In Memoriam – A Birth Family, 1990-2018

Frank & Marcia

Marcia and Frank during our reunion, 1990. They’re younger than I am now!

What began in the summer of 1990 with a search for my birth parents Marcia Cranston and Frank Verges; and continued at Christmas 1990 with our reunion in Southern California; and blossomed into their dating and marriage; and our time together in Spain and England in the early ’90s; and my subsequent big move from Barcelona to Los Angeles to be closer to them; and my gradual realization that Marcia was uncomfortable with me in her life—especially being just thirty miles away; and the eight-year silence between her and me; and the disintegration of their marriage even though they continued to live as roommates; and Marcia’s illness and death in early 2007; and Frank’s quick decline after that; and his being moved away to Davis by a daughter (my bio half-sister) anxious to inherit his estate; and his further retreat into senility over the next years…what began with so much hope and fanfare twenty-eight years ago came to an end, finally, when Frank died in a Davis hospital on the 12th of February, 2018. He was barely Frank anymore. I was still able to talk with him briefly on the phone and hear his voice. He never got to the point of not recognizing people. His daughter, the lovely Samantha, was with him the night he died. She’d made sure to call me only at the last minute, so there was no chance of seeing him alive.

For the first thirty years of life I didn’t know who I was. Then I found out. And for the next twenty-eight years my birth parents were, in some form, in my life. But we didn’t have enough time. There was so much to make up for, but the work was only half done. When Frank first made contact with me in September of 1990, there was so much excitement in his voice about my coming into his life. It was a characteristic in his family—to be excited and energetic about things but then not to completely follow through. In this case he did follow through up to a point. A reunion happened only a few months after that phone call. He was gregarious and impulsive and cultured and fun; Marcia, my birth mother, was reserved, severe, and unconvinced of the value of any of this reunion stuff. And she was poor. She’d just lost a house in Hawaii, a house on the beach. Frank offered her financial security, and that’s perhaps more than 50% of the reason they got married. The ceremony took place on a Hawaiian beach. These two people, who’d first had an affair in Iowa and Illinois in 1960 and hadn’t seen each other until the reunion in 1990, were now in love and hoped to build a life together. They were happy for a year or two, but only unhappiness followed. I now think he had Asperger’s or was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. As for her,  she was a sprightly but angry, uptight person. In Orange County she found a comfortable home and created a lovely rose garden. She had cats and read her mystery novels, but spent most of her nights sleeping in an RV.

When I moved to L.A. in ’95 I hoped that I’d see my birth parents every weekend. Marcia, I hoped, would cook meals and the three of us would go to Blockbuster and rent movies and sit in front of TV and watch all the old movies we’d missed. This  didn’t happen. They fought an awful lot. Marcia, even though she’d married my birth father, didn’t embrace me. Half a family had been recreated; the other half just sat there wilting.

So the years went by. My birth parents were miserable. Occasionally, I did see Frank. He and I got along well. But he always considered me rich. He had a very keen sense of who was “rich” and who was “poor.” He often complained that I boasted about my “rich” background (my adoptive family). Toward the end of his life we talked about how much he might leave me, and he said “just some small token amount, because you’re rich, right?” There was a will in which I was left $5,000 and his daughter everything else, but even $5,000 was considered too generous by his warm-hearted daughter,  and when his faculties were limited toward the end and Samantha got him isolated, the old will was torn up and every cent went to that lady, whom I barely know, that divorced lady in Davis who was never the least bit interested in getting to know a long-lost biological half-brother.

A. I am not married.
B. My children are:
Samantha B. Havens
Alex M. Frankel
C: I intentionally do not provide for Alex M. Frankel.

Now they are all gone. Adoptive parents. Biological parents.

Perhaps our best time was in the beginning, when I still lived in Spain. We were walking down the street in Sitges, near Barcelona, and discovered a store named “Verges” and excitedly took pictures of it. Then we went for a chicken dinner and it was ecstasy. We were happy! And another peak moment: London, a few months later. We were sitting in a pub and it was so gemütlich. That’s a word the Germans have that we don’t. Cozy and cheerful with high spirits and a sense of belonging. There were moments like that at the start. But after I moved to the States things were never the same. Ideally, Marcia should’ve stayed in Hawaii, and I would have gone to see her once in a great while, and things would’ve been fine. And Frank and I would’ve seen me once a month or once every few months and things would’ve been fine.

We just didn’t have enough time. I heard about Frank’s death over a month ago but it’s just hit me. So much could’ve been different and better. But that would’ve entailed Marcia and Frank being very different people from what they really were.

The worst feeling is to walk by his house. His house was sold after he was taken away. Whoever owns it now must be renting it out to students. Not a lot of love has gone into the place. It doesn’t look like a home. No garden. It’s as if no rose garden ever existed there.

I unearthed a video of Frank and me from 2009. Most of Frank was still intact. His dog Pookie is running around trying to get us to play with his ball. There’s string music in the background and I’m reciting a little bit of poetry by Dylan Thomas. Things are light-hearted. Things are gemütlich in a way they rarely were, but it was captured in this one video. See for yourself:

What happened? It seemed we were just getting started. There was so much hope and promise in the beginning. Where are Marcia and Frank? I’d like to try again and get it right this time.

I could never quite believe, when I was in Frank’s presence, that I was in the presence of my biological father. The concept seemed too unreal. The same with Marcia. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was my mother but not my mother. Where are they now? We didn’t have enough time, the three of us. We could’ve used another twenty years.

I remember the end of Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark. After a funeral one character, sobbing, looks at another and says, “Oh, I am not crying for myself, or for Father—I am crying for life.”

Frank's ashes

Frank’s ashes are among the few gifts I ever got from him.