Thursday, February 26, 2009

Francis Warner

There's a lot you can say about Francis Warner. Not a lot of it is very good. She is, by all accounts, the most self-absorbed woman to ever live. No one else I have ever encountered personally has ever been so demanding of others, so ungrateful for what she has, and so convinced that she deserves whatever she wants as Francis Warner. Her life is a testament to selfishness.

Or is it?

Her life has been marked with a single-minded dedication to herself. Not her children, her family, or her multiple husbands. No, she has been wholly concerned with her own wants and desires since at least the mid-60s when she walked out on her children to run away with a book salesman. Her ex-husband had to return that night to take over watching their two children. He eventually relocated them to Florida.

She spent the next two decades with various lovers in New York City. Her daughter moved back to live with her as a teenager, but the situation proved toxic. She ended up returning to Florida and joining the army. Francis alternated jobs at this point between working as a bartender and being a kept woman by a mafia capo.

At one point she begged her parents to take her back in. They let her come live with them in their small apartment, at which point she immediately stole money from them and used it to elope and move to Chicago.

Her husband died and she moved back to New York. At this time, her daughter returned from overseas and began living in Arizona. Francis invited herself to come live with her.

In 1986 she was living with her daughter and decided that her grandson, at the time three years old, was more than old enough to read and write. So she decided to teach him how. Within a few days he was going through childrens books in minutes. Within a few weeks he was writing his own stories.

The family moved again, and Francis did not go with them. She returned to New York and remarried. She began publishing a newsletter called the Mountain Climber for people who suffered from panic attacks like she did. It was circulated in 35 states and Canada.

While in her late 50s, Francis moved from Brooklyn, New York to California with her fourth husband. Having lived her entire life in either New York City or Chicago (where she lived with her second husband), she never had any need to drive. The longer she lived out west, the more she realized it was a necessity. So, at the tender age of 65, she began taking driving lessons, and on her third attempt she successfully passed the test.

It was also during this time that Francis beat cancer for the first time. She had been a smoker for nearly 40 years. She refused to quit.

Her long-estranged son briefly re-estabished ties with her, as he also lived in California. After several meetings, he once again withdrew himself from her life. Time with her was simply too insufferable to justify putting forth the effort.

By 2001 she had decided to move to New York, where her daughter was living. She found a small apartment in a retirement community and moved in. Her husband wanted her to stay in California, but she refused. They separated, and he died of a brain tumor a year later.

She purchased an obnoxious little dog that she insisted was wonderful. While taking it for a walk, she became tangled in the leash and fell, breaking her hip and most of her leg. Her mobility became extremely limited. At this time, her cancer came back with a vengeance. At the end of 2003, she was living in a hospice house. The tenants of the house are people who have only 90 days to live. 120 days later she was asked to leave, as she was not dying.

She took up residence in a nursing home. Originally, she had a roommate. After one day together, Francis was given a single, as it was clear she could not coexist with others. She began making increasing demands of her daughter. She wanted an allowance of $120 a month. She wanted to be taken out every week. She needed money to buy clothes and decorations for her room. Everything she demanded had to be performed exactly as she requested or she would grow bitter and spiteful. The members of her family increasingly pulled away from her.

Despite everything, her daughter remained with her. Francis was her mother, she explained, and she was dying. There was a measure of karma and her own peace-of-mind that needed to be taken care of.

Francis Warner was born in 1933. Her maiden name was Vogel, born to Murray Vogel and Beatrice Vogel, whom was affectionately called "Grandma Tootsie." She married Stan Willner, a World War II veteran 10 years her senior, and had two children. They were named Michael Adam and Marci Eve. Warner was the name of her fourth and final husband, Ron.

Marci Eve Willner went on to marry Vladimir James Pratt and have two children. A son also named Vladimir, and another named David.

Francis Warner is my grandmother. She died yesterday after a long and excruciating battle with cancer. She would have been 76 this Sunday.

Her life was a study of highs and lows. She was capable just as much of overwhelming love and generosity as she was blinding greed. For every act of theft or fraud she was guilty of (a common theme in my family) there was a corresponding story of kindness. When my mother was a child, Grandma Fran took in a black girl whom had been abused and let her stay until she could get on her feet. For every story about how selfish and vile she was, my grandmother has another story about times she had publically embarassed herself, which she lovingly retold to let others laugh. Her stories, all of varying degrees of verifiability, were nonetheless told with unparalleled humor. She could tell a story like no one else.

She was in love with Hispanic and African American culture (and men). Living to see the inauguration meant a tremendous deal for her. It was the last goal she set for herself. My mother knew the time was coming when she stopped talking about the future.

And perhaps the dark parts of her life are not without merit. Maybe, just maybe, we should all take a day, or an hour, or a moment, out of our lives to ask "what do I want? What can other people do for me? What would make ME happy?" I think my grandma would like that.

I know she wouldn't want me talking about her like this, but primarily because she's not around to enjoy the attention. But she's the one who taught me how to read and write, and I can't think of any better way to commemorate her life, for good or ill, than to honor the gift she gave me and write. She had a love of literature and words that belied her limited education. And she loved me. For all the bitter complaining she did, she loved all of us, and spoke of her family at every opportunity to others. To our faces, she only told us all we did wrong, but hey, she was a Jewish mother.

Goodbye, Grandma Fran. I love you, and I miss you. As my father said, "now she knows what all of us wonder about."

To which I replied "Not yet, first Grandma Tootsie has to get done yelling at her."

Francis Warner
March 1st, 1933 - February 25th, 2009


Jason Heat said...

You're a beautiful writer, David.

Damo said...

Wow. That was very touching. I love your honesty, and I have a feeling your grandmother would, too.

My condolences to you and yours.

Ozkirbas said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Your grandmother sounds as complex a human being as they come.

Max Nova said...

Agreeing with all, a lovely tribute.

Stephen said...

My condolences go out to you, David.

David Pratt said...

Thank you all, sincerely.

Vladimir said...

well said brother may she rest in peace too bad nobody else will now

Vladimir said...

Death is of such short duration. Reunification will arrive unwanted. Enjoy your life. vjp

Sera said...

And I am sure where ever your grandmother is now, she is so proud of the smart, sensitive young man her grandson has become. You have such a bright future ahead of you, David. You always manage to touch me with what you write -- you always seem to relay a message or a story I can relate to. Well done. My sympathies to you and your family. May your grandmother rest in peace.

Miasma said...

Oh, sweetie. Now we all know who to be grateful to for teaching you to read and write. I'm sorry it took me this long to read this. Big hug next time I see you.