Empty cardboard boxes and crumpled newspapers littered the floor. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering why the heck we moved. I shook my head with agitation as I sifted through junk mail. Then I heard an unfamiliar voice.
I glanced toward the end of our brown, peeling driveway. Two twinkling eyes beckoned mine. Before we formally met, I sensed such depth and content from this soul. He approached me with a kind smile and outstretched hands.
“Hi there! I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Frank. Welcome to the neighborhood.” He then handed me a bottle of champagne. I was flabbergasted and immediately touched by his kindness.
“My name is Dara. This is beyond thoughtful of you, Frank!” I said holding back unexpected tears. Frank had unknowingly diffused my funnel cloud of emotions.
We connected instantly. And I have a feeling everyone who meets Frank feels the same way. He is the epitome of a human being who has clearly lived an abundant, fulfilling life. And despite experiencing much loss, I am always greeted with a genuine, heartfelt smile.
I asked Frank how long he has lived here in South Florida. He sounded like a native New Yorker. One question sparked the start of a nearly six-year friendship. Frank was born in New York on March 25, 1925.
“I took care of my first wife in that house,” he said, pointing to the home directly next door. “I decided to stay here because I love this neighborhood and my kids live nearby.” After serving in the Navy, I came back to New York, which is where I met my first wife. We were married for 51 years and had three kids. I also have two grandchildren,” Frank said. “Then my wife became sick, and after a terrible two year fight, she passed away.” He’d just started his story, and I was already hooked.
And then he reached into the pocket of his khaki dress pants. Frank took out a leather bifold wallet. I watched his strong, weathered hands as he gently tugged at a tiny piece of paper.
“You see this?” I thought to myself, yes, I do. It’s a rectangle. And then he turned it over. “This is Lois. We’ve been married for 10 years.,” he shared fondly.
I pivoted my body so I stood next to Frank. Chill bumps formed on my arms as I peered at the tattered and well-loved black and white photo. “Tell me about how you met Lois.”
“I met Lois in the 1940s. Then I went into the Navy. I only knew her for a year but I never forgot about her. And we reconnected after the war; I was in the Navy during World War II,” Frank said. Though he squinted, a radiant sparkle of pride peeked from his crinkly blue grey eyes.
I am a perpetual romantic. I was now officially swooning and wondering what happened next. Frank continued and as he spoke his tone changed.
“Lois and I have had a wonderful 12 years together. But now I’m taking care of a second wife; Lois had a stroke,” Frank said pensively.
Oh how sad!!! My heart hurt hearing the words and energy that came from this sweet man. “Frank, that’s just heartbreaking. I am so sorry. I am a speech-language pathologist, and I would love to help Lois and you in any way I can.”
A peaceful grin once again graced his young-looking face. Frank is now 93 years old but he still looks like he’s 60.
“I really appreciate that offer. We have therapists coming to the house and full-time care. That means a lot to me, Dara.”
I told him I am a woman of my word, and I only say that which I mean. The following week I met Lois. Her dainty stature contrasted with determined, fiery blue eyes. I told her she strikes me as a woman who is quiet but fierce. And that will be exactly what she needs to recover. She nodded and winked at me.
Frank and Lois met at Miami University of Ohio. Frank was sent there by the navy in 1943 to attend radio school. Lois is from Hamilton, Ohio. “I had a lot of fun during that time. I remember thinking `this is the only way to fight a war,’ ” Frank shared as he chuckled.
“I met her at the USO where she was playing the piano. We’d go in on the weekends to have a good time. I left there in 1944 to go to another school. Then I was sent to Casco Bay, Maine to go to a secret school. We couldn’t take any papers out of there.”
He looked off in the distance as he wistfully said, “I gotta tell you this story, Dara.” I waited as I watched him reflect. Frank wore a yellow polo shirt and jeans. It occurred to me that Frank must’ve been quite dapper when he was younger; he clearly took pride in his appearance. The contrast between his modern attire as he told me stories from decades ago so perfectly depicts Frank.
His eyes met mine again.“We were communicating, and it was almost a year. And then one day I received a post that was one of those `a hometown boy came back and asked me to marry him.’ I said goodbye and good luck. In the wartime, they used to call those Dear John letters. I said that’s it—so be it!” Frank said while he gestured animatedly with his hands.
Frank served in the Navy from 1943-1946. He has gifted me incredible stories of his time on the USS Frost: DE 144. Frank was in charge of the high frequency direction finder crew, where he listened in to German broadcast in order to get information that was being exchanged. After he was discharged, he attended the New York University school of journalism.
