My Great Uncle Frank passed away last night. He went into the hospital a while back with a bad case of pneumonia. When I did the East Coast phone-check-in recently, my mom told me that he was doing better and might be released. Last night, on my way out the door to dinner with friends, my sister called me to let me know that things weren’t looking good. By the time I reached the first traffic light, she called again to let me know that he’d passed.
I write “Great Uncle” as he is my Great Aunt Geraldine’s (my grandmother’s sis) husband. But, he was also great.
Frank, Irish through-and-through, lived and worked in the town I grew up in since the beginning of time. Roughly. He was a teacher and guidance counselor at the high school forever, although he retired well before I was a student there. I spoke to him a handful of times a year, at most, but he was always a quiet, contented man and from what I saw, was good to his family and most everyone else around him.
I am definitely closer to Geraldine, his wife, than I have ever been with him and I feel terrible for her. She and Frank seemed so opposite one another — just as my grandmother and grandfather do, only in a different way — but it seemed to work. Christmas Eve, up until recently, was always spent at Gerry and Frank’s crowded condo, where everyone got a gift, the food poured from the kitchen, and children reigned. They spent their summers in southern New Hampshire, near Mount Monadnock (the most hiked mountain in the U.S.), in a tight cottage with a sharply angled roof, near the edge of a small lake. When I was a kid, I’d spend several days per summer there; picking pine pitch from the soles of my bare feet or shirtless, floating on an old inner tube.
What I think of most often about Frank though is his love to be outdoors — not in the machismo, I-killed-a-large-animal sense, but simply in his appreciation to be away from walls and other enclosures. Frank was active everyday. He loved to walk. Walking became his premier retirement activity and, up until fairly recently, would walk more in a day than the average person does over the course of a couple months.
The town that I grew up in was not a walking community, as most suburbs aren’t. Walking isn’t a team sport, after all. So, in that sense, he was an oddity and I distinctly remember a strange occurrence one bus ride home after a long day in Middle School. Riding home we passed him, out walking as always, and far from home. I waved and shouted out the window, caught his attention and he returned the gesture.
A classmate immediately asked me how I knew him. I explained my relationship to Frank and he asked me if he was mentally challenged (in not such a nice way). Apparently, people that remain healthy and active well into their retirement are looked upon as handicapped. Silly.
I won’t be heading home, but feel tremendously bad for Geraldine.