“Be a teacher Frank. You like to boss younger kids around-junior high’s perfect for you.”
“He never read a book in high school and he’s going to teach. Oh sure!”
Such was the reaction to my suggestion from Frank’s parents, brother and girlfriend.
All of fourteen, I knew who kids my age would like.
Nineteen years old, Frank Novak adored fast cars, loud rock music, cool clothes, and girls. Hardly the type to teach fourteen year olds an appreciation of literature or the finer points of grammar.
Frank and his identical twin Andy were descended from Polish immigrants who settled in the Massachusetts Pioneer Valley.
They looked like Polish princes but their interest in schoolwork resembled what one might expect from peasants.
On their high school football team they shined.
One golden October afternoon in their senior year, during practice, Frank heard a shout.
Andy lay on the ground unconscious, his neck broken. He spent the rest of his life a quadriplegic.
After Frank graduated from high school he went to work at nearby ChemPlant.
“I’ll save enough to buy a red convertible,” he bragged.
He lived at home, helping his parents care for Andy. Much of his salary went for care and equipment for his brother. He helped his father build a wheelchair accessible addition to their modest home.
The Novaks were devout Catholics and Frank’s girlfriend Sharon was Jewish. On Yom Kippur Frank fasted out of respect. If you told him how unusual that was he’d give you a blank stare.
Back then it wasn’t common for whites to be friends with Blacks or Hispanics but if you told Frank that he wouldn’t have understood. A friend was a friend. He never noticed things like color.
One day Mrs. Novak told me a secret-Frank’s middle name-Wladyslaw.
I lost touch with the Novaks but many years later that bit of information came in handy when I searched for Frank on the Internet.
For eight years after high school Frank worked full time at ChemPlant. He completed two years at the local community college.
When he was twenty-four he enrolled at nearby St. Margaret’s College and received his diploma two years later.
A former women’s college, St. Margaret’s accepted a few male students Some men might have felt threatened surrounded by women but not Frank.
Nowadays English and history are considered “useless” majors, chosen because they are “easy”.
But Frank wasn’t in college for a larger salary. He made plenty of money at ChemPlant.
Nor did he pursue a degree for the “prestige”.
He attended St. Margaret’s for love of learning.
Frank was a campus leader, esteemed by students and faculty. At a time when many college students were creating chaos on campus, Frank supported innovation, yet upheld traditional values.
All this time he lived at home, helping his parents care for Andy.
During his senior year at St. Margaret’s his father was diagnosed with cancer.
“You’re staying at home with us Dad,” Frank insisted.
Mr. Novak lived long enough to see his son receive his college diploma.
After his father’s death, Frank and his mother moved to Florida for Andy’s sake. They bought a modest house and Frank found employment as a middle school teacher, teaching English and history.
He was chosen Teacher of the Year. His high school named him Distinguished Alumnus.
Meanwhile the red convertible remained a dream.
By chance I came upon Frank’s obituary.
Tributes from students and fellow teachers filled his memorial page. But nothing from friends or relatives. His mother and brother had died some years earlier.
Frank never married. He had no children but a foster son, a former student, Jason.
Jason gave the eulogy at Frank’s funeral Mass. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, it always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres, Love never fails.... “ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.
I wrote to Jason who was eager to talk with someone who had known Frank as a young man.
“Did Frank ever buy a red convertible, Jason?”
I’m glad Frank bought that red convertible. After a lifetime of giving he deserved to buy something for himself.
I’m even happier that Frank pursued what seemed at the time an impossible dream.
“Be a teacher, Frank.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Frank died on April 18, 2010, taken from us far too soon. This is a true story. Only the names and locations have been changed.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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