I took this photo of Frank in the mid-1980s,
along one of our favorite smallmouth streams.
Frank would have loved this past week, as winter lost its icy grip, snow cover disappeared, and the first wildflowers began splashing bright color amid drab leaf litter along his beloved streambanks. "But don't call it spring just yet," he would have cautioned. Frank knew Ohio weather, having experienced nearly nine decades worth of changing seasons. He always claimed "the frog has to look through the ice twice," and said to not be surprised to see snow on the forsythia blooms before spring finally settled in for good.
I never quite understood the frog business, but I've witnessed numerous times when yellow forsythia blossoms received a mantle of white.
Yesterday marked the first anniversary of my old friend's passing.
Frank was always an early riser, eager to get a jump on the new day. It came as no surprised that he made his final journey well before dawn. As I sat by his bedside—just the two of us in that small room—holding his hand and saying what words of comfort I could, I remember a robin cut loose in the darkness beyond the nursing home's window—a sprightly melody of coming light and burgeoning season, a familiar vernal song Frank would have truly enjoyed. Even in the midst of casting to a productive bass pool, Frank would often pause to listen to a bit of birdsong.
We were best friends for nearly thirty years. I can't begin tell you the countless hours and adventures we shared—but I can tell you we enjoyed almost every moment. And even those times when serious matters brought us together, we found solace in each other's company. The wide gap in our ages didn't matter. Writing, books and bookstores, nature photography, meals shared at country cafés, and puttering along small streams with fly tackle or ultralight gear in search of smallmouth bass, were just a few of our common interests, part of the reason for our strong friendship bond. But most of all, we were kindred spirits…so close in so many ways that we could have been brothers.
Frank was, for most of his professional life, both a Baptist minister and a newspaperman—reporter, columnist, photographer, editor; not a career duo you encounter every day. He was also a serious outdoorsman, a good naturalist, and an expert stream angler.
More than anyone I ever met in regards to Christian living, Frank not only talked-the-talk but invariably walked-the-walk. He loved people, loved life, loved laughing and sharing and having a good time. He was quick-witted, intellectual, extremely well educated, with formidable depth in the classics—both prose and poetry. He never met a stranger, never touted the fact that he was a pastor, and did not want to be called "reverend"—though his theological credentials were staggering. It sometimes took folks well acquainted with him years to make the connection.
Seldom does a day go by that I don't think of my old pal—wish I could call him up, send him an e-mail, or drive out for a day-long visit. What would he say to the fact that one of his favorite streams now hosts eagles? Or that last fall I walked back to the secret pool we used to ply on another, smaller creek…and couldn't bring myself to make the first cast? I know he'd be hot to visit the used book store I recently discovered in a nearby Indiana village. And there's that little café up by Lake St. Marys which serves an all-you-can-eat perch dinner; Frank, a Swede to the bone, loved eating fish as much as he did catching 'em.
Frank taught me much. But most of all he taught me about courage and grace, about following your conscience and your heart, and about making the most of whatever life hands you. I will be in his debt forever. He is not forgotten.