I had a few early memories of Frank in my childhood, but I really didn't get the essence of who Frank was and what he represented until my adulthood--actually a most pivotal step in my adulthood when I moved to New York to start my career in advertising. In December 2005, I stayed with Toni and Frank in Yonkers for a week before finding the apartment in Jersey City. Not only could I now understand to appreciate his adult humor, but our brief conversations consistently depicted Frank's ability and interest in understanding anyone's perspective, even the giddy 20-something niece, who paved every landmark with material celebration.
Our conversations began when I returned from my first days at FCB, and although he was ill and in a great amount of pain, he hid it with great agility as he let me spend his precious awake hours yapping about the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and other annoying touristy attractions that caught my eye.
I was aware that Frank had strong opinions about religion, but he never imposed his opinions on me, even as I spoke candidly about finding the right church and prayer.
Frank looked at my cross necklace and asked me very politely why I wore it. I explained that it was a reminder of my faith. And he said, “If you believed in something so special to you, do you really need a necklace to help you remember?" I was stunned. No one had asked me that before. I came from a place where parents said "She's a good girl. She wears her cross," and it seemed irrelevant how faith played a part in it.
I wanted to buy a pair of pearl earrings with my first paycheck--a symbol representing my independence, but I also had to be cognizant of the expenses that come from moving into an apartment.
"Even if you don't end up getting your pearl earrings, you know you still have accomplished what you sought after." I knew that, but the need to have some kind of tangible representation was overbearing. Our conversation segued into how people spend so much money on precious stones that are as simple and cheap as rocks in the ground.
"Diamonds are just compressed pieces of coal. They only have worth because we say they do."
"And pearls are just scar tissue from oysters," I jumped in.
I learned a handful of valuable lessons that week. