Jason Saks, me, Donna and Nicky Saks
First, a little backstory. I had no idea that I had any relatives my age in England until Jason Saks, my cousin, appeared at my parents door in 1977. He had been doing a little research about the Flieg/Sacks/Haymer connection and figured out that my dad, Johnny Haymer of M*A*S*H and Annie Hall fame was his uncle. Jason was working for Redken at the time and was in California for a brief stint. As soon as I saw his Aston Martin DB-5 parked outside and his dark curly-headed locks and oversized shnoz, I knew he was family. When Donna first met Jason on our way to Scotland (we had stopped in Manchester while driving up in 1990) she laughed at how, with the tea drinking and doilies covering the food, my relatives seemed more British than her family. No wonder I thought I was destined to be a second generation Beatle.
More recently, Jason’s brother, Jonathan, had been doing some research on a newly discovered relative, and here is the truncated version of the story. My great grandfather (nobody remembers his name, but let's just call him Mr. Zachnovitch or more simply, Mr. Z), was married two times, and the year that my Grandma Betty (and Jason’s Aunt Betty Ann) left for America in 1911, Jason's father, David, came into being from the second wife. Well as it turn out, there was a younger sister of Betty's from the first wife. Her name was Minnie. She had also come to America, St. Louis to be exact, and stayed with my grandparents, Joe Flieg (who I am named after), and his wife, Betty in 1914 or so. The hard thing to figure out is: Why had I never heard of Minnie? She had seemed to vanish from the face of the earth. She supposedly left St. Louis and headed to New York City with a musician named George Tilson, who later changed his named to George Taylor. They had a son in the early ‘30s and called him George.
George Taylor Jr. is now 81 years old (or thereabouts) and is the first cousin of my dad, and my second cousin once removed, and I never knew he existed until the night Jason called me from England. He said he and his wife, Nicky and their two kids, Joe and Hannah were going to Orlando over Christmas and New Year’s of 2011/2012 and invited me and my family to join them on a sojourn to meet our long lost relatives. How could we refuse? Whenever I hear talk about family trees and tracing the ancestry of relatives, my head spins. I know you’re your head is a whirling dervish right about now. Right?
Yes, we made it down to Orlando and the tolls on the Turnpike were outrageous. Welcome to The Las Vegas for children. Heading southwest to Kissimmee to the township of Celebration where our Orbit One Vacation Villas awaited us a few miles from the Saks’s who were staying in a nearby vacation villa called the Bahama Bay Resort.
From the outside, Orbit One looked like it once was a thriving monument to Space Mountain, but now it was a bit rundown from neglect, bad management, or lack of funds. At least there was a nice pool, a putting green, tennis courts and a game room filled with arcade games and a pool table that were all in fairly good condition. Surprisingly, the condo looked a lot better from the inside. There was a Jacuzzi in the main bathroom and skylights in the living room and in the master bedroom. There were three televisions (one of them being a flat screen in the living room so the boys could hook up the PlayStation 3). Jonathan, who would turn twenty-one in March, was hogging the PS3, and stayed up until the wee hours of the night playing Skyrim and watching movies on HBO.
The Sakses and Haymers were in communication by cell phone. Since they had a cell phone with a UK number, Donna had arranged to get on the world connect plan with our phone company before we left which brought the cost down to twenty-eight cents a minute and texts to fifty cents each. I think it was around nine or ten at night when I called Jason from some rip-off supermarket owned by Indians (the Eastern kind), and he told me he and his family were nearby. I ran out of the market leaving Donna and the boys to finish up being gouged by the outrageous prices at shop and told them to meet up at the entrance to our condo as soon as they were done.
As I approached the gate, I saw a silver SUV of some kind and long haired people with British teeth waiving from the interior. As I got closer I could see a swarthy, dark curly-headed man in the driver’s seat next to a slim woman with medium length brown hair, and two kids with noses pressed against the glass. It was them. Jason flung himself out of the van and ran down to meet me with open arms. I ran toward him, and we embraced like cousins who hadn't seen each other in over five years would do. Walking back towards the Silver Dodge SUV, I saw Nicky waiting for a hug and I was more than happy to oblige. Then Hanna and Joe exploded out of the wan and were not shy about getting their fair share of embraces. Pictured below: Daniel Haymer, Jonathan Haymer, Joe Saks, Hannah Saks and Morgan Haymer.
