Derek, Alice, and Abbe. Alice said that she could obtain as many samples of Cecile’s saliva as I needed.
When I read Derek’s letter questioning whether I might be his half sister, I didn’t know whether he’d turn out to be a bloody stranger or a blood relative. Neither did he. There was only one certainty. If we were to meet in less than three weeks, I’d better pass every interim moment investigating this bizarre possibility.
Driven by curiosity, I began to check out each statement in Derek’s letter, and when nearly every one proved plausible, I had to admit that Derek was not a stranger to my father, Irving Salomon, nor to his activities. However, it was only when I found Irving’s detailed pocket calendars that I knew Derek might be a relative.
There in my father’s 1959 pocket calendar was a carefully preserved note. It had been written by Derek’s mother, Ethel, and it read, “To Whom It May Concern, This is to certify that my son, Harry A. Taylor II, now six and a half years old, is not the son of Colonel Irving Salomon, and is the natural child of marriage of Ethel Taylor (Mortensen) and Harry A. Taylor I.”
Conceivably, Derek was my half brother.
After Derek and I met, and when I had overcome my initial shock — he was 32 years younger than I and bore a forehead identical to my father’s – we decided to research our possible siblinghood as a team. Together, we tried to reconstruct the relationship between Ethel and Irving, doggedly questioning friends, relatives, and, particularly, Derek’s half sister Frieda. Frieda, with her dimming and conflicting memories.
I had been in contact with Woody Clarke, the district attorney’s DNA expert, and after listening to Woody, I was out for blood – Cecile’s. But obtaining it from my mother wouldn’t be easy. I had decided not to disturb her at age 94, nor to inform her of Derek’s existence.
When I told Woody that it would be convenient to have the test in the Seattle area, he recommended GeneLex Laboratories. He said that Derek and I needn’t learn any medical terms to request what we wanted, which is “reverse paternity testing.” GeneLex would know what procedures were necessary.
Woody explained that the lab would conduct RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) testing, probably analyzing four or five genes, utilizing as many markers as possible. The cost, he thought, should be about $600 per sample. Six hundred dollars per sample? I was overwhelmed that for this price, DNA testing could differentiate Irving’s genetic material from that of the other six billion people on earth.
At the time, I didn’t realize that the lab could only isolate Irving’s genetic material from that of other Caucasian-American males. It could not, for purposes of accuracy, certify that Irving’s genetic material differed from each and every male in the world, because no data on Asians was yet available.
Alice, Irving’s former secretary, had been willing to collect samples of Cecile’s hair, so I called to tell her that it was scientifically acceptable to preserve these specimens in a plastic bag. “But,” I emphasized, “if you’re able to obtain a cotton swab of Cecile’s saliva – or accidentally stick a pin in her, drawing blood – please be sure to place those samples in a paper bag. These specimens need to be air-dried.”
Much to my surprise, Alice said that she could obtain as many samples of Cecile’s saliva as I needed. When Alice worked at Cecile’s, Cecile continually spit into tissues, dropping them into a nearby wastebasket.
At the same time, Alice informed me that she’d found Irving and Cecile’s checkbook for a joint account at a New York City bank. She said that many checks had been issued but that none of the stubs had been filled in. Odd. Cecile was meticulous about this, but Irving might not have been – if he were in a hurry or had something to conceal. Alice said to let her know when I’d be driving up to the ranch. She’d set out the checkbook for me, along with any other documents she thought might be pertinent.
Saturday, September 21, 1996
Early this morning, I decided to visit Derek over the long Veterans Day weekend in November rather than in October. This would give me an additional month for research plus extra time to prepare the questions I wanted to ask Frieda.
About 9:30 a.m., I called Derek to brief him on Woody Clarke’s DNA comments and to ask him to arrange an appointment for us on November 11 at GeneLex, located on Airport Road. Derek agreed enthusiastically. He knew the building, having driven by it frequently when he was giving flying lessons. Until that moment, he’d had no idea that it was a DNA testing lab.
I told Derek that I’d bring samples of Cecile’s saliva and try to obtain some of Irving’s hair from his old military berets or “cowboy” hats – although he’d generously lent these hats to ranch guests who needed protection from the sun. I asked Derek to find out how long the analysis would take. But I did not ask him whether Frieda might be willing to give blood. I wasn’t even sure that Derek had informed her about our meetings.
A moment or two later, Derek told me that Frieda was visiting him even as we spoke and that she’d be happy to meet with us in Seattle. He tempered this news with the comment that he was reluctant to include Harry at our meeting due to his frail health. I was excited, realizing that Frieda now knew – to some degree – the extent of our research and was willing to help us.
I told Derek about discovering the address and physical location of the Renette plus its tenant listings. When I said I couldn’t find any tenant named Mortensen, Taylor, or Benoit, Derek suggested that John Benoit might have lived there under his adoptive name of Beatty.
Eureka! Derek had supplied another piece of the puzzle, or at least another clue. No wonder, I’d been unable to locate a copy of the Benoit marriage license in San Diego County. As I was describing my fruitless search to Derek, I could hear Frieda ask Derek to tell me that she thought Ethel and John were married in Los Angeles in 1963 or, more likely, 1964. When I asked when and where they were divorced, Frieda told me via Derek that they weren’t, that Ethel’s family had chased him away upon her death.
We then discussed Irving’s passports. I told Derek that Irving must have held three passports simultaneously and that one of them was missing. I suggested that Derek request the passport applications of Ethel, Harry, Frieda and himself. They might yield clues as to the family’s 1961 visits with Irving, since these applications normally require information about a traveler’s proposed itinerary.
Then I presented my fiancé David’s theory that anyone who possesses three valid passports simultaneously must be working for the government, perhaps the CIA. Derek paused and responded with a question. If Irving were affiliated with the CIA, wouldn’t this agency have had extensive control over his personal and financial life? I thought so. Could this be why the Renette account books had disappeared?
Derek asked me if I had talked with Ethel’s friend Roberta Sevic. I reported all that Roberta said, including her tale about the hospital visit in which Ethel and Harry had elevator sex. Derek said he’d heard this story. Supposedly, he added, a very pregnant Ethel had made love to Harry, hoping to convince him that he was indeed Derek’s father.
It made more sense to believe that Ethel and Harry had had sex during previous visits – when she was not so obviously pregnant – in which case Harry might have been fooled. On the other hand, Harry might have believed that he was the father through artificial insemination.
Derek laughed when I told him that, according to Roberta Sevic, Ethel had claimed to be Princess Frederika of Denmark and that was supposedly how she had secured her job at either the Thearle Music Co. or the Southern California Music Institute.
Derek relayed this to Frieda, who commented that Ethel did say from time to time that she was Princess Frederika, even though Ethel didn’t believe it. Frieda said that the Mortensen family frequently claimed to be descendants of Danish royalty and that Ethel had simply picked up on this. Derek laughed and rationalized that everyone is related somehow to royalty at some point in history. No wonder Irving had retained that letter outlining the lineage of the Danish royals!
Derek and I tried again to determine the time and place that Ethel and Irving had met. I told him that the tenth anniversary of San Diego’s UN Association was celebrated on October 22, 1959 when Ethel was already six months pregnant. Frieda guessed that they’d probably met at a prior UN anniversary, as she first saw Irving when she was about eight years old.
When the conversation returned to DNA, I asked if Derek had any possession of Ethel’s that might yield a sample of her genetic material. He reiterated that after Ethel’s death, her family had appropriated everything she owned. I suggested that Derek try to obtain blood samples from Ethel’s doctors or from the hospitals that cared for her in 1966. I thought that some slides might still exist if they were considered valuable for cancer research.
Frieda recalled that Ethel had first been admitted to Parkridge Hospital in the Chicago suburbs – where she was visited by Irving. Later, she’d been moved to Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and finally, to Chicago’s Veteran’s Hospital where she died on July 28, 1966. Derek said he’d contact these institutions to see if any of Ethel’s blood samples might still be available.
Since Frieda had been supplying me with information through Derek, Derek asked if I wanted to speak to her directly. Of course, I did. At first, Frieda seemed uneasy talking to me, but she soon warmed up – the topic of John Benoit.
Frieda described Ethel and John’s relationship as extremely volatile. They were, she said, separated as often as they were together. John had been a Navy chief, a SEAL perhaps, who had retired about the same time that Harry had, in 1959 or 1960. He was tall and thin, previously married, and a father, and he had worked as a machinist for Kennicott Copper in Arizona. Frieda said that John’s birth name had been Benoit, but because he’d been adopted when quite small, he’d taken the name of his adoptive parents. He’d even enlisted in the service under the name John L. Beatty.
Frieda said that she’d tried to locate John in 1975. She’d written the Department of the Navy but had received no response, either from him or the Navy. She said that she’d also asked Aunt Katherine about him, but Aunt Katherine – who Frieda said was not to be trusted – only knew that John had married a wealthy Chicago woman.
I asked Frieda whether Irving had visited the Renette. Frieda replied that he had, many, many times. Frieda also remembered shopping with her mother for the complex. Irving had opened several charge accounts for Ethel so that she could buy supplies, hardware, and appliances such as garbage disposals. This meant that the Renette probably had an account at San Diego Hardware. Would that account still be on file? Would it be listed under Salomon or Taylor or the Renette or the ABC corporation?
