[Intermezzo] Wherein I Offer You a Few Disjointed but Heartfelt Memories of My Dead Friend Frank on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Dear World,

Frank died at 87 1/2 years old. Picture this: When he was a tow-headed little boy, just a toddler, his parents dressed him in short pants and a striped shirt and posed him on the hood of the family Model T, grinning. Feisty. He was named after a prominent ancestor, Benjamin Franklin, and they shared more than a name: both were brilliant, larger-than-life, charismatic. Actually, he came from a long line of characters: a grandfather who died, in his 90s, as the result of a bar fight, a father who was an early aviator. That family bred their men big, bold, and memorable. Frank, my Frank, my friend, came of age during the Great Depression. He had an older brother, equally brilliant; when it came time for Frank to attend college in ’37 or ’38, there was no money left. None. His brother had the degree that Frank would never get. He didn’t sweat it, moved on with life. Somewhere along the way he met a beautiful lady and they got married. Everything changed on 7 December 1941.

I worked with Frank for 9 years, at a pays-all-the-bills day job when I was really young. Before I could do this all day, every day. He was nearly 77 when we met, but the glint in his eyes was that of a curious young man. He started his work day earlier than everyone but the owner. When I arrived at work on 7 December, 5 1/2 months after we met, he immediately came up to me and asked if I knew what day it was. It was a test, and I was the only one who passed. “Of course, Frank,” I said, “It’s the 7th of December. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. It’s been, what, 55 years?” His smile was huge and sun-bright. He unbuttoned his shirt and opened it, revealing his special surprise. I was new, so I’d never seen it before. (Minds out of the gutter, people. Minds out of the gutter. Actually, minds back in the gutter, people. Minds back in the gutter. Frank would like that.) Under the rumpled, short-sleeved, vaguely patterned button-down that he wore at least twice a week, every week, for a decade, was a white, hand-decorated T-shirt. On the front, thick black letters proclaimed: Peal Harbor, December 7, 1941. The back, as I discovered later, said simply and profoundly: NEVER FORGET. Frank never did, because that day forever changed his life and his country’s.

World War II made Frank a real pilot, like his dad. He flew for the United States Marine Corps Aviation, enlisting soon after that tragic December day. He was stationed in the Pacific. He killed people, saved lives, retreated, carried a wounded buddy to safety as the enemy sent gunfire over his head. Picture this: In between action, he posed, shirtless and tan, wearing a pair of white pants rolled up above the ankles, his pet monkey sitting on his shoulder, grinning. He was in his mid-twenties. His beautiful wife and young daughters were at home, thousands of miles away. He missed them, he always missed them, every day, every moment, but he did it all over again in Korea.

Frank refused to join his local VFW post, believing that the quickest way to grow old was to spend time with other senior citizens. Instead, he worked. He loved being around younger people. He kept up with the pop culture landscape, and could talk about current events better than the rest of us combined. Like those old veterans he refused to associate with, he loved talking about the wars that shaped his character and expanded his world-view. I heard the same stories a hundred times, and I enjoyed every second of every retelling. Unable to become a scientist, he read physics books for fun. He discussed philosophy over the morning coffee and classic strategies of war over lunch. He was the best part of my work day.

Back from two wars, he settled permanently into private life, at last, with his red-haired wife and four redheaded daughters. A charmer and a talker, he became a successful salesman. When he retired in the early 1970s, a year or two before I was born, he didn’t do so quietly: he immediately went out and found a part-time job at the gallery that was to bring us together two decades later. He stayed there more than 30 years, as rooted to the place as the uneven wooden floorboards and the crinkly original business license that was dated 5 February 1953.

If my knowledge of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day sealed our friendship, my long red tresses started it: The day we met, he whipped out his wallet and showed me photographs of all five of his beauties. It was Frank who gave me a nickname that has stuck for eleven years. After seeing the movie Shrek, he told me that I looked just like the before, non-ogre version of Princess Fiona. To this day, if you call out the name Fiona, I will turn and look. Thanks, Frank. Every morning, like a Grandpa with the gait of a 30-year-old, he came into my workroom and handed me one Werther’s Original and gave me a peck on the cheek. He was still handsome, dynamic, sly, a bit naughty. Picture this: Tall if turned a bit paunchy, white-haired, beautiful-eyed, he was the easiest person to have hour-long conversations with about history, classic movies, war, politics, and anything else that crossed your mind. The man who, more than half a century earlier, had power enough and some to spare to charm a lovely young woman into matrimony and a monkey out of a tree on a forgotten island in the Pacific Ocean.

