I started this a few weeks ago because I couldn’t decide who I was writing it for; Frank, his family or myself? Regardless, it is time to write this story.
Through our thirty-five years of friendship he was at one point or another – married to my best friend, dating my sister, earning the undying affection and respect of my mother and charming many other ladies. He saw me through two marriages, the advent of motherhood and the maturity of middle-age. He was often missing for a year or so, but never far from a phone or email message.
Frank lost his relatively quick battle on February 12, 2012. Quick is relative. He died roughly 6 months post diagnosis. I was privileged to see him often those last months and we talked almost daily. I wrote a short memory to his mom and sister trying to convey the man I had known for all those years, even though I had only met them briefly during visits to him at the treatment center. I was one of the bubbles of his life Frank managed to keep separate. If he had been in the circus, he would have been the juggler who kept all those plates twirling on the end of slender sticks. You never felt you were less than the center of his world, but you knew there were other plates twirling through his life.
I saved a few of his last voice mail messages. I also saved the voice recordings he sent me. I encouraged him to write the fantastical adventures and journeys of his life. He said he couldn’t write but would record them on his phone and send them along for me to do with what I wanted. I listened to them again last night, the anniversary of three years since he left. His voice on the early calls was strong and full of hope. “Hey Marth! I’m getting out of the hospital. I’ve got this one beat!! Can you come down for a visit?”
I believed, as he did, that he had it beat. Neither of us could imagine the alternative. The final messages were from late December of 2011, the last on January 7th of 2012. He went back into the hospital and never returned my calls shortly after that. I communicated via phone and email with his sister. She said he knew I was calling, he appreciated it, it meant a lot to him. She said he was beyond talking on the phone but that she gave him all my messages.
During his illness and subsequent death, I was privileged to be taken in by his large, extended, and lovingly family. As with all whose lives Frank touched, the coming together of us in his honor was a strange and eclectic experience. I arrived at the funeral home for my last visit with Bones. The stately house was on a side street in an upscale Connecticut town. The street was packed and the parking lot overflowing. As I drove slowly by searching for a spot, I stared at the crowd of mourners out front. Hundreds of Hell’s Angels in full leather mingled with suited executives and distinguished elderly Italian gentlemen. One of the bikers stepped up to my door and politely suggested a parking spot in the rear of the lot. I drove to where he indicated and climbed out of my truck. The fellow was standing at the rear, respectfully offering his arm and said, “May I escort you to the door, Ma’am?”
Inside there were so many people it took me a while to find my way to his Mom. I was on a mission. When I left America to live overseas, Frank had given my his St. Christopher’s medal, the patron saint of travelers. He was never a religious man but I knew from stories of his family and upbringing that the medal held deep meaning to him. When it was my turn to address his mother, I placed the medal in her hand. She closed her hand over the warm, golden disk and looked at me questioningly. “He would want you to have it now. It served me well for many years.”
The next day, as we all stood graveside for the priest’s last words. It was a peaceful spot, far from the main road. Just beyond where we stood, I looked through the trees and glimpsed a pond slowly coming to life in the spring chill. The ice was gone and it shimmered in the weak sunlight. A flock of geese flew overhead drowning out the sermon as they noisily announced their arrival. I think Frank would have smiled at the symbolize I saw.
This is the memory I sent his Mom. I was honored to have a part of it excerpted for his funeral program.
Frank “Bones” Carbone
Everyone has lost someone in the past, but none of us has lost anyone like Frank. He was a first-born son, a big brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. Everyone whose life he touched changed forever.
I was lucky enough to call him my friend for more than 35 years. He sold advertising, managed a winery, skied, biked, owned a tavern, trained horses, ran a scrap yard and I’m sure many other professions and hobbies I’m forgetting here. The Tavern in New London is where our friendship began. And though I could entertain you for hours with “Bones” stories from that part of his life, there is another story that, to me, sums up the essence of Frank.
In the late 70’s I was living in Trinidad with my husband who worked in the oil fields. Trinidad had oil – it was not a tourist destination. And while it had beautiful beaches and amazing rain forests, it was not on any romantic itinerary. If one found their way there they never left the airport in Port of Spain but caught the next flight to the sister island of Tobago.
There was political unrest and a volatile population made up of 48% blacks, 48% Hindu Indians all brought in by the British to work the sugar cane. The remaining 2% of the population was white and if you saw another white person on the street it was for sure you knew them.
We seldom had visitors. This was before the Internet, texting or cell phones. In fact, our only means of communicating with the outside world was an antiquated and unreliable phone system, a network of ham radio operators and the predecessor to the fax machine – the telex. One day Roger, my ex-husband came home from the office all excited that he had received a telex from Frank saying he had booked a flight to visit us. We telexed back that we would pick him up and not to leave the airport terminal until we came to find him.
On the day he was due to arrive we left our house to make the 2-hour drive to the airport and hit a huge traffic jam on the only highway. We were more than an hour late with no way to let Frank know we were coming. As we pulled up to the gray dusty terminal I frantically scanned the sidewalk for Frank. I spotted a large group of rough-looking locals totally focused on a white man in a Panama hat and a Hawaiian shirt. There was Frank holding court and entertaining as usual.
He collected up his luggage and bid his new buddies good –bye as he hopped into the back seat. “Are you OK? I told you to wait in the terminal. I’m so sorry we were late.” I babbled.
“I got tired of waiting and figured I’d meet some of the locals ‘til you got here, I’m fine.” he chuckled as only Frank could do. “Weren’t those guys scary?” I asked. “Yeah but Marth, the trick is to never let them smell fear and never turn your back.”
When Frank called to tell me his diagnosis last summer I broke down. Once again he assured me – show no fear and don’t turn away. He fought long and hard. Now any moment I start to feel the loss of him, I listen for his chuckle and see that impish sidelong grin in his blue eyes
I always accused Frank of living in a beautiful bubble that supported only him. Others entered his bubble but always became dissatisfied when the bubble didn’t give to them what they were seeking. He sought adventure and followed an unconventional path. I never knew him to acknowledged defeat, only that the path had taken a different direction.
In the words of Gautama the Buddha “Do not follow others, do not imitate, because imitation, following, creates stupidity. You are born with a tremendous possibility of intelligence. You are born with a light within you. Listen to the still, small voice within and that will guide you. Nobody else can guide you, nobody else can become a model for your life, because you are unique. Nobody has there been ever who was exactly like you and nobody is ever going to be there again who will be exactly like you. This is your glory, your grandeur – that you are utterly irreplaceable, that you are just yourself and nobody else.”
Life is a tremendously beautiful pilgrimage, but only for those who are ready to seek and search.
Good-bye my dear adventurer.