Frieda recalled that Irving gave her a tour of California Western University when she was 14 or 15. When she told him how beautiful the campus was, Irving, a trustee, said that he’d help her attend college there. This didn’t come to pass due to Ethel’s death and Frieda’s subsequent move to Seattle. However, Frieda remembers that when her cousin Kathy Penoyer came to visit in 1965, Irving paid Kathy’s tuition at Cal Western for one semester, probably beginning in September. By then, Ethel and the children had moved from the Renette to an El Cajon ranchette near the home of Aunt Florence Ragland, Uncle Ray’s ex-wife.
I asked whether Irving had funded Frieda’s or Derek’s education. Frieda said no. When I asked if Irving might have tried to do so through a family member, Frieda thought not. Still, she recalled that Irving had discussed some matter with her grandmother Katherine Hanson, both in Illinois and Arizona.
The Arizona addresses and phone numbers scribbled in the back of Irving’s pocket calendars now made sense. Grandmother Hanson had owned a home in Arizona. Uncle Ray had been a bail bondsman in Arizona. John Benoit had worked for a mining company in Arizona. Did Irving attend a Goldwater forum there, confusing Frieda as to when and where he and Ethel met?
Shifting gears, Frieda said that when the family journeyed from St. Gallen, Switzerland, to visit Irving, he had lodged them in the finest hotels of Paris and Geneva – one with an elevator made from Marie Antoinette’s coach. The Meurice in Paris? Frieda had later read that these hotels were among the top ten in the world.
In contrast, Harry had stayed in a pension during these visits. Harry, nonetheless, treasures a medallion, a souvenir from the chef of a famous Parisian restaurant where Irving took Ethel to dine. La Tour D’Argent? When I asked why Harry would keep this memento, Frieda said that Harry passionately loved Ethel and tolerated everything she did.
I brought Frieda back to the subject of Irving’s peculiar failure to provide for Derek’s education. I asked her why she thought this had happened. She said that perhaps Irving hadn’t wanted his wife or me to find out about Derek. She added that if Irving had provided for Derek, he might have been subject to Ethel’s predatory relatives. They might have enjoyed funds that belonged to Derek and/or Frieda. Indeed, they might have been blackmailing Irving.
While I silently considered this, Frieda proceeded to bolster her predatory theory. She said that after Ethel died, Irving still had contact with Ethel’s mother and sister – even as late as 1971. Frieda then related an embarrassing story. She said that in 1971, when she was financially desperate, she called Irving to ask for his help. He said that he couldn’t assist her, and a few hours later, Aunt Katherine called Frieda, telling her to “back off,” that Irving had been most upset by Frieda’s call. It was obvious to Frieda that Irving had called Aunt Katherine about her and that was why Aunt Katherine had chastised her.
Is it possible that Aunt Katherine did not want Frieda interfering with arrangements she had with Irving? Was Katherine afraid that Frieda might kill the goose that was laying Katherine’s golden eggs?
Frieda had been surprised to hear from Katherine because after Ethel passed away, Aunt Katherine and Uncle Ray would have nothing to do with her or Derek. According to Frieda, the day after the funeral, they’d put Frieda and Derek on a train to Seattle with only one change of clothes; they could hardly wait to get rid of the children.
Before Frieda returned the phone to Derek, she volunteered a final story. After her grandmother died – about 20 years ago – Frieda received a call from her step-grandfather, Louis Goslin of Montreal. Goslin said that her grandmother had left her $1000, derived from an insurance policy on Ethel’s life. Goslin said that her grandmother had also set aside some money for Derek. Neither child received a penny.
When Derek and I resumed our conversation, I asked him to sort out the various family names, addresses, and phone numbers I’d found in Irving’s pocket calendars. I soon learned that Ethel had one sister – Katherine – and three brothers – Ray, Fred, and another killed in WWII. Ray was formerly married to Aunt Florence Raglan, who lives or lived on a ranch – with horses – on Jamacha Road in San Diego, while Ethel’s sister Katherine was married to Leslie Penoyer and lived in Villa Park, Illinois. Katherine Hanson, listed at an address in Youngstown, Arizona, was Ethel’s mother. She lived in Chicago and in Arizona where she had inherited a home near Sun City from her own mother. Derek’s great-grandmother, whose name was Frieda Bryan.
After Derek and I said goodbye, my mind continued to produce questions. If Ethel passed away in 1966, why did Irving stay in contact with Ethel’s family until 1971 or even later? Because Derek was his son? Not likely, since Irving had Harry’s address in Seattle and could have contacted Derek there. Because Irving was being blackmailed? Possibly. Uncle Ray was not above this, said Frieda, though she didn’t see how Irving could have been blackmailed; he could have denied any allegations. Still, Irving might have done almost anything to avoid a scandal. It would have shattered his marriage, his UN career, and any possible government assignment.
Wednesday, September 25
Alice called to say that she’d collected a half a dozen samples of Cecile’s saliva and would mail them to me promptly. I was delighted when they arrived on September 27, beautifully preserved in the mandatory paper bag and accompanied by a plastic bag containing Cecile’s hair.
One of Cecile’s doctors returned my call. I told him that a young man who believed he was Irving’s child had contacted me and that we planned to have DNA testing on November 11 in Seattle. I explained that our test would be 90 percent conclusive if GeneLex had a sample of Cecile’s blood but that, at present, I had access only to her saliva. I asked if he had any of her blood samples, or, if not, whether she was scheduled to have a blood test before November 11, and in either case, whether he could provide me with a sample.
As I’d anticipated, the doctor brought up the questionable legality of obtaining and using a patient’s blood without her consent. I told him that I didn’t think I should burden Cecile with this matter and he agreed. I also said that I knew how important it was to have a patient’s consent to any invasive procedure and that I agreed wholeheartedly with this policy. However, I said I didn’t think it an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to take a blood sample unbeknownst to the patient, unless that blood was later used to prosecute that patient. I said I was fairly certain it would not be illegal to use that blood for a totally unrelated purpose, such as to determine paternity, particularly where both father and the mother of the child were deceased.
Oddly enough, the doctor asked if Irving’s estate might come under attack. When I explained that the statute of limitations barred any action, he seemed mollified and then said he’d obtain some legal and medical opinions as to whether he should honor my request. He promised to call when he knew more, but he never did.
Sunday, September 29
When I called Derek, I felt very motherly toward him and immediately asked how he was getting along in his studies. I was filled with parental pride when Derek spoke of his high GPA, which made him eligible for a scholarship. If we do turn out to be siblings, I imagine that I will relate to him more as a mother than as a sister, probably because of our age difference and because I know how to be a mother and haven’t the faintest idea of how to be a sister. This may be best if Frieda feels threatened by the possibility of Derek treating me as a half sister.
We spoke of Frieda. Derek said Frieda thought that my September 21 phone call was a setup, that I knew she would be visiting him then and deliberately called – for what reason I cannot fathom. Derek said that since he was unable to convince her otherwise, he dropped the subject.
Derek told me that Frieda had invited herself to visit on September 21, just as she had two weeks previously. She was having problems with her husband and oldest son, and, as a result, wanted to get away.
Derek said that Frieda was astonished when he told her of meeting with me in San Diego. He said that she exhibited two conflicting attitudes. First, she seemed resentful that Derek had made amiable contact with me. She had, via a photograph, tracked down her own father in the late ‘70s, but the man had told her to “take a hike.” Even though he’d had a lengthy affair with Ethel, he gave Frieda a very chilly reception.
Second, Frieda seemed happy that Derek had located me, though disturbed by the thought that she might have to compete for or share him. Derek said he tried to reassure her, explaining that he’d grown up with her and that she’d been both his sister and surrogate mother. He acknowledged that from the day he was born, although she’d been loath to do so, Frieda had been forced to take responsibility for him so that Ethel could be free to do whatever she pleased.
Derek and I also spoke of our respective research. Via the Internet, Derek had tracked down Aunt Katherine, now living in Elizabeth, Illinois. He said that he was reluctant to call her because he hadn’t spoken to her for over six years and he knew that she’d suffered several strokes. I suggested that her condition might make her less inhibited about talking with Derek.
Derek then briefed me on our upcoming DNA test. Darlene at GeneLex had supplied him with both good news and bad. The good news was that the lab could determine kinship with 90 to 95 percent accuracy by drawing blood from just the two of us. This accuracy rate would rise with samples from either of our parents or Frieda.
The bad news was this: With samples from both Irving and Ethel, the analysis can be completed in three months. Without them, we cannot anticipate results before six months. Then too, because our test is voluntary, it’s probable that our blood samples won’t be analyzed as quickly as those required for date-certain legal proceedings. In any event, we will have samples drawn on Friday, November 8, because the lab will be closed for Veterans Day on Monday, November 11.
Thursday, October 3
Two days ago, I was filled with enthusiasm for my research and the possibility of belated sisterhood. Today, I was propelled into a universe of diagnoses and treatments for the life-threatening aneurysm pulsing in the sensory center of my brain. Although I should treat this threat as irrelevant to my research and this chronicle, I can’t. My anxiety permeates it because I know it may never be completed. If I die, become a vegetable, or lose my ability to remember and/or string two sentences together, then – that’s all she wrote. I’ll never know if I have a brother.
At the moment, I am to limit my activities, avoid high blood pressure – as well as aspirin and sex – and have surgery promptly. But since surgery is not likely until mid-November, I should be able to meet Derek and Frieda in Seattle and submit a blood sample for our DNA tests. Certainly, our DNA tests can and will proceed under any circumstances – plenty of my blood has been and will be drawn. But whether our test results are positive or negative, Derek may never find the puzzle pieces he seeks and I may never know what it’s like to put a puzzle together with my brother.
Saturday, October 12
Today, David and I spent six hours at the ranch, rummaging through boxes of memorabilia that Alice had set out for me. We found quantities of material denoting Irving’s interests in everything from inventing games to philosophizing about God, but we found little evidencing his relationships with Ethel and Derek.
Our most important find was connected to that checkbook for Irving and Cecile’s joint account in New York City. The checkbook stubs were blank and few checks had been issued, but in the bottom of an old box decorated with mouse droppings we came upon a series of check stubs matching those in the checkbook. All bore only Irving’s handwriting.
The first few stubs marked Irving’s cash deposits and withdrawals from September of 1964 through January of 1965. But the next two stubs evidenced payments of $364 to Wesley Memorial Hospital on May 19, 1966, and payment of $1081.63 to Fred Mortensen, Ethel’s brother, on June 6, 1966. Succeeding stubs indicated Irving’s random cash withdrawals until the bank account was closed in November of 1971.
Clearly, this was an account that Irving had concealed from Cecile and Alice. He had taken care to destroy all of the checks issued on it, as well as every other stub. It was therefore most peculiar that he had retained those few stubs.
Of dubious importance were an undated newspaper item tattling that Irving and Cecile were denied passage on a ship to Peru, ironically because Irving’s passport had expired; Irving’s pocket calendars for 1952, 1956, and those from 1970 to 1975, containing no reference to Ethel’s family, photos of Irving as a young man, in which he did resemble Derek; photos of Irving with Myrna Loy, and others with a leggy blonde; stationary prepared for United Nations Week in San Diego – October 18 through 24, 1959 – a week during which Ethel and Irving could have met in a previous year; a letter from the Escondido chief of police to an unnamed agency doing a background check on Irving; and a letter from Irving lauding the CIA.
What David and I struggled to find was evidence of the Renette and its account books and articles or materials indicating Irving’s whereabouts at the time of Derek’s conception and Ethel’s death. We plan – hope – to return to the ranch in order to examine Irving’s income tax forms from 1956 through 1966. Perhaps we’ll discover just how the Renette was reported and the name of the partnership or corporation that sheltered this property. If we find this and locate its bank, we may be able to determine how much salary Ethel drew for managing the Renette and how much she received in bonuses – for herself, for Derek, or for an educational trust in his name.
David and I left the ranch with a small paper bag of materials, most of them more interesting than revealing. We also drove away with one of Irving’s hairbrushes containing a great deal of gray hair – and one hat and two caps that he wore during WWII. These were mildewed and contained mouse droppings, but if the mildew resulted from Irving’s perspiration, they might be usable for DNA testing. Perhaps there is even a hair or two in them that doesn’t belong to a mouse.
Friday, October 18
Initially, I postponed my trip to the county recorder to search title on the Renette because I had no street address for it. Then I postponed it due to my medical condition. But today, armed with the Renette address and unusual optimism, I headed for the County Administration Center. I stopped first in the county clerk’s office, hoping to find the marriage license of Ethel Mortensen Hanson Taylor to John L. Beatty/Benoit, but a search of the computerized records from 1905 through 1973 produced nothing. Oh well, I thought. The state registrar will have those records – if Ethel and John happened to marry in California.
The county recorder’s office was my next stop. This time I bounced in, gave the clerk the address of the Renette and asked her to help me locate it on the tract index. Impossible, she said. The county did not have a tract index for conveyances in the 1950s and 1960s. Try the grantor-grantee index she said.
My blood pressure rose as I recalled my earlier trek through this index coupled with my day in El Cajon searching for the address of the Renette. Calming myself, I decided to use the grantee index first and methodically try to find the date on which Irving Salomon was granted the property. My search took three hours.
Although the skittering microfilm with its small print and even smaller numbers made me bleary-eyed after only a few minutes, I carefully jotted down nearly every conveyance to Irving from July 1954 to June of 1963. I did not want to limit my research to deeds granted him, since I believed that he might have taken an interest in the Renette via any form of conveyance: a trust deed, assignment of rents, or even a trust.
In all, I wrote down the grantor(s) names; the designation of the instrument, i.e. a deed or trust deed; the four digit book number in which it was located; the three digit page number in that book; the date of the conveyance and the four to six digit file number. The task seemed endless due to my recent dyslexia and consequent need to check each number two or three times. When the task was completed, I had noted 39 transactions from December 1956 through March 1962. I found no further transactions from that date forward, but to be thorough, I continued to search through June 1963.
I then resigned myself to looking at every conveyancing document on the list, since the microfilm did not indicate the address of the land transferred. When one of the assistants ushered me to the wall of microfilm cartridges, shelved in about 40 floor-to-ceiling sliding panels with who know how many cartridges per shelf, I could only wince. Aware of the hours I’d already spent scanning the microfilm, the young red-haired woman offered to help.
I was reluctant to accept her assistance when she insisted that I review the deeds first rather than moving down the list of all conveyances chronologically, but within 20 minutes, she had via computer scanned all the deeds. And wouldn’t you know it, the last deed — the very last of the transactions on my list — was that of the Renette?
Everyone complains that they only find what they’re looking for in the last place they look. Naturally, it’s in the last place they look; they stopped looking when they find it. In this case, the Renette deed was in the last place I ever would have looked.
[text missing from archives]
Saturday, November 2
Derek and I seem to be in telepathic communication. I called just as he was about to call me — we were both eager to plan the reunion for the Veterans Day weekend beginning November 8. Derek said that he would meet me at the airport at 12:30 that day. From there, we would proceed to GeneLex.
The splendid news was that Frieda would join us! She had agreed to give a blood sample, which meant that our exclusionary rated once 90 percent for just Derek and me, can now rise substantially. And we will know with certainty if we are not half siblings.
Simply stated, since Derek and Frieda have the same mother, and consequently some of the same genetic material, Derek's genetic material derived from Ethel can be isolated and discarded. The remaining genetic material in Derek's DNA sample will then be that of his father — and this will either match mine or not.
Were we to have a sample of Cecile's blood — so that we could similarly isolate and discard the genetic material I derived from her — we could identify the DNA precisely and compare it to that of Derek's father, whoever he might be. But we cannot, unless we have enough blood from Cecile to fill a finger-shaped vial. A droplet from a pinprick wouldn't be sufficient.
Happily, Darlene doesn't think we'll need Cecile's blood if we have Freida's. Nevertheless, I plan to give the samples of Cecile's saliva and hair. as well as Irving’s WWII hats and hairbrush, just in case Frieda decides that she won't assist us.
According to Derek, Frieda is a bit jealous that Derek may have located his biological father. She longs to ask Harry for a sample of his blood, apparently believing in the microscopic chance that he may be her true father. Still, she knows better. She has already located her biological father and been rejected by him.
Derek said he was keenly looking forward to escorting us around Seattle. This prompted me to tell him that was not permitted to do much because I had a brain aneurysm with surgery just two weeks away. My tongue felt like an emery board when I broke this t news to Derek. I knew he wanted to hear that his potential family members had no serious medical problems. Nevertheless, Derek took this well, and I soon engaged him in an earnest debriefing session.
I first informed Derek that I'd been trying to obtain Mercy Hospital's financial records, hoping for the revelation that Irving had paid Ethel's obstetrical bills. I said that might provide sound evidence of his paternity, but Derek was dubious. He though that the Navy probably paid Ethel's medical expenses even though he'd been delivered at Mercy. A Navy wife, he said, can normally choose her own medical providers; all she need do for military coverage is present proper government identification and fill out the required forms. I was disappointed to hear this, but Derek and I agreed that even if there was little or no chance of obtaining these records.
We then discussed the course of our prospective relationship. We decided that if Irving's paternity were confirmed through DNA, we'd have no need for further research. But we did think it would be fascinating to continue our investigation as siblings. We also decided that even if Irving's paternity were disproved, we'd still have a strong bond. In a sense, we were related through the relationship of his mother and my father. And because their lengthy affair must have changed our lives individually, if not jointly, it would be valuable for us to learn more about their relationship and how it affected us.
Derek then said that he had been pondering their relationship for quite some time. Referring to the addresses in the back of Irving's calendars, he said he'd been asking himself why Irving would keep track of Ethel and her family after she married John Benoit/Beatty. And why Irving continued to see Ethel when he must have known she was seeing other men. Derek thought that Irving did this because he believed Derek to be his son, and I had to agree, since among the addresses were those of Harry, and Harry has custody of Derek.