Frank died 5 1/2 years ago. He would have been 93 later this month. I loved him, and I miss him like he was family. During the hours that I listened to his war stories, his childhood memories, his humorous lessons, his unique Frank-philosophy-hours that must have, by the end, amounted to weeks or months of my life-I often thought that he was the ideal subject for a book. In the back of my writer’s mind, I knew that I should ask him to sit down and talk, recording device on the table. Before it was too late. He would have obliged, been honored. I never did it, and I’ve no idea why. It wasn’t due to shyness or propriety or doubt. As a writer, I could have given his story to the world, shared a few slivers of his brilliant mind with the masses. With you. So that you would know a little of the Frank that I knew, worked with, and loved for a decade. Frank as he wanted to be remembered, and certainly was: patriotic, charming, sharp, funny as fuck, brave, adventurous, handsome, loyal, family oriented, philosophical, and smarter than any of us. He was my friend, from first to last, and this open letter is all I have to give you, in honor of him. Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. NEVER FORGET.


Princess Fiona

Where I met Frank.

Where I met Frank.

96 thoughts on “[Intermezzo] Wherein I Offer You a Few Disjointed but Heartfelt Memories of My Dead Friend Frank on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

  1. I can’t come up with the appropriate words to describe how moving this piece is, since none of them would do it justice. So I’ll just leave it at that. This wasn’t written, it was crafted.

    • Thank you so much! Any praise from you is high praise. It is definitely a piece very close to my heart. It was easy to write, yet difficult to get through.

    • Frank was definitely larger than life, something I am pretty sure he orchestrated a bit; yet his truth was always the truth. He was pretty damn awesome. He wore his homemade shirt every 7th December we worked together. When we started working together, I was the youngest employee and he was the oldest, but it never mattered one bit.

      • I think certain people are larger than life characters not because they feel the need to inflate themselves but because they see the world as differently, as excitingly detailed – anyway thanks for sharing :)

      • Oh, that is definitely true! Frank had no need to inflate anything, as he had quite the amazing life. What I left out is just as good as what I included. He saw the world in a way that was entirely his own, one that made a lot of lives richer because of his passion for sharing himself.

    • You are welcome! When I woke up yesterday morning, and realized that it was Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, I knew that I had to write something for Frank. I wrote half of it in my head before I got out of bed. I’ve been lucky to have a few really good, significantly older friends. They changed how I see the world, so I agree that everyone needs a Frank in their life at some point.

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    • Thank you very much! I really appreciate your kind words. You are absolutely correct-I’m sure he would have approved of the movies. I’ve gone rogue and am starting with The Shop Around the Corner, which I have to watch at least twice every December. :)

      • That’s perfect! If I were there I’d make you cocoa and tuck a nice fluffy blanket under your toes. Instead I’m sending you a cyber-cozy. Have a wonderful evening.

    • I’m glad you think so! Frank was a special man, and I am glad you have been able to get a glimpse of who he was and what he meant to me. When I woke up that day, it hit me that the time was finally here to write something about Frank. It wasn’t pre-planned, but I think it worked out okay.

  3. This was a lovely way to share Frank with the rest of us. He sounds like he was a truly special man and your share his many charms and his significance so eloquently. Thanks for writing.

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  5. Really nice piece. I have a dear friend who is 99 – she fusses at me for taking photos, but I know she understands I am trying to do for her what you wish you had done for Frank in photos.

  6. This is an especially sensitive topic for me today as we found out that not one but TWO of our coworkers passed away over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and sad of course. Your post reminds me to remember them as they were and it also makes me want to reach out to the coworkers that are close to me now that are growing slighter older. Your Frank sounds like such a sweetheart. Thanks for the fantastic post and congrats on getting Freshly Pressed, Princess Fiona :)

    • Oh, I am so sorry about your coworkers. It must be difficult for everyone at your workplace. My condolences. Frank has been gone for 5 1/2 years, so it is all about memories now. Fortunately, I have hundreds of those; they are all interesting, too, as he was a complete badass. I really believe that befriending older people is fantastic for everyone involved. I learned so much from Frank, who was,as you suspected, also a total sweetheart. Thanks for your kind words about the post and about being Freshly Pressed!

      • Oh, he was such a badass. He was also a sweet, loving family man who worshiped his wife (and then her memory) until the day he died. He was a peach. Thanks again!

  7. Rarely am I speachless….What a tribute.
    “will always consider it a privilege to have known him”
    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and touching part of your life. Now you get to carry the flame of Frank’s memory and pass the torch to others so that what you loved will live on.

