s real parent is the person who has loved and raised their children, even where there is no biological obligation involved. In this regard, I consider Harry Taylor to be my father, because he took me in under the most trying of circumstances and raised me as his own son. I will never have anything but love, respect, and admiration for him. However, like one who is adopted, I am also curious about my roots. Although I have made a life for myself, there are questions I have regarding my heritage, including what is my biological father’s family medical history? Do some of my interests, likes or dislikes, mirror his or possibly Abbe’s? It is very difficult to have such questions, but no answers. I have chosen to write to you in hopes that Abbe, and perhaps you as well, Mr. Wolfsheimer, may be able to provide those answers. Please do not interpret my attempts to approach you as an attempt to insinuate myself into your family. Like an adoptee, my quest if for answers regarding my biological roots, not so much a quest for “family.”
I understand that, despite any biological ties that exist between Abbe and myself, she and I are strangers to each other. As such, I completely expect that much skepticism, as well as some anxiety, will exist once you have received and shred this letter. If any negative feeling have been created as a result of this letter being written, I apologize and hope that such ill feeling will soon be surpassed by a genuine curiosity [sic] about me. My curiosity [sic] of you is real and is evidenced by this letter.
I am writing to you at this time because my wife and I will be leaving Seattle on the twenty-first of July. We plan to be visiting friends in the San Diego area on the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth before returning to Seattle. If Abbe and you are willing, we would like very much to meet with you in a public place of your choosing — perhaps a restaurant or café — to ask those questions for which I would very much like to have confidential answers. If Abbe and you are willing, please feel free to call me collect at my residence telephone number… so that a time and place may be arranged. If you prefer to respond in writing, my home address is…
Again, we will be leaving Seattle on the morning of July 21. Therefore, a reply as soon as possible would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for reading this letter and considering my request.
[signed “Derek A. Taylor”]
Read Part 2 of The Derek, Frieda, and Abbe Chronicles