Since we last spoke, Derek had asked Harry why he had so many years continued to live with Ethel, tolerating her infidelities. At first, Harry replied that he loved her, but then he lowered his guard and spoke a truth that had probably grieved him for many year. He acknowledged that he had enjoyed the benefits of all that Irving had given Ethel. All this time Harry had protected himself by denying this situation.
Derek and I tried to reconstruct the facts. I seems that when Harry was discharged from Balboa Naval Hospital in December 1959, he was simultaneously discharged from the Navy. He had served since 1942, and though he was committed to serve 20 years, it was likely that his illness, coupled with postwar military policies, precluded further military duty. It is clear that Harry held no job in 1961 since he was pioneering for the Baha'i in Switzerland, and it is likely that he was not fully employed when he retuned to San Diego in 1962. If this were the case, then Harry might indeed feel guilty for receiving Irving;s support.
On the other hand, if Harry didn’t move into the Renette with Ethel, his guilt should have diminished to some extent. Derek thinks it possible that Harry never lived at the Renette, because Harry and Ethel were divorced shortly after their return to San Diego. Derek recalls that in 1973, when he was visiting relatives in San Diego, Harry pointed out the Renette to him and said, “That’s where Colonel Salomon put up your mother.” When Derek asked who Colonel Salomon was, Harry replied, “He was just a friend of your mother’s.” Derek said that Irving’s name was not mentioned again until he was 18 years old.
As we concluded our phone call, I emphasized how eager I was to spend time with Frieda. Derek assured me that I would but cautioned that she can present two faces. He said that when everything is going well for her, she can be outgoing, upbeat, and loving, but when she‘s unhappy, she may fabricate stories about him, plying them behind his back. Derek said I’d probably observe the distance between them, the love-hate relationship that began when he broke free from her mothering.
Monday, November 4
In the wee hours, it struck me that Irving may have ruled out a trust for Derek’s education. He may have found this far too risky once he’d weighed his humanitarian desire to educate others against his overwhelming need to protect his reputation. Indeed, his humanitarian desires were the building blocks of his reputation; they were not to be used to undermine it.
Irving, who was highly intelligent and sophisticated in legal and business matters, must have asked himself how he could set up a secret trust for Derek’s education:
If I make Ethel the trustee, I risk exposure by placing my name on a recorded document. If I transfer the funds to a bank, I must reveal my social security or tax ID number. And if I ask a private party or a lawyer to execute the legal documents, the funds may be mismanaged and still traceable to me.
It would be wisest to avoid any paper trail and make a cash gift to Derek. But who could serve as trustee? Ethel or a member of her family? Can I rely on them to distribute the cash to Derek? Harry? Even if I can trust him, how can I rationalize my extraordinary interest in Derek and ask him to serve as my agent?
Irving probably concluded that he couldn’t finance Derek’s education without being identified as Derek’s father.
Friday, November 8
When David and I landed in Seattle, Derek gave us a traditional Northwest welcome of warm hugs, a charming bouquet of dried flowers, and a box of delicious smoked salmon. I regretted that I hadn’t had a minute to buy him and Frieda a gift of spicy Southwest flavors, but my hours had been jammed with pre-surgery busywork. We were to return from Seattle late Monday and fly to Phoenix and the hospital early Thursday.
Since we arrived at 12:30 p.m., and were not to have our blood drawn for the DNA tests until 2:00 p.m., Derek drove us by his first home in Seattle. The neighborhood streets were wide, uncurbed, and lined with tall oak, maple, aspen, and liquid amber, all dressed in magnificent fall colors. Their reds, crimsons, burgundies, oranges, golds, and yellows, painted on a canvas permanently brushed with evergreens, made me wish that I had lived there too, rather than in the low, brushy isolation of the ranch.
For me, this neighborhood brought back wistful childhood yearnings for nearby playmates. For Derek, this snuggle of homes offered his first encounter with stable human beings – a parent and friends that he could have for a lifetime. Until then, Derek and Frieda, in Ethel’s custody, had lived in various parts of California, Arizona, and Illinois – a few months here and a few months there, moving from school to school and apartment to apartment.
While I felt sorry for Derek, the small boy of 6 ½ who was hastily dispatched to Seattle, I felt greater sympathy for 16-year old Frieda, his sister, mother and companion. Frieda must have expected nothing more from Seattle than another indefinite stay with another rejecting relative. She probably thought, at least subconsciously, that had Harry really loved her, he wouldn’t have relinquished her four years earlier when Ethel remarried. In addition, Frieda knew the dark reason why she and Derek had been shipped to Seattle just days after Ethel’s death. Uncle Ray had called Harry and demanded that he take Derek; if he refused, he’d put Frieda out on the streets. Harry took custody of both children.
Leaving the fall foliage and the distant past, we drove by Boeing Field. Derek had flown here as a student, pilot, and flight instructor. Minutes later, we parked at a fairly new industrial complex where the GeneLex Lab was located just below street level in a modern building. Directly above GeneLex were the Starbucks Coffee corporate offices and, 100 yards away, the gigantic Starbucks roasting plant. I mention this because the building’s ground-floor deli refuses to serve coffee in the afternoon. I thought this rather comical, but Derek didn’t. As a member of Seattle’s coffee loving population, Derek found it unforgivable.
Actually, we all needed a good jolt of coffee, for several unsettling events occurred. First Frieda did not show up. This made me extremely fretful. I wasn’t certain that she’d ever show up for testing. Then, after Darlene helped us fill out forms and photographed us for positive identification, we learned that Frieda was probably coming in on Monday, Veterans Day. Derek, who’d been told that the lab would be closed for the holiday, was annoyed to learn that it would now be open. He’d cut Friday classes and driven the six hours to Seattle alone, while Julie, who could not leave work, would have to take the midnight bus to Seattle. To top it off, Derek passed out after his blood was drawn, and no amount of consolation could relieve his embarrassment. He felt so humiliated that even Howard Coleman, the genial owner of GeneLex, couldn’t convince him that this was the norm – for men, although not for women. Coffee please!
Subsequently, we toured GeneLex and learned that the DNA analysis are completed in-house to avoid errors and mail-service problems; that 70 percent of the analyses are performed to determine kinship rather that to identify felons; that Cecile’s saliva would be very helpful, providing us with a 95 percent inclusion ratio; but that Irving’s hats and hairbrushes would probably be unusable. Samples derived from them would probably be too old or contaminated.
After we left GeneLex I wondered aloud whether Irving would have used DNA testing if it had been available to him in the 1970s. Then Derek and I both wondered aloud if we had other half siblings sired by Irving – perhaps in many parts of the world.
In the late afternoon and early evening, Derek called Frieda numerous times, as she’d said she would join us for dinner. When her children said that she wasn’t home and was long overdue, I became very nervous. I felt certain that she wanted to avoid me and that she would not furnish us with any further information nor with her blood sample. Derek said she would, but I wasn’t convinced. Eventually, savoring a Seattle dining experience, I forgot about Frieda and assisted David and Derek as they journeyed through Irving’s brain.
Initially we questioned what might have happened had Derek approached Irving, seeking an admission of his fatherhood. Would Irving have rejected him or acknowledged him? Could we hope to determine Irving’s reaction based on his prior conduct?
This led us into a discussion of how Irving might have reacted to Ethel’s pregnancy and Ethel’s probable joy at this turn of events. Ethel had always wanted another child and would not have considered terminating the pregnancy, especially in view of her religious beliefs. Was Irving, who had also wanted another child and especially a son, equally delighted? Perhaps Derek came as no surprise. Perhaps Ethel had deliberately refrained from practicing birth control. Irving certainly had.
Derek thought Irving would have been “horrified” to learn that Ethel was pregnant. He said that he felt fairly certain of this, perhaps because he’d inherited some of Irving’s reasoning abilities. At this juncture, he rhythmically tightened his jaw, just the way Irving used to do when he was engrossed in stressful thoughts. “Just horrified.” Derek clenched and reiterated.
I was horrified myself to realize that Derek, since the age of 18, had been obsessed with the thought that Irving would have rejected him and considered him, at most, no more than an accident. Consequently, I disagreed vehemently, saying that Irving would have been anything but horrified. He would have been proud to have the son he always wanted, and particularly at age 63. If he had chosen not to acknowledge Derek, it would have been because he was placed in a no-win situation, compelled to choose between his public image and overtly enjoying his illegitimate son.
Derek then contributed the insightful observation that Irving had a great sense of duty – a duty toward Derek, but also a duty to his family and a duty to his country. Derek said that Irving really had no choice, that if he’d acknowledged Derek publicly or sought to adopt him, he would have destroyed his marriage, his business, and his government-service career – all without gaining custody of Derek. He suggested that Cecile might have wiped him out financially and that Ethel’s family might have engaged him in the custody battle of the decade, one that would have permanently tarnished his reputation and quashed any hope he had of further serving his country. Derek and I decided that Irving probably had put himself through this same pragmatic analysis.