    • It’s not every day I render people speechless, so thank you! :)

      Frank was a special man. The best part of writing this post, and having it Freshly Pressed, is exactly for the reason you stated in your comment: “…and pass the torch to others so that what you loved will live on.” I am thrilled that so many people get to experience Frank as I knew him.

  8. Beautiful! You’ve written this in such a way that it feels as though I know Frank already, that he is a mutual friend of ours. It seems as though it would have been a pity to confine him to a book. Biographies can be long arduous things to get through that by the end, you feel as though you must have read about the whole person through and through. I mean this about all well-written books where you are compelled to keep on turning the pages, not the ones that you cannot finish. In this simple post but wonderfully crafted post, you have made Frank come to life as a living, breathing person. Truly inspiring. Thank you and congrats :)

    • I don’t even know how to respond to your comment. It’s a huge compliment. In writing this piece, I tried to balance my love and respect for Frank with my duty as a writer to be as compelling yet honest as possible. In the end, I think I did the job well. But it wasn’t until the feedback started rolling in that I realized that anyone else would find Frank as interesting as I do. I’m glad they do; he’d be happy.
      I understand your thoughts on biographies. I love them, but often feel weighed down by minutia that I don’t care to read about (what someone ate for breakfast or their hygiene habits, etc.). In writing an approximately thousand word essay, I didn’t have room for all of those extras which, now that you have pointed it out, I realize obviously worked to my advantage. Thanks for taking the time to not only read about Frank, but to offer such a well-thought out response.

  9. This was a great post, a heartfelt way of acknowledging a friend. I’d have to say though Frank was probably just as happy to have you as a part of his life as you were – people like Frank are hard to find but most the time people just walk by them, so sincere nod to you.

    • Thank you so much! I know that Frank appreciated my company, and not just because of my red hair; I always listened to his stories and genuinely enjoyed conversing with him. You are definitely correct that older people are often ignored by society. It is such a wasted opportunity. They know more than we do.

  10. Beautifully done. I had a stable of Franks in my life, and I think about them every day. Love stories of the WWII generation.

    • Thank you! You are a lucky man to have had multiple Franks in your life. Their perspective is so different, and needs to be acknowledged and respected. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    • Thank you so much! I wrote this essay from a place of personal need, but I am truly glad and grateful that so many others, including you, have been moved by my friend Frank’s life and character. He had one of the most expansive personalities of anyone I’ve ever met. If you knew him even for a few minutes, you were unlikely to ever forget him!

  11. Beautiful, yet frank (no pun intended) ;-); sentimental, without being sappy – very nice indeed! I greatly enjoy meeting a stranger in a story, who quickly becomes my friend. I have an elderly friend in my life who sounds quite a bit like Frank. Thanks for sharing! :-)

  12. Very touching and truly he’s a great friend! it’s really great to have a friend someone like him. He truly lived a fulfilling life and sharing it to you was something that really meant a lot.

    • Thank you so very much! I am incredibly grateful that Frank touched you. He was a wonderful person and it was a privilege to be able to share a little of his spirit with the WordPress community.

  13. Wonderful read.. I had a Mister, you a Frank..It’s these amazing people we meet that leave indelible footprints in our lives.. You wrote this piece wonderfully!!
    Well deserving of being Freshly Pressed!!

    • Thank you! Being Freshly Pressed was a nice bonus. Being able to share the Frank I knew with all of you was the main honor. I’m glad that you enjoyed the essay, and am doubly glad that you had a Frank equivalent in your life.

  14. Princess Fiona, I have to confess that I avoided reading your post for quite some time after seeing it on Freshly Pressed. I’ve been in such a sappy, blue mood lately, missing some people who used to live in my life. But I’m glad I finally got brave enough to take a peek. Your ode wasn’t sad at all, it was a joyful tribute. And it actually made me feel happier. Thanks for sharing it, and congrats on your honor.
    Melanie from Maryland

    • First, I am tickled every time someone calls me Princess Fiona. I am sorry that you have been feeling blue, but am happy that you worked up the nerve to read the essay. For Frank’s sake, that is, and not mine. Sharing a small part of Frank with the world, the part of him that was revealed to me over a decade-long period, felt really good. I’m quite heartened to realize that others, complete strangers, have been moved by his personality and character. He was awesome! Thank you again for reading the piece, and for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I am glad that the time finally felt right to share my version of Frank with the world. The response, including yours, has been lovely.

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