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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Pigs Might Fly (10/31/13)

TITLE: The Red Convertible
By Virginia Bliss
11/07/13


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“Be a teacher Frank. You like to boss younger kids around-junior high’s perfect for you.”

“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-hardy-har-har!”

“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?”

“He did.”

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.


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This article has been read 207 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lois Farrow11/07/13
Encouraging story. Good on you for sharing this.
CD Swanson 11/07/13
What a touching tribute and poignant story about your friend Frank. I felt as if I'd known Frank very well after your well written emotional piece. I smiled at the laughter in the beginning (my husband and I love watching the Honeymooners reruns and I heard Ralph Kramden laughing in my head!)

Frank was a loving and dedicated man to his family, and apparently people in general. I'm glad he got the chance to buy his dream car, and good for you knowing that he'd be a good teacher.

I'm sure he's teaching in heaven right this moment.

Thanks for sharing, you touched my heart.

God bless~
Virgil Youngblood 11/09/13
Thanks for sharing your memory of Frank's life. It was an interesting read.
Danielle King 11/10/13
Interesting piece, and all the more so knowing it's true. A different take on the topic too. Thanks for sharing.
Frankie Kemp 11/10/13
You do an excellent job of painting us a picture of Frank. Trying to display the growth of a person across a lifetime is really hard to do when you only have 750 words to do it.

On the "red ink" side, at times the piece felt like it jumped from one idea to the next, and as the reader, I had to do a lot of processing to keep up. This is probably because you were tackling the job of presenting Frank's story with only 750 words. I know from personal experience with the challenges and with editing my own writing (with the help of others)that it gets easier to work your words the more you practice. This is a great story--which is the start of every piece of great writing, in my opinion.
Allison Egley 11/10/13
Nice job with this.

Like the previous commenter, I think you tried to cover too much in too few words. I think it would have been better to focus on one aspect of his life and expanded on this. Perhaps you could have even taken one of the comments from the students on the memorial page and crafted a fictional story from it to give us the "essence" of Frank.

You did a great job introducing us to Frank, and making him seem like someone we all would have wanted to meet.
Judith Gayle Smith11/11/13
I was waiting for the red convertible to emerge as one of those tiny models that fulfill quite a few hopeful's dreams, Frank being content to hold it in his hand and push it madly down the countertop. You surprised me - happily. Thank you . . .
CD Swanson 11/14/13
Congratulations! So glad your story got recogntion. It was a winner in my eyes!

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 11/14/13
Congratulations on ranking 5th in your level and 21 overall! (The highest rankings can be found on the message boards)