Derek then wanted to know if Irving was arrogant or conceited. My answer was no. With arrogance or conceit, Irving would have alienated those he needed most to assist him in climbing to the highest pinnacle. However, I said, Irving did demand respect, deference, praise, and particularly, recognition of his authority, expertise, prestige, and generosity. This he demanded from everyone – from family members and friends to new acquaintances.
Before the evening ended, I briefed Derek on the check stubs evidencing Irving’s payments to Fred Mortensen and the Westlake Hospital; Irving’s patriotic commentaries; and Irving’s correspondence pointing to his possible CIA affiliation, i.e., his letters indicating he had entertained the president of South Vietnam at the ranch during the Vietnamese War.
Saturday, November 9
In the morning, David and I made our traditional walk through Pike’s Market, watching vendors open their colorful stalls and ducking fishmongers who attract tourists by tossing 20-pound fish back and forth like footballs. Continuing our morning ritual, David and I stopped at Le Panier to devour flaky, fudge-filled pastries and to purchase a few more to share with Derek, Julie, and Frieda. I nervously hoped that Frieda would join us for the day and I wasn’t disappointed.
Frieda is a pretty, overweight blonde with a beautiful, fair complexion. Physically, she does not resemble Derek, but she does share his warm, outgoing personality.
Frieda did not offer any apology or reason for her failure to appear for the DNA tests or for dinner the previous evening. She simply greeted me with a bear hug and the traditional welcoming bouquet.
Before long, all five of us – Julie had arrived by midnight bus – set forth on a fascinating tour of Seattle’s historic underground city. Our guide, an excellent, nonstop comedian, put us in high spirits, spirits that grew even higher that afternoon as we consumed endless cups of coffee and exchanged questions and answers. While I didn’t ask every question I had in mind, I received many more answers than anticipated.
Q: Did Frieda have any photographs of Irving with Ethel, Derek or herself?
A: No. Frieda recalls a photo taken of Irving with Derek when Derek was about five months old and living with his family at Voltaire Street. She thinks that Harry may have it. Derek added that Harry has a box of photographs and other memorabilia that he cautiously guards beneath his bed. I suggested that Derek ask Harry’s permission to explore this box, but Derek was reluctant to invade Harry’s privacy. He also believes that any materials related to his birth have probably been destroyed.
Q: Does Frieda believe that Derek is Irving’s son?
A: Frieda only believes that Derek is not Harry’s son, and for several reasons. Harry was probably sterile, since his case of adolescent mumps went untreated. Ethel had no pregnancies between the births of Frieda and Derek; when Harry was incarcerated at Balboa Naval Hospital, he was not permitted to have physical contact with anyone. Isolated and masked, he could visit with Ethel only when she stood outside the building beneath his TB ward. Elevator sex was an impossibility, the building had only one elevator and it was strictly reserved for staff use.
Q: When did Irving and Ethel meet?
A: Since Frieda recalls that Irving took her to a San Diego parade for Eisenhower in 1958, she believes that he met Ethel much earlier. Probably in 1956, and probably during the week of October 22, when the UN celebrated its tenth anniversary in the Japanese Gardens in Balboa Park.
Although Frieda thinks that she was only about seven years old at the time, she recalls attending this party with Ethel. Ethel was there representing the Baha’i, who were vitally interested in the UN as a force for world peace and brotherhood. Brotherhood is right! Irving must have attended, and if Ethel sought him out, flattering him as a man of prominence, it’s quite likely that he was attracted to her. Ethel was pretty, blonde, 5’3”- plus, and a trim 122 pounds – perennially anorectic and bulimic, Ethel would share her breakfast of toast with Frieda, and then, for the balance of the day, subsist on coffee and cigarettes.
Q: Where and how often did Irving and Ethel meet?
A: Frieda doesn’t know where Irving and Ethel trysted prior to Derek’s birth. After Derek’s birth and before the family sojourned in Switzerland, Harry occasionally drove Ethel from their home on Voltaire Street to a hotel where she would meet Irving. Irving also came to visit every two or three days, frequently having dinner with the Taylors.
Q: Did Irving’s relationship with Ethel cause her separation and divorce from Harry?
A: Frieda doesn’t think so.
Q: When did the Taylors leave for Switzerland?
A: Frieda believes that they sailed from New York in late November of 1960. Just prior to sailing, she attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and also toured the UN with Irving. Irving had pointed out Dag Hammarskjold’s desk, stating that it remained just the way he’d left it upon his death.
Logically, Frieda’s memorable visit to New York had to occur when the family returned from Switzerland, not before they left. Harry had said that they’d sailed on February 25, 1961, and returned about five working days before Thanksgiving. Only then could Frieda have seen the Macy’s parade and the deceased Dag Hammarskjold’s office, he was not killed in a plane crash until September 18, 1961. Irving’s calendar supports this. He was in New York from November 13 through November 25.
Q: What did the Taylor family do in Europe?
A: Upon arrival, the Taylors spent a week in Paris at the Meurice Hotel. They then went on to St. Gallen, Switzerland, where they lived for the next nine months. Frieda recalls that while the family lived in St. Gallen she, Derek and Ethel made any number of trips to Geneva to see Irving. During one visit, Irving rowed her to the charming Castle Of Chilton, the subject of a Lord Byron poem. Irving obviously cared about Frieda; he’d shown her the same historic landmarks he’d shown me a decade earlier.
Q: Where did the Taylor’s live when they returned from Europe?
A: After spending a few days in New York, the Taylors flew to Illinois. They stayed there with Ethel’s family until March of 1962, when Irving called to say he’d bought an apartment building for her to manage. The Taylors then moved back to San Diego and into the Renette. Because Derek was a toddler, Irving enclosed the area in front of their apartment – the first door on the left – so that Derek would not fall into the pool. In addition, Irving fenced in a backyard play area, knocking out a wall to install a back door at the Renette.
At first, Harry lived with Ethel at the Renette, but as he earned little from driving a taxi, Ethel grew impatient with him. Shortly thereafter, Harry moved to Seattle, and Aunt Florence, who was married to Uncle Ray, joined Ethel at the Renette.
In the fall of 1962, when Frieda was in the ninth grade, Ethel and the children went to Seattle to visit Harry. In fact, they visited Harry on several occasions, which may explain why Irving carried Harry’s address and phone number in his pocket calendar of 1962. However, by November 22, 1963 – the date of JFK’s assassination – Ethel and the children were no longer residents of the Renette. They had moved across the street from El Cajon High School.
Eventually, Ethel and the children visited Seattle with the seeming intent to remain there. At least they spent three months – with both Harry and John Beatty/Benoit, as Ethel and John were lovers. However, once this ménage a whatever became unmanageable, Ethel took the children to Scottsdale, Arizona. It is unclear whether John Beatty followed them, but in the summer of 1964, Ethel married John Beatty/Benoit and returned to El Cajon.
Q: Did Irving see Ethel after her marriage to John Benoit?
A: Yes. In 1965, Ethel and Irving had a serious disagreement, and around that time Frieda dropped out of school. However, once Ethel and Irving repaired their rift and were again on good terms, Frieda was offered employment in the medical supply room at Mercy Hospital. She was then 15, nearing her 16th birthday on December 11, 1965.
Speculation: Irving and Ethel had a major disagreement about Frieda. As Irving was fond of Frieda and had attempted to broaden her horizons, he must have been appalled to see her decide to terminate her formal education so prematurely.
However, if Frieda had missed two years of school in San Diego, finding that she was behind in her studies, unable to graduate with her class, and incapable of penetrating the high school cliques, it’s possible that she told Ethel she wanted to drop out.
If, in turn, Ethel agreed that Frieda could leave school provided she took a job and Ethel then asked Irving to find one for her, this could have fueled a bitter argument.
Irving would have been irate that Ethel was not forcing Frieda to complete high school and college. Yet, he may have decided it was Ethel, not he, who had the right to guide Frieda’s life. More importantly, he may have decided that he could not relinquish his hours with Derek and/or Ethel simply because he found fault with Ethel’s decision. To heal their rift, Irving may have secured a job for Frieda at Mercy Hospital.
Q: When did Ethel leave the San Diego area?
A: It is uncertain when Ethel was diagnosed with cancer, but by the spring of 1966 she and the children were residing with her family in Illinois. She did not return to San Diego but passed away in Chicago on July 28, 1966.
Q: Did Irving visit Ethel during her last months?
A: Frieda doesn’t know. She said she was isolated from Ethel during this period and even locked up by Uncle Ray so that she could not attend Ethel’s funeral. Frieda believes that neither Harry nor Irving appeared for Ethel’s funeral services. But she recalls that Irving sent a large spray of flowers.
Derek has yet to internalize Ethel’s death. At age 6 ½ he was told that his mother had gone away, and it wasn’t until several months later that he learned of her death. Derek feels a need for closure and therefore plans to visit Ethel’s grave in Illinois. He is hopeful that during his visit there his Aunt Katherine may speak more freely to him about Ethel.
It was now late afternoon, and vast quantities of caffeine were causing our conversation to fly from fact finding to feelings. I didn’t realize how much so until I asked what was to be my final question for the day. Had Irving visited Ethel during the spring of 1966, handing her a $10,000 check intended for Derek’s care?
