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Bone-chilling winds, throngs of rabid Green Bay Packer fans, and I rushed into Dallas on a frigid Friday night in January.

The freezing cold, a stark contrast to the seventy degrees and sunshine I left in San Diego.

The football fanatics in town for a Wild Card playoff game against the Cowboys.

Me? I traveled to my hometown to say good-bye to my buddy pal, my girlhood best friend’s husband of sixty-four years.

Janice and I touch base regularly sharing stories of travel, family, recipes, and the like. Just before Thanksgiving, she related how Frank, her devoted husband, had just planted pansies – yellow, purple, and white—in the flower beds edging the flagstone patio of their luxurious home. For her, he changed the expansive gardens each season. Vibrant fuchsias and deep red azaleas in the spring, heat-loving marigolds and zinnias in the summer, mums in the fall, and pansies each winter season.

Frank also showered my friend with diamonds and turquoise, expensive watches, luxury travel, exquisite surroundings, and unending acts of service.

She rarely filled her tank with gasoline.

These two have been a constant in my life since their first meeting her freshman year at North Texas University in Denton. I had opted to go west to Texas Technological University in Lubbock. Our first Thanksgiving home, she blushed as she talked about this cute guy she’d met.

Janice and Frank married and stayed in Dallas, living together in half a dozen homes, all within a ten-mile range of the homes they grew up in; I have lived in thirty-eight different homes in seventeen different cities, several multiple times. Dallas to name one.

Over the years, I grew to love Frank as much as I loved Janice, my almost sister. She and I were delighted when our husbands bonded.

When my husband died, I cried on Frank’s shoulder. Often.

When I brought my new guy to visit, Frank took my East Coast transplant to buy a pair of cowboy boots. The four of us celebrated over Queso and Margaritas. The next day we took off for Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap, an unrivaled joyous road trip.

That’s how it is in Texas.

I visited Dallas two or three times a year for decades. Janice made sure I was at the North Dallas High School Reunions. Each visit, Frank was there to meet me; I never lifted a suitcase. And I always came home with a vow to “be more like Frank.”

As wealthy as he was, he was fiscally responsible and so well informed. “Take this new kind of lightbulb home and get it for every fixture in your house,” he offered when LED options surfaced. “It can save as much as five or six bucks on your monthly electric bill.”

Other worthwhile, but often ignored advice—"Ask your carrier to consolidate…” or “Be sure you put a tank of high octane…” or “Look, this is how you change your filter…”

I could depend on Frank for information. For advice. For comfort.

Above all, however, Frank was a gentleman.

A stern father. A strong partner. But a gentleman who delighted in sending stupid jokes regularly to his friends. He made me laugh. Rarely at his dumb jokes. Most often, his wry sense of humor.

When we were a foursome, Frank and I were always in sync. Adventurous Alpha Dogs leading the pack. Marfa. Wine Country. Big Bend National Park. San Francisco.

Buffalo Gap, home of Perini Ranch and the best peppered beef tenderloins known to man, over and over.

I loved Frank like a brother.

 

When I hadn’t heard from Janice just before Christmas, I sat with my first cup of coffee and called.

I knew instantly something was wrong.

“I didn’t want to ruin your holiday,” she said sorrowfully.

By this time, she and he and their family, kids I have known since birth, had dealt with the devastation of his December twelfth diagnosis.

Aggressive cancer throughout the body and brain.

“We’re considering treatment plans. I’ll be sure to let you know,” she assured.

We texted back and forth over the next days as they dealt with unending medical issues.

“I need an update,” I texted just before Frank’s eighty-sixth birthday on January sixth.

We always talked on one another’s birthdays yet I felt guilty for intruding in Janice’s life that had been upended like the gale force winds that ravaged Dallas as 2024 began.

“He’s going into a five-to-seven-day hospice care center, the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center in north Dallas,” she told me.

As I began to cry, thoughts of my dad and his buddy, T. Boone Pickens struck me. Dad loved to tell their stories as upstarts in the oil business with Phillips Petroleum. Pickens became known as an oil billionaire, corporate raider, and one of Texas’ most colorful and innovative entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

“I’m so sorry, Janice,” I said as she wept.

And then, as mine had done, Janice’s children took over. Her older son became the patriarch of this new family, the new family that theirs would become without Frank. And Leanne, her daughter, like Jamie, my daughter had in our loss, became the conduit. The communicator. The scheduler. The planner and the fierce protector of her mother.

