I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you.
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Our family friend Frank Romero passed away late last year. Frank was ninety-one years old, and in good health up until the last few years, so he had a good life.
Frank lived in the condo next to ours for several years, only moving when he was no longer able to negotiate the stairs. When Frank lived next door, he and I would often have coffee on the patio in the morning, and wine later in the day. All the world’s problems were solved on that patio, and our favorite sports teams reached new heights.
Frank’s ancestors came to the United States from Spain in the mid eighteen-hundreds. The family settled in New Mexico where decades later Frank was raised with several brothers and sisters. Frank joined the army when he came of age and served in the Korean War. He was a crewman on a Quad-50, which is a lethal mobile machine gun platform. One day, Frank was asked to take over video camera duties for another soldier who was injured. Frank became adept at the task, and filmed footage of the war for the remainder of his time in Korea; a change of duty he felt may have saved his life.
Frank was a very smart, affable man. He was an automobile salesman, peddling cars all over the U.S. during his long career. No one was a stranger around Frank for very long, he would strike up a conversation with anyone nearby. He had a collection of stories he freely shared, many of which were pretty dang funny.
Before Frank finally quit driving, I saw my life pass before my eyes several times when he was behind the wheel. After a time, I insisted on doing all the driving whenever we went anywhere.
My daughter JoAnn and I often took Frank shopping. His favorite store was Aldi’s because he liked their wine. He’d usually pick up five or six bottles a week, while there. I never cared for Aldi’s because I believe “renting” shopping carts to your customers is a scam, but it didn’t seem to bother Frank.
Several years ago, I attended a reunion in Southern Arizona with my old military unit from Vietnam. I also got to visit some old friends who live out there. Frank also had friends and family out there, so he rode along with me. Frank disputed the GPS ladies’ directions the whole way out, and at one point, exasperated, I half-jokingly threatened to leave him out in the desert. We had a good time despite the GPS hassles. On the return trip we stopped at a remote desert location in New Mexico where most of Frank’s family was buried. I felt honored to share that time with him.
Frank and I were both in the VA healthcare system and we made our appointments together so he would always have a ride there and back. Affable as always, Frank made friends with the staff, and other patients nearby. Sometimes we’d stay a half hour or so after our appointments, so he could socialize with his VA pals. We’d stop for coffee on our way back, at one of several coffee shops we enjoyed. Frank would entertain staff and patrons there as well.
JoAnn would often clean Frank’s place for him, and usually take him shopping on the same day. Frank was always very generous and insisted on overpaying her for her work. He really liked JoAnn, though I’m not sure why. 🙂
His new condo, was all on one level, so he was able to manage very well, for the most part. It wasn’t too far from our condo, and I’d often stop and have coffee with him while out on my bike rides.
Having lived and worked in Chicago for many years, Frank had some incredible stories about auto sales; Chicago style. He was a big Chicago sports fan, and since I’m a Wisconsin sports fan we ribbed each other’s teams a bit. (We didn’t see eye to eye on politics, so we generally avoided that topic)
Sadly, my wife Ann has passed away now also, but she JoAnn and I all missed Frank when he was no longer with us. My rides down to the VA healthcare center are kind of lonesome these days. But I can still see Frank’s smiling face, and laugh at the many stories he told, along with our near-death automobile rides.
Thanks for being a great guy and a good friend Frank, and as your friend the GPS lady would say, “You’ve reached your final destination”. 😉
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