Frieda said “no,” contradicting her previous statement. Her present recollection was that Irving had given Ethel a check for $10,000 before Derek’s birth and that Ethel had turned it over to Uncle Ray so he could open a bail bond agency in Arizona.
According to Frieda, Irving was angry when Ethel told him that she had given the $10,000 check to Uncle Ray. I would imagine he was. Irving disliked it intensely when people failed to spend money prudently, be it theirs or his. Irving appreciated money for the necessities it could buy and the doors it could open, but money was not to be squandered on ephemeral luxuries or on people who did not merit it. This dovetailed with his philosophy that people need to know when it’s time to stop making money.
Although I’m generally uneasy discussing anyone’s money – except the government’s – I told Frieda what I’d told Derek earlier about Irving’s clandestine checkbook. However, as soon as I mentioned that Irving had issued checks to Fred Mortensen and the Westlake Hospital in the spring of 19666, I found that I’d kindled a bizarre fire.
Frieda flared with instant agitation and anger. She didn’t say a word, but she shifted her position and shook her head as if to stifle a comment that would have expressed her exasperation. Frieda said Ethel’s family had told her that they couldn’t afford to pay Ethel’s medical bills and that they needed Ethel’s jewelry to do so. Although the jewelry was in Frieda’s custody and was the only possession of Ethel’s that Frieda owned, Ethel’s family had artfully wrested it from her.
Frieda’s outrage was understandable. But what truly incensed her was the discovery that the family had concealed Irving’s role in paying Ethel’s hospital bills.
When Frieda regained her composure, she mentioned that Irving usually gave Ethel money by check. In this way, Irving could, with no questions asked, write checks for almost any amount to his manager at the Renette. I commented that Irving also carried a large supply of traveler’s checks, which he could have issued to Ethel without the need to fill in revealing check stubs.
Suddenly, Frieda asked me to step away from the table so that we could speak privately. I did, expecting her to put an end to some pivotal mystery, but I was disappointed. The topic she chose to discuss was one that all of us could have heard. The only mystery was why Frieda had not wanted to discuss this in front of David, Derek, and Julie.
In private, Frieda suggested that Irving may have formed a corporation, giving Ethel the status of an employee in the corporation. This would have enabled her, as an authorized signatory, to charge items that she wished to purchase, to pay bills, to make collect phone calls, and to do a variety of other things that normally cost money up front.
I told Frieda that I thought she was correct, that I suspected that the Renette was concealed within a corporation, which was why I could find no books reflecting its existence. Having discussed this, Frieda and I rejoined the others and poured ourselves yet another cup of coffee.
David told me later that Derek had become quite upset when Frieda drew me aside. Derek interpreted this act as an attempt to conceal information from him. As it turned out, Frieda had no intention of keeping this information from Derek; she later told him precisely what she had told me. Still, some game was afoot.
Perhaps Frieda had been angry that I knew something she didn’t, and perhaps in retaliation, she had pretended to conceal information from Derek, implying that she knew something he didn’t. In my attempt to share information, I had unwittingly diluted Frieda’s power, and in turn, Frieda had to claim that which remained.
What Frieda seems to abhor are family secrets. She wants to be the repository of all confidential matters; she wants to be the sole messenger to impart data to others; she wants to control of the information flow, both in and out. This is understandable, since her world has so often revolved behind her back, excluding her participation in matters that have directly affected her. However, I don’t understand what can be achieved through this game, nor do I know how to extricate myself from it. There can be no winners, and our investigation may be the greatest loser.
Sunday, November 10
As I anticipated, Frieda did not join us for breakfast. In fact, she left home early in the morning before Derek could speak to her, and she didn’t answer Derek’s phone calls for many days.
On the surface, Frieda and Derek are very much alike. Both are huggable, outgoing, giving, bright, articulate, and insightful. Irving fits this description, and it’s possible that Ethel did as well – Derek described her as charming, poised, dignified, and magnetic. Below the surface, Derek and Frieda seem to differ greatly in their baggage and in the way they carry it.
Derek suffers from past rejection: actual and fancied rejection by Ethel, who left Derek both in life and death; temporary rejection by Harry, who abandoned him off and on; overt rejection by Ethel’s family, who tossed him away permanently; and implicit rejection by Irving, who failed to acknowledge him as his son.
On the other hand, it seems that Frieda is not as strapped by her past rejections as by her fear that Derek may reject her in the future. Frieda undoubtedly gave up much of her childhood for him. She shouldered her responsibilities in caring for him – whether they were compulsory or voluntary – and she now holds Derek as a son, a brother, and the person who needs to recognize that he is forever in her debt.
Before Derek and Julie left Seattle to answer the urgent call of his engineering texts, Derek and I again returned to the “what if” questions that kept nagging us. What if Cecile had known about Derek? Would she have divorced Irving? Would she have destroyed his reputation? Would she have done nothing? Did Cecile, in fact, know about Derek? And, what if Cecile and Irving had divorced? Would Irving have married Ethel? If not for love, then to legitimize Derek?
Beyond this, Derek and I have to ask if we are better off discovering our likely kinship at this late date. Are we, as Julie mused, the earthly pawns of Ethel and Irving who, looking at us from afar, have decided to bring us together?
As we said goodbye, Derek kiddingly but happily called me “Sis” and said he regretted that he hadn’t contacted me in 1994, when he first learned that Irving had a daughter. He said he’d been afraid I would reject him, just as Frieda had been rejected by her alleged father. In response, I kidded Derek. When I called him “Bro,” I too felt happy. I sensed that he no longer felt rejected, and I was excited at the prospect of having Derek for a brother.
That evening, I telephoned Frieda to thank her for all her kindness during our visit and to thank her, in advance, for participating in our DNA testing. She was very warm toward me, but I am still concerned that she may not show up for her rescheduled DNA test. She is a woman of appearances and disappearances.
Wednesday, November 13
Last night, when Derek and I spoke by phone, I learned that Frieda had not appeared for her Veterans Day DNA test. When I asked whether I should call her, Derek said no. He was certain that she would go in to give a blood sample of her own accord.
Derek and I also spoke of Harry, whom I genuinely admire. Prior to Frieda and Derek’s arrival in 1966, Harry had been very depressed. However, once he took custody of the children, he became a new person, providing them with a home, regular meals, schooling, and the Victorian discipline he thought necessary.
Derek commented that despite the stability Harry provided, Frieda had great difficulty adjusting to her new life and the discipline that Harry sought to impose. They fought or else complained to Derek about each other. From age 6 to 12, Derek endured his role as their conscripted middle man, but once he reached his teens, he removed himself from that role. Realizing that neither Harry nor Frieda could present their cases dispassionately, Derek learned to formulate his own opinions, just as Irving would have done.
It is nearing sunset – literally and figuratively, as I soon leave for Phoenix and brain surgery. Although I am reluctant to put this chronicle aside indefinitely, I’m content that I let no one dissuade me from visiting Seattle while I had all my wits about me. As long as I still have them, I will continue to ponder the ultimate question: How did Irving affect the lives of Derek, Frieda and Abbe – and even Ethel, Harry and Cecile? Who are we, the children, individually and collectively, as a result of Irving and Ethel’s liaison?
I must assume that Irving, who considered acquired intelligence the pathway to success, had a major impact on our education. Frieda returned to school, becoming a nurse. Derek reentered college to become an engineer and possibly a professor, and I completed my graduate studies and taught law school for 11 years.
But what impact did Irving have on the way we use our acquired intelligence? I disagree with his polestar that “It is more important to be intelligent than good, for only with intelligence can one determine what is good.” To me, it may not be intelligent to open the doors to the past, but it is good because truth is good. Would Irving say that it’s neither intelligent nor good to open these doors?
Monday, January 13, 1997
It has been exactly two months since I wrote the preceding sentences. Miraculously, I have survived the most dangerous surgery there is and I am neither a vegetable nor paralyzed nor permanently impaired. Miraculously, I can now counteract my double vision sufficiently to finish my book, It Doesn’t Take a Brain Surgeon – Or Does It? And return to this chronicle. I’ll begin with an update:
Tuesday, November 21, 1996
Derek called with the best of news from GeneLex. Frieda had finally come in to have her blood drawn, and Cecile’s saliva samples from the purloined tissues had proved excellent. GeneLex had all it needed to determine conclusively whether Derek and I were sister and brother.
Derek had additional good news; he and Frieda were now on more friendly terms. He had written her and they had spoken by telephone. It was their first conversation since David and I had coffeed with them in Seattle.
Derek then posed a question that had been pestering him. When Frieda called Irving in the 1970s, did Irving ask after Derek? Frieda doesn’t remember whether he did or not, and if she doesn’t know, who does? Perhaps Irving didn’t mention Harry – Derek’s name then – because Cecile was near the phone. Or perhaps he did, but Frieda was not particularly interested in this portion of the conversation. After all, she was distressed about her financial predicament and Irving’s refusal to assist her.
