The coming Thanksgiving holiday is a time of family, friendship and love. Here is a rather unique story of one special friendship.
When I was young I had an unusual friend for a little girl. He was the town drunk. My grandfather owned a tavern in a mining town in Illinois and Frenchie was one of his better patrons. Sometimes my grandfather kicked Frenchie out of the tavern because he was too intoxicated. I always liked him drunk because then he sometimes played hopscotch with me, which he wouldn't do when he was sober.
When I was two, my mother and I came to live with my grandparents. Frenchie said that the first time he saw me I was sitting on a pool table, playing and jabbering away, so he called me Blabberbox. It stuck as his name for me.
To me, Frenchie was wonderful, certainly different from what people would consider a reasonable companion, but he liked me and made me feel special. Maybe our relationship was a novelty for him. It was obvious that our friendship brought him pleasure. I never questioned his friendship. For me, it was a constant.
My mother didn't approve of my relationship with Frenchie. I think part of her disapproval had to do with her belief that because Frenchie was a drunk he would reveal family secrets. However, he never did because he had great loyalty to me.
I think my mother's feelings against him made me like Frenchie more. I also had strong, feelings; however; mine stemmed from thinking I was an outsider and believing something about me was off. Frenchie and I really liked each other. Perhaps we realized we were kindred spirits. Because I was ill at ease with people, no one really knew me well and no one appeared to know the Frenchie I knew. They just saw him as a drunk.
Although my mother thought he was a bad influence; Frenchie was always protective of me. In summer his standard attire was overalls, without a shirt underneath. On his shoulder, he had a tattoo of a naked woman. When I was little I always wanted to look at it. In those days such things weren't common. When he saw me looking, he covered it over with his hand.
Frenchie, like many of the miners, lived in houses with no plumbing or central heating. He drank away his money. Men in those days were not demonstrative. But, once, my grandpa brought home a teddy bear. He said that Frenchie had bought it for me as a present. I was very proud and fond of this bear. My mother was not happy about it and made derogatory comments about how Frenchie had gotten it. Then my teddy bear disappeared. I blamed my mother and accused her of stealing it because she didn't like Frenchie. She denied this, but I believed it was true. When she moved house many years later, my mother found my teddy in the attic. She grabbed it, and waved it triumphantly, happy to prove that she was innocent. However, she never denied disliking Frenchie.
For years we lived with my grandparents; I was very attached to them. Once we moved away, we visited often and I spent time there. When I went to university, I saw less and less of Frenchie.
When grandmother died I went home. Where I come from, a wake and a funeral are important social occasions. Not attending is considered extremely disrespectful. Frenchie didn't come. Everyone said this was probably because he was on a drunk. I insisted that if Frenchie had known he would have been there. After the burial everyone went back to the house. I said I was going to see Frenchie. People muttered and rolled their eyes, but I went anyway.
I found him outside his house. He was well into his seventies, and he had very bad cataracts. He didn't recognize me, and I startled him.
"Who's there?" he asked.
"It's Janice," I said.
"Blabberbox, why are you here? You're not supposed to be here."
"My grandma died."
"I don't believe it. I didn't know. Oh Janice, I'm so sorry. If I would have known I would have come. You know I would have come, but I was visiting my son, and I didn't know."
We talked for a while. I returned home and defiantly told my family why Frenchie hadn't been at the funeral.
"He probably wouldn't have come anyway," my mother said.
One of my uncles stared at me.
"I wonder how it feels," he said. "You really like Frenchie, but everyone says terrible things about him."
I so appreciated that statement.
That was the last time I saw Frenchie. When he died, my mother didn't call me. I found out when a card I had sent him came back with Deceased on it. I called my mother, angry that she hadn't told me. I wanted to go to the funeral but she said she didn't know if there was to be a funeral.
When I went home, I found out where he was buried. I went to the cemetery to look for his grave and walked up and down rows trying to locate his burial spot. A cemetery worker showed us the family plot. It contained a stone with the name of Frenchie's brother and parents, but there was no stone for Frenchie. There was no acknowledgement of Frenchie's existence. I bought him a stone. It only has one word Frenchie.
Frenchie used to tell everyone, "Blabberbox always sends me a card. She sends me cards for Christmas, Easter and Halloween. She even sends a card for Groundhog's Day."
When I visit his grave and I see that gravestone, it is like I've sent him a card.
Frenchie is one of fifty uplifting and inspiring stories in "Heartbeats, True Stories of Love". These stories remind us how truly important love is. It is available on Amazon as an e book and paperback.