"I'd Like to Tell You a Real Happening"

May 06, 2019

Childhood Letter to Frank v3Have you ever longed to have a moment with someone you've loved and lost?

Two weeks ago on a Florida beach, I had a moment that made me think of the 'real happening' line from Johnny Cash.

"Meet the man responsible for my success..."
— my dad, writing about our family friend

Even before I knew what a saint was, I was pretty sure Frank Sidoti was one. He was so solid, so sharp and full of joy.

Ever known someone who left you laughing and uplifted every time you saw them? That was Frank. 

All while my brothers and I were growing up, Frank & Agnes (his lovely wife) were like second parents. My parents even named them our legal guardians, in case anything happened. Nothing did. But we always knew who had our backs.

I still marvel that a guy like Frank would (a) agree to raise four urchins as his own and (b) go to work in my parents' still-struggling pizza business. Saying yes would mean closing a successful accounting practice and leaving behind a town he loved.

But he did.

Frank, who was older than my parents by more than ten years and who along with Agnes had no children. Frank, who earned a four-year accounting degree in three years while working full-time. Frank, who graduated at the top of his class and passed the CPA exam on the first try.

This was the Frank I knew in hindsight.

But as a kid, all I cared about was that he loved me and liked me, that he himself was a big kid: happy to play catch, play jokes, anything for a good laugh—like going for a spin on my brother's bike. I can still see him straddling that white banana seat, his big knees jutting out from the child-size purple frame.

He used to call me Gina G.

I had no idea how smart he was, how ethical or instrumental to my parents' success. I just knew he was a blast.

So it blasted me when I walked into my parents' house that Sunday and learned that Frank had died. I was twenty-three. More than half a lifetime later, it still stings if I think about it too much. Yet I'm convinced more than ever I'll see him again. Agnes too.

Marco Island, here I come...

Dissolve, as they say in film, to February 2019. I'm tired of the California rain and decide to do something about it. So I book a flight to Fort Myers and a room in Marco Island. Haven't been there in 20 years.

Top of my list: Walk down to Frank & Agnes's old condo, which is right on the beach, and have a moment.

That first morning when I awoke in my hotel room, all was mercifully quiet. I knew from the night before it wouldn't stay that way.


So while the sun was still low, I walked the empty beach and stopped when I found their building. I was pretty sure I could point out which balcony was theirs.

We Catholics aren't always good at spontaneous prayers, but standing there looking up, I did my best: Lord, you know I'm not here to channel the dead. But if I could have a moment with Frank...

Then I fell silent and stared at my flip-flops. Right away I heard three words I had completely forgotten. But boy did they hit home:

"Almost doesn't count."

Boom. This is what Frank used to say to me from the time I was six. We'd be playing catch in the back yard. I would say, "I almost caught the ball!" And he would cheerfully shoot back, "Almost doesn't count!"

All-righty. This is probably why I was never very good at sports. One of many reasons.

Back to the beach and hearing those three words. It weirded me out a little. But it also woke me up—blasting old complacencies, ushering in new standards, making clear for the first time since age twenty-three that Frank still has my back.

Your turn: If you could have a moment with someone you've lost, what would that moment look like? What would you tell that person—or what would you want them to tell you? Find a way to make it happen.