Friday, November 29
Derek called, still wondering whether Irving had asked Frieda about him in the 1970s. He also asked whether I thought that Irving’s affair with Ethel continued principally because of him. Another good question. Apparently Derek is trying to obtain these answers from Frieda but without results. In any case, he is angry at Frieda, resentful that she did not disclose Irving’s possible fatherhood to him earlier.
Sunday, December 22
Frieda sent a very warm letter, which she enclosed in a gift of coffee and chocolates. She wrote, “Derek is so happy now. Thank you, Abbe, for being in all our lives,” She also wrote that, barring more storms in the mountains, she expected Derek and Julie to visit her from January 6 through 9. However, this was not to be. The Northwest storms became disastrous and Derek had to work through his school break.
Monday, December 30
It is frustrating to call Derek and know that we have no new research data to share with each other. My post-op quadruple vision and his heavy work/study calendar preclude any digging. Yet our chats are important. Through them we are developing a relationship based upon our own lives, not upon our parent’s affair. And we always seem to locate an old puzzle piece even though we may not know where it fits. In essence, Derek and I can talk comfortably with each other about anything and everything. He thinks there may be a message in this, the message that we are half siblings.
Derek’s news was that he and Aunt Katherine are communicating. He had telephoned her, and despite several strokes, she knew Derek the moment he spoke to her. Derek had also written her a two-page letter asking six or seven specific questions such as, “Why did Irving continue his relationship with Ethel until her death?”
In response, Aunt Katherine sent Derek a Christmas card, not answering his questions but saying that she would be more than happy to answer them and tell him all she knew. It seems she plans to do this when Derek and Julie visit Illinois.
Derek also told me about two of his dreams. Just recently, during a Washington blizzard, he dreamt – in color – that he was going to the airport, intending to visit me. When he arrived at my home, where Julie was waiting for him, it began to snow. I asked him to “take the snow away,” while Irving, who stood in the background, said nothing. Was Derek dreaming of his snow-thwarted visit to Frieda, his actual half sister? Does Derek subconsciously remember Irving’s appearance in that he can physically identify him in his dreams?
The second dream that Derek related was one that he encounters at least once a year. In the dream, he asks Ethel where she’s been and why she left him. Ethel doesn’t respond and behaves indifferently toward him.
Under Derek’s interpretation, Ethel has returned, not from death, but from some place she’d been. Consequently, he believes that he hasn’t accepted her death. Since he was originally told that she had merely gone away, he thinks that once he visits her grave, his subconscious will accept the reality of her death.
I interpreted this dream differently and told Derek that I thought it had nothing to do with Ethel’s death. I suggested that he felt her indifference and her abandonment of him while she was alive, when he was a child of five or six.
Derek tended to agree. He said that Ethel really wasn’t much of a mother. She constantly left him and Frieda with baby-sitters so that she could do her own thing. When Ethel picked them up, she was confronted with sibling rivalry, as the children found it difficult to share so little of their mother.
Derek then reported that he’s been considering hypnotic/regressive therapy. He thinks this might enable him to recapture his earliest memories of both Ethel and Irving. However, he wants to be certain that whatever he learns upon waking in uncontrived by the therapist. He’d like to find a qualified hypnotherapist who will permit Julie to attend and tape all sessions. I sincerely hope he can. I am eager to hear what Derek remembers about himself and Ethel and Irving.
Derek concluded our phone conversation with a question: “Are there similarities between Irving and me in the way we think, act, and express ourselves?” I hadn’t thought about this, but I will.
Monday, January 6, 1997
The blizzards, windstorms, heavy snows, and power failures in Washington prompted me to find out whether Derek and Julie were snug and warm. They were, with 16-inch icicles hanging from the eaves of their apartment.
After we wished each other the happiest of new years, Derek delighted me with the news that he had received a grade of 4.0 in every one of his classes and will, without doubt, retain his scholarship. I was extremely proud of him, knowing that, by holding a job, he had to relinquish much of his study time. He is, I would guess, naturally bright as well as industrious. He now plans to compete for an additional scholarship, one involving creative writing. Can this be genetic?
Wednesday, January 8
My first day of research since October! Joann, my former chief of staff, drove me to the city library, where she was able to read the fine print to me and scan the microfiche data that I couldn’t see.
Our first project was to trace the whereabouts of Ethel, Harry and John Beatty/Benoit from the years 1956 through 1966. Why? Not to prove that Derek was Irving’s son but to learn more about Irving and Ethel’s relationship, when and where it was conducted, when and where it began and ended. I had started this search some time ago at the El Cajon library, but because several volumes of both the city and suburban Polk directories were missing, I was dissatisfied with my less-than-thorough results.
My second search didn’t reveal much more than the first, but at least I had lifted every stone. Excitement had not been the order of the day, but just as Joann and I were leaving, we decided to examine the microfiched listing of local newspaper articles. I was particularly interested in Irving’s whereabouts at the time of Derek’s conception – between March 24 and April 7, 1959.
Stunning was the reference to an article that appeared in the press on April 3, 1959. Irving, having just completed the year as delegate to the UN General Assembly, had recounted his experiences at a dinner hosted by San Diego’s UN Association. In addition, the microfiche indicated that on April 3, 1959, Irving had given a second local speech, this time on U.S.- Soviet relations.
Eureka! I was overjoyed to discover that Irving had been in San Diego on April 3 even though his pocket calendar indicated he was “due home” on April 4. He could have been with Ethel during Derek’s conception period.
My Eureka, however, proved senseless. I had completely forgotten that I already knew of Irving’s whereabouts between April 2 and 5. I had learned of it in late August when Derek sent me the San Diego Historical Society’s list of Irving’s local newspaper photographs. Apparently my brain was otherwise occupied.
Tuesday, January 14
Today, I began research on Irving’s possible clandestine career as a CIA agent. I wrote the FBI requesting its file on Irving under the Freedom of Information Act. If the material arrives heavily censored, this may be proof of Irving’s link with the CIA; if not, I may receive some interesting data about his personal life, which shouldn’t be deemed relevant to national security.
Wednesday, January 22
Joann picked me up at 2:30 for a trek through the dismal bowels of the superior court. There, in the basement where the older San Diego County records are stored, I hoped to locate documents evidencing Ethel’s divorce from Harry, as well as her divorce, if any, from John. These documents would indicate the dates and places of her marriages plus information and any custody or property rights of the parties. Ever optimistic, I even hoped to identify and interview the attorneys involved; they might have quite a tale to tell. While in the basement, I also wanted to check the probate records to see if Derek received anything from Irving, perhaps via a large gift to an obscure friend, or perhaps through an appended probate document that I’d never seen.
The probate records were located on a colorful research-friendly computer. It took but a few minutes to determine that they held nothing relevant. In contrast, the divorce decrees were hand-scribed in quasi-alphabetical order within four large, ancient volumes. Once a desired listing was found, the clerk produced the documents, not in a single legal file, but along with hundreds of other documents on temperamental, skitter microfilm.
After Joann and I traveled through old volumes, tracking the many Taylors and the nonexistent Benoits, Joann chanced upon the listing of John L. Beaty – with one t – and his ex-wife, Mary E. With nothing further to research, we requested the microfilm and spent the next hour attempting to locate the Beaty file and then keep it from tilting and wiggling off the screen. We did gather some information.
It seems that John L. Beaty and Mary E. were married in San Diego on September 22, 1958, and that on June 28, 1962, John sued Mary for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty and mental suffering. Of note is the fact that the interlocutory decree was signed on June 30, 1963. Where? Oddly enough, in Park Ridge, Illinois, a stone’s throw from the Hanson/Mortensen enclave.
What’s more, the final decree was entered in San Diego on July 5, 1963, just in time for John to marry Ethel – presuming, of course, that this John L. Beaty is “the” John L. Benoit/Beatty.
Subsequently, Joann and I returned to the California Room at the main branch of the public library. Here I wanted to research and read the news articles describing special UN events – at which Ethel may have met Irving. In addition, I wanted to learn more about Irving’s whereabouts in 1959, during the period of Derek’s conception; in 1961, during the Taylor’s stay in Switzerland; and in 1966, during the months just prior to Ethel’s death.
Joann and I again tackled the microfiche, jotting down every date and location of any relevant article, but as it was growing late, we decided to defer the actual newspaper reading for another day and perhaps to another place, such as the library at the San Diego Historical Society.
Joann is very intelligent, analytical, and resourceful, but one of her finest attributes is luck. Who but Joann can always find a parking space, and who but Joann would suddenly find herself face to face with a misplaced box of microfiche listing the name of every bride married in California since 1960. This can’t even be found in the County Administration Center.
But there it was, and there Joann found the marriage of John T. Benoit – not John L. – to Ethel F. Mortensen, both aged 41, on July 30, 1964 – Joann’s birthday. The code numbers indicated John and Ethel were married in Los Angeles County but registered in Orange County. Could this be the John who met Ethel in Park Ridge or San Diego and who divorced Mary in 1963 under the name of Beaty?
Wednesday, January 29
Two photos of a darling toddler were enclosed in the letter I received from Derek. He said that they were taken in Switzerland when he was about 1 ½ years old, and he wanted to know if David or my son thought his squinting expression resembled me.