Donna and the boys drove up within a few minutes and she put the car in park and they all got out. It was a Kodak moment if ever there was one. Daniel, who was 15 at the time, noticed the fourteen-year old Hannah was tall and thin and he gave her a conciliatory hug followed by Jonathan (almost 20) and then Morgan (12) who seemed to be embarrassed by all show of affection. I knew he would warm up to them as soon as food was served. Then Joe, eleven years-old and no more than 4-feet-7-inches tall, introduced himself to his strange exotic relatives all the way from America. The strangest thing to fathom for my boys was the Saks’s thick Manchester accents. We agreed to have a little meal in the condo, which brought out a half-smile on Morgan’s face. Jonathan got back in the Saks’s van and directed them to our room in the Saturn building - number S24, which was on the top of three floors. It was nice of them to bring some groceries (or messages as Donna would call them), some beer, wine, coffee, milk, cereal and bananas I think? we had already bought some Fruit Loops and paid a whopping $4.99 for the box. Still, it was really great to see Jason and Nicky again, and of course their two progeny who we hadn’t seen since 2005 when we stopped in Manchester for the second time on our way to Scotland. Scott Taylor pictured below.
On New years Eve we made plans to meet up with the long lost relatives at George's son, Scott Taylor’s home in Ocoee, a mere 15 miles from where we were staying. Driving in with the Saks's right in tow, our Toyota Sienna approached the gates of Ocoee Gardens. We parked the Sienna next to the small strip of grass by the mailbox in from of the semi-circular house in Ocoee Gardens. Jason and his clan, and The Haymers together numbered nine. Nine strangers were going to be walking into a mysterious house in a gated community in Central Florida. Nine strangers, who claimed to be family, were knocking on the door of Mr. and Mrs. Scott Taylor. What if they thought we were crazy (which we are)? What if they were? What if they were boring and we were going to waste a perfectly good New Year’s Eve on people we couldn’t wait to be as far away from as a tsunami? We had to devise some sort of signal. I always used the brushing of the side of your nose with your index finger, so we decided to go with that one.
I knocked on the door with Morgan and Daniel beside me. The rest of our gang meandered up as the front door opened and . . . there they were. It was Scott who opened the door, and I could see the rest of his clan peeking behind him in the foyer. Scott is tall, around six foot two with dark curly hair and a bit of a hook nose that points slightly to the ground just like mine. Mine’s a bit bigger; I guess it had ten more years to grow. Scott introduced me and the rest of the combined clans to his wife Pam, a cute little round thing, not Melissa McCarthy round, mind you, but pleasingly so. She was no more than 5 feet tall in heels.
Dan, with lighter brown hair than Scott looked more like a working class dude. He had the typical 50 year old spread around the middle something that I was fortunate to avoid, so far , anyway. Scott, who also managed to avoid the beer belly, was in pretty good shape (he’s in real estate so he has to keep up appearances) but complained about his back and knees. Then there was George—George Taylor himself. Looking at him with his Clark Gable mustache and a good amount of dark gray hair, I knew for certain he was definitely a family member. Scott's son Jake was in also from from South Florida. He is a little younger than Jonathan about 19, I guess. While the “grown-ups” were in the house reminiscing, Jonathan, Daniel and Morgan were led to the lake by Jake. It was a modern-day Huckleberry Finn scene.
The thing that really blew me away about the Taylors, something that was hard at first to wrap my head around was: they were Baptists. I mean, I never knew that anyone in my family was anything other than of Hebrew descent. They explained that Minnie, when she married George Tilson (later Taylor) had converted to Protestantism and never looked back. Another interesting thing about George Sr., was—he was a musician and had his own band. I’d asked George Jr. if they ever made any records, but he said he didn’t think they did. Too bad. I would have loved to have heard something. No doubt about it, music runs in the family.
I asked them point blank the reason they never knew about us, or for that matter, any other relatives. They said that Minnie told them that all her brothers and sisters had died in the war (WWII), and she was the only one that had survived. They had no idea about the Sakses or Haymers or Fliegs or Flegs or anybody other than their small family unit of Taylors. One can only speculate what the reasons were. Did she have a falling out with her family? Was she working in an undesirable profession? Was it because she had married a non Jew that, if revealed, would alienate her from her strict Orthodox Jewish father? We’ll never know because my Aunt Minnie, who I had never heard of before a year ago, had died a few years back. It’s a shame. I would have really liked to have met her and find out about her strange and obviously intriguing life. If nothing else, we have a much larger family that before and, if things go as I hope, there will be many more family reunions in the future.
It turned out to be a wonderful New Years. We weren’t bored, they weren’t crazy (we’ll at least not the serial killer or drooling village idiot crazy) and if they ever come to Tennessee, it is guaranteed that they will not only have a place to stay, but will have to sample my Chicken Parmesan or Spaghetti with Clam Sauce ala Haymer. Maybe even play a little music.