Monday, September 17, 2012

Guest Post: Burying Frank

 Courtesy of Bill Pigott, a Toronto Writer

What saved it from being unbearable was the hawthorn. In full bloom, it enveloped us in the breath of Spring.

If you counted the robin, there were five of us at the interment.

Frank had died at 84, alone. What family Frank had lived, perhaps understandably, far away.

Few people epitomized a name as well as Frank. For, Frank had been issued the deck of life with the people suit missing.

Frank’s unmarried crust had thickened with age. A great battlement shutting in profound neediness. Our last visit together looked like a disaster - unless you understood the codes.

“Turn down that goddam T.V.!” I walked across Frank’s living room and obeyed.

Frank’s right hand held a cigarette, precariously. The inch long ash threatening harm to a fine Persian rug. Frank’s body inscribed a “C” in the chair. The pose of slouching indifference reading “go away”. But, meaning “stay - please”.

In Frank’s right hand was a glass of Canadian whiskey - neat, dark brown. Soon, Frank would demand another drink. Please and thank you would not figure in that transaction either.

We had spent the afternoon watching golf - in silence. The Master’s was Frank’s favorite. All dressed, we would be going to Tachet, a neighborhood restaurant. A treat reserved for my visits to town. Frank looked natty in grey flannels, white shirt and black cardigan.

At Tachet, the food was French and they fussed. Perhaps they mistook Frank’s snarly nature as merely Parisian. By the end of dinner, it would be touch and go whether there was more food on Frank than in.

As we readied to go out, I knew we would have to face the “gauntlet”. The gauntlet was a steep wooden stairway that dropped about fifteen feet to the garage under Frank’s house. Frank insisted on taking those stairs unaided in spite of virtual blindness, and no sense of balance - the after effects of several mild strokes. And, three stiff whiskeys.

Frank teetered at the top of the stairs risking a five metre plunge. I stood two steps down, just in case. “Get out of my goddam way!” I didn’t. Frank fell forward grasping for the banister bars and found them. Four more heart-stopping lunges and Frank reached the bottom.

Fifteen minutes later, exhausted, I wheeled Frank into Tachet, set the brake and let the French take over.

Over dinner, Frank reprised one of the hidden things in Frank’s life - creativity.
Frank had worked for a large ad agency in Philadelphia - writing tag lines transforming product to image. I imagined the agency carefully sliding Frank’s meals under a door marked “Beware of Frank.”

“It was 1948," Frank said. An old client was seeking new directions. “Goddamned if they didn’t want a timeless catch phrase. Something simple. Simple is best. But, simple is the goddamned hardest. And, the bastards wanted it over night.”

With a morning deadline, Frank sat at home, rejected thoughts balled on the floor. Listening, I imagined Frank in the half light, shrouded in muse-choking smoke and railing.

“At 3:00 in the morning, I was done in. I had a line in front of me that looked promising. I decided to sleep on it. When I woke up, I knew I had it. “A Diamond Is Forever”. I wrote that. Put DeBeer’s on the map. Got a handshake from the boss. Bugger all else. Number one advertising slogan of the century - did you know that?” The tone was proud. “The goddam agency fired me in 1972 when it moved to New York. I guess I wasn’t forever.”

I cleaned as much of Frank’s dinner off Frank as I could without being obvious. We drove home. Frank went to bed and I left for the last time.

The robin brought me back to grave side. I heard the priest. But, I was thinking about Frank’s antisocial ways. And, imaging the obstacles she faced in the business world of the 1940's.

“Rest in peace Mary Frances Gerety. May God have mercy on you.” The priest concluded his ministrations with a splash of holy water and murmured condolences.

Then, we left Frank, alone. Under the hawthorn.



Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Love this, especially this line:

"Perhaps they mistook Frank’s snarly nature as merely Parisian." Ha!

People--even (or maybe especially) crusty, snarly, hard-shelled people--contain the most fascinating stories. Thank you for having the patience to draw it out and then share it with us.

elizabethbrinton said...

I love the fact that Bill let us go on thinking of Frank as a man until the end. It speaks to the double standard which had to be much worse in her day. I also really enjoyed the idea of a slogan, one simple phrase driving a whole industry. I am very happy that Bill Pigott chose to grace us with his considerable skill.

LL Bolme said...

I know no one has commented on this piece for a long time but I keep coming back to it and reading it over and over.

I'm captivated by the very first sentence, drawn immediately, into the mood of this piece. I don't yet know what it's about but I have a feeling it's going to be gloomy and yet there is this balm, this saving presence of a hawthorn, that makes it OK to read on.

When you keep coming back to read something again and again, it must be awesome.