The letter accompanying the photos was newsy and curious. Derek wrote that he’d obtained the photos during his recent visit to Seattle, which looked like a swamp after the heavy snows and rains. He’d visited Harry, who shared the photos with him, and he’d visited Frieda, who related a dream she had about Irving, Derek and me.
Derek was disturbed by this dream and said that Frieda might tell me about it. Derek gave no particulars about the dream, but with regard to Frieda’s narration of it, he wrote, “I don’t know if she was being sincere or playing with my head. Frieda can be very convincing at times.” He then added that he was among the very few to whom she was “transparent” – trans-parent?
Derek also wrote that he will call GeneLex on Tuesday but that “Even prior to getting the test results that we hope will be positive, I feel a connection is there.” He signed the letter Derek, Your-Baby-Brother-Hopefully-To-Be.
Wednesday, February 5
Last night, I spoke to Derek for nearly two hours. Our conversation began with Derek’s declaration that he was still angry at Frieda, possibly because he took so many years to develop this anger. Until he met me, he hadn’t been resentful that Frieda hadn’t told him about Irving, and now he feels that she had no right to withhold this information. He said it was she – not Harry – who could and should have told him. She had nothing to lose. Harry, in contrast, was probably too frightened and embarrassed to do so.
As I was about to respond, saying that Frieda probably felt she had a great deal to lose, Derek asked whether Frieda had called to tell me of the dream he’d mentioned in his letter. When I said that she hadn’t, he said it was just as well. That it probably would have hurt my feelings. It didn’t.
Derek described Frieda’s dream – in her words – as a “powerful vision” that kept her awake from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. She dreamt that in the 1960s, she was standing in front of the house where I grew up. As she watched my two children playing in the yard, Irving drove up, hugged Frieda with great warmth – she could smell his cologne – and gave her a message that she was to relay to me. His message was to tell Abbe that he loved her and that he was sorry that he had not paid more attention to her. He then showed Frieda pictures of himself as a baby, and when Frieda said that she thought the photos looked like those of Derek, Irving seemed to acknowledge Derek as his son.
I don’t know the events that led up to Frieda’s vision. Perhaps it manifested itself shortly after Derek and Frieda had sifted through Harry’s two boxes of photos, finding Derek’s baby pictures. Perhaps it emerged after Derek and Frieda had discussed Abbe and Irving at length. Or perhaps Frieda had eaten a chocolate and anchovy sandwich before retiring. In any event, it seemed clear that my prior analysis of Frieda was astonishingly correct.
Frieda did indeed see herself as the messenger, the repository and controller of all information. In Frieda’s vision, Irving had not chosen to speak to either Abbe or Derek directly; he had deliberately chosen Frieda as the proper “authority” to dispense his very personal messages of love and apology and his message acknowledging Derek.
Derek said that he gave no credence to Frieda’s dream, that her visions were not truths. I responded that it was not the content of the “vision” that I found credible. It was the self-appointed role of messenger that Frieda truly believes she plays. Whether awake or asleep. She seems to feel that Abbe and Derek are unworthy of receiving Irving’s messages directly.
Derek then asked whether I thought that Frieda had related the vision to him just so she could play with his brain and hurt him. I thought it possible. I reminded Derek of how distraught Frieda was in Seattle when she learned that I’d told Derek about the check stubs before I’d shared this data with her, of how annoyed she was that she hadn’t been the channel for dispensing this information, and of how she then pretended to withhold some tidbit from Derek by telling me of it privately.
Derek recalled how hurt he’d been. He said that he’d always been open with Frieda, never withholding information from her. He then wondered whether he tolerated Frieda’s perverse and controlling behavior because he subconsciously needed a mother and because much of his mothering had come from her.
I said that while this was possible, I also thought that this situation had very deep roots. As such, I recommended that he and Frieda attempt to negotiate and satisfy their respective needs in the present, purely as adult brother and sister. I explained that if Derek were to express his most pressing need – to obtain information about Irving – and Frieda were to express her greatest need – probably to know that Derek would always be there for her – they might be able to overcome their differences and work toward a genuinely wonderful relationship. Frieda would no longer need to hold him close by controlling the flow of information.
Derek understood this well. He said that Frieda had called him two weeks ago – something she rarely does – and though he’d returned her call several times, he had not made contact with her. Insightfully, Derek said that Frieda probably wanted to know that he cared enough to respond, that she really had nothing to discuss with him.
Derek wondered whether this form of game playing ran in Ethel’s family, whether Frieda had learned it from Ethel and Katherine. He pointed out that Aunt Katherine had promised to answer his questions when he called her in November but that she hadn’t done so in her Dec3ember letter. He thought that she probably had no intention of answering his questions although she knew a great deal.
As Derek and I had been talking for nearly two hours, we concluded our conversation with a quick exchange of information. Derek said he’d called Darlene at GeneLex and learned that the lab work had been completed though not the calculations. She didn’t know when the results would be forthcoming.
Derek also said that he’d obtained the passenger manifest from the S.S. United States, dated February 25, 1961. He said that Irving was not listed but Frieda remembers that they met another gentleman affiliated with the UN, Nathan Barnes. I suggested to Derek that if Irving were onboard, he might have used an assumed name, perhaps a name that would appear on the Renette tenant listing or even one of the missing passports. Derek will send me a copy of the manifest so that I can see if there’s any hint that Irving might have used a fictitious name.
Before we put down our respective phones, I apologized to Derek for being so preachy. Graciously, he said, “That’s what big sisters do.”
Sunday, February 16
A big bear hug of welcome to the Salomon family! How shall we celebrate? Shall I send out a belated birth announcement – perhaps a scrolled copy of the GeneLex report tied to a baby blue ribbon? Shall I plan a party to introduce you to the family – perhaps with an invitation that quotes the GeneLex report, i.e. “Based on the scientific evidence, we conclude that it is, for practical purposes, proven that Irving Salomon is the biological father of Derek Taylor” and “Irving Salomon is 19 million times more likely to be the father of Derek Taylor than a random Caucasian-American man,” and “The probability of paternity…is 99.99%.” Imagine that! Not just 99.44%, like Ivory soap – if you are old enough to recall this ad, Baby Brother.
Derek, the GeneLex results didn’t surprise me in the least. The moment I saw your forehead, I knew you had to be Irving’s child. On one could look at Irving for some 35 years, as I did, without recognizing his forehead, even if it appeared on a fish or an elephant. In addition, I had a very strong but inexplicable intuition that you were Irving’s son.
It sounds odd but my greatest surprise came when I learned that the GeneLex test results were already completed. You cannot imagine how unprepared I was – arriving home after a week away and finding among the 19 calls on my answering machine a message from Darlene saying that she’s mailed out the results seven days earlier! Trapped between messages #7 and # 19 on the answering machine, I shouted to David, asking him to find the GeneLex envelope amid the pile of mail that had accumulated. I didn’t dare leave the answering machine lest Darlene had called back with the actual results or lest you had called. And of course you had. You were message #12, but by the time I heard your voice, David had appeared with the GeneLex envelope. I tore it open, reading it and listening to your message on the same heartbeat. I was overwhelmed! Excited! Elated!
It was only minutes later, after I had returned some urgent phone calls while unpacking, that you called. And that is why I sincerely apologize for my flustered telephone conversation with you. I was thrilled to hear from you – but was still astounded by the news, coupled with the usual chaos – including demanding kittens – that accompanies re-entry. Be assured that I would have called you within the hour – you were uppermost in my mind and I certainly didn’t want to focus on mundane laundry preparations and mail opening when I could be relishing the exciting news with you.
It was wonderful to hear that you were bewildered and excited too. My sentiments exactly – it must be genetic! I am especially happy that you now feel that a missing piece of your life’s puzzle is now in place. I suppose that one of mine fell into place as well – although I didn’t know it was missing.. But like you, I believe that there are many other puzzle pieces to be put in place, pieces we have yet to identify, even if they are right under our noses – neither or which look like Irving’s.
Oh brother! At this point, the concept of having a half brother has not yet seized me psychologically. Having never had either a sister or brother, I don’t really understand sibling feelings and relationships – and the feelings and relationship of my two children and David’s two children give me no clues. My two children hold each other at a distance while David’s two are as close as they can be. I suppose I will just have to muddle through, enjoying every minute of the process.
Do plan to spend Christmas with your new San Diego family, but do try to visit us this summer as well. I, in turn, will keep my eyes peeled for an opportunity to visit you. Sisterly love to you, Julie, and Frieda.
Now, more than two years later, Derek and I have little hope of obtaining further information from Monte Russell or Irving’s other business associates. Derek still plans to visit Aunt Katherine, and I an renewing my search for the Renette accounts.
Just yesterday, I again badgered the FBI for Irving’s file. It’s been two years since I first requested his dossier from this vast bureaucracy and — by form letter — it continues to plead unavoidable delay. Optimistic, I believe I can also squeeze blood from a turnip.
Earlier this month, I proudly attended Derek’s commencement at Washington State University’s School of Engineering. Having graduate magna cum laude, he has been hired by the Raytheon Corporation. It’s hard to believe that I have a brother, let alone a brother who’s become a rocket scientist.