 

Leanne reached out to me.

“Two weeks at the most,” her grim text.

My reply: “If I come tomorrow, will I be in time to say goodbye to my buddy pal?”

“Of course. Mom wants you here, but she knew you had a new book coming out and didn’t wanna bother you…”

Any wonder she’s my longest lasting BFF?

“I’m arriving Friday night. Will wait to hear when I can visit on Saturday, Leanne.”

“Dad is drifting in and out of consciousness, but when we told him you were coming, he smiled and gave a big thumbs up.”

I felt my throat constrict.

 

Frank grew up in Highland Park, the ritzy section of Dallas.

I grew up in Greenway Park which borders Highland Park and is not quite so ritzy.

Janice grew up in a working-class neighborhood. We were school mates.

Bordering Highland Park, a new and even ritzier part of Dallas has developed surrounding the museum district. Whenever I came back to Texas, we visited art museums and ate at Janice’s newest and fanciest restaurant choice. She and I also did a lot of what she called “junk shopping” together early on at places like Marshall’s and Ross.

At some point in the past few years, Hotel ZaZa went up in this new area referred to now as Uptown Dallas. It’s full of art and within walking distance of the Nasher Sculpture Garden and the Dallas Museum of Art. An ultra-five-star addition to my hometown.

I could never afford to stay there; didn’t have to anyway because I always stayed with Janice and Frank.

A serendipitous email hit my inbox just after I made my plane reservations for Dallas. A fifty-percent discount offer this week only for stays at Hotel ZaZa. Within ten minutes, I had booked a room!

 

Entering the T. Boone Pickens Hospice Care Center rivaled the lobby of Hotel ZaZa. Rich upholsteries, crystal chandeliers, beautiful art, Persian rugs, jade and ivory sculptures and characteristic Texas stuff like a yellow rose, or a bronze cowboy boot or a bone-dry skull reminiscent of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. SO TEXAS.

It pleased me Frank was here.

 

With caution, I opened the door on Room 311. The gray day from the window backlit my stoic almost-sister as she sat as a sentry next to Frank’s bedside. Leanne greeted me with a huge hug and an uncontrollable flow of tears.

When I composed myself, I moved to Frank, and gave him a gentle kiss.

“Hi darlin’,” he managed before slipping away again.

He and I held hands. His fair complexion, now pale. His vibrant body now fragile.

I felt a squeeze and realized he was rousing again.

“Frank, I must tell you something that is going to make you so proud of me. My hotel room is discounted fifty percent.”

We all watched with quiet astonishment as he struggled with all his might to lift his head off the pillow and brandish a huge smile. A smile as big as Texas.

“You taught me well,” I whispered as he drifted again.

We would have several more moments together in his consciousness. I reminded him of some of our best times and I told him I loved him.

And then I left.

Janice followed me; we sat for another short while and cried together. I vowed, when I went through this, that I’d always know the right thing to say. I didn’t.

She told me two others were coming to say goodbye and then he’d get the morphine drip.

I left and went directly to the Nasher Sculpture Garden where I sat near the Henry Moore bronze sculpture.

When my brother died, this is where I went to grieve.

 

Back at the Hotel ZaZa, the bar was full of football fans as Kansas City Chiefs, my team because Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, like me, is a Texas Tech alum, beat Miami for a playoff berth.

I took a seat at the bar and watched the revelers.

 

Early the next day, a text from both Janice and Leanne telling me that Frank had died at 9:20 am.

 

I sat at the airport for a few hours waiting to return to San Diego.

As I did, the temperature dropped, and the winds increased.

My return flight, late that Sunday, was filled with raucous celebratory Green Bay Packers fans who had surprised everybody by beating Frank’s Dallas Cowboys for a Super Bowl chance.

 

As I looked out into the dark space heading west, I remembered Janice’s last comment when I asked how I could help.

“Nothing. I’m just so happy you came. I know you’ve been through it, and I’ll need you soon.”

“What will you do now,” I asked.

I watched as she struggled, wringing her hands, and twisting the large diamond ring on her left hand.

“I need to cover the pansies, so they don’t freeze.”

 

 

BIO

Note: I read recently that more essays, short stories, and memoirs are written at the time of a death and that the work is typically started with days.

My friend, Frank, died on Sunday, January 14. I wrote this on Monday, January 15, 2024.

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