He then became a financial reporter in Manhattan. “I answered an ad to be a reporter. And the man said to me, `Can you type?’ I said yes. He said here, type this piece of paper. I knocked it off like nothin! He said you’re hired. I said, `Don’t you want to see my degree?’ ”
“There were only two reporters; we hit it off right from the start. I was one and Leonard was the other one. We had a crazy boss, a weird kinda guy. As soon as we’d finish, he’d take the whisky out, and I’d have to take him home quite a few times!”
I asked Frank how and when he reaquainted with Lois. “We reconnected in Louisville. Stan Mondski, a fellow crew member, called me because they were planning a 50th anniversary reunion of the ship. At first my reaction was ‘who are these people anymore?’ I don’t know how this will be. It went great! And I ran 15 reunions after that around the country.”
Lois wrote Frank a note, and she included the photo (the one Frank still carries in his wallet). “Did I make it? What happened to me? Her husband had Alzheimer’s. She said to me, ‘it’s like I’m taking care of a 4-year-old.’ I could use some cheering up. So I wrote her letters to cheer her up. I went to school for journalism so I might as well use the writing!” Frank said.
Frank invited Lois to his Navy reunion in Louisville. This was their first meeting after 60 years. “We were in a Holiday Inn, where I was with my shipmates and their wives so we met there. Friends ask me. How did you react? I said what was I seeing? I saw two little, gray-haired old people that were no longer teenagers,” Frank said as he laughed.
Then she drove back home. Later she came back to visit me in Florida. She kept visiting, and then when her husband had passed away, “I said to myself well? We’re getting along fine. Maybe marriage is the thing to do. It’s so funny because we said no big deal. She came down on a Wednesday, ” Frank said. “I called the bureau, and I told them we wanted to get married. They said it takes three days, and you’ll run into the weekend and we’ll be closed. Somebody said get a notary. So we had a notary come. We went to the gazebo down at TY Park. My daughter, Joanne, went down and decorated the gazebo. My daughter had us all go back to her house and that was it.”
“I found a boutique hotel in Palm Beach that only had 56 rooms. That’s where we had our honeymoon. The next morning, we wanted to get something to eat. I asked the guy at the desk. He said `I’ll make you a reservation.’ He gave me directions down the road a couple of miles.”
“The hotel was so and so, but they had a reservation for us. The woman at the front of the restaurant looked at us and said (his eyes wide), `Are YOU the newlyweds???’ That was hysterical!”
Lois watched us intently as we chatted. Frank stood up and lovingly touched her cheek. He handed me a brochure from the hotel, which was called “The Chesterfield.” On his way to sit back down next to me, he rubbed her back. Lois wore a pale pink sweatsuit. I sensed the deep-rooted love they had for one another.
Frank also showed me photos from their wedding day and a cruise in 2007. I noticed a college ring from NYU on his left pinky finger. This was another sweet symbol of Frank’s positive spirit. He told me that Lois loved Michael Feinstein because she was a pianist. “I’d take her to his concerts whenever he came; we were very active.”
I asked Frank if he is still driving. “No. I’ve been grounded! Between the doctors and my family they’re not letting me drive.” Both Frank and Lois are 93 years old. I asked him about living such a full, long life. And what it’s like to outlive nearly all of his friends. “That part is alarming. But something’s going to get you. I think if you’re not learning almost daily, you’re not paying attention. You think you know it all but you don’t. There’s always something to learn. You gotta listen.”
We often speak about aging and his life’s journey. Frank said, “One thing I advise to anyone who has aged is you need a sense of humor. Because as you get older and you realize there are things you can’t do anymore. When you demean yourself to people, they like you. I’d rather make jokes about myself than people make fun of me! I can do anything but I just don’t try it anymore.”
“You see that? That’s Italian! If you don’t do that, you can’t talk!!” Lois smirked and looked at Frank as he talked to me. She was referring to his animated hand motions.
Last year my doorbell rang. A man handed me a gorgeous, vivid bouquet of roses. I assumed the flowers were from my husband. When I opened the card, I was shocked and touched. “Thank you for everything. —Frank and Lois” I dropped everything and immediately knocked on his door. To be honest, I was worried something was wrong.
The nurse opened the door. She called for Frank. I hugged him and said, “Why Frank? It is not a holiday or anything special. My gosh you really touched my heart.”
Frank tilted his head and smiled. “You have never once forgotten my birthday. You are always checking on us. We didn’t know how to thank you. So I thought I’d send flowers,” he said.
“Oh Frank that is so sweet!! Your stories, energy, and attitude inspire me. I am grateful to have met both you and Lois. THAT is the greatest gift,” I replied.
The orange, pink, and lavender flowers are dried and now hang in my kitchen. I affixed the sweet note that accompanied the roses to the wall, too. They’re a daily reminder of love, longevity, and friendship. Frank and Lois are my friends. And for each other, they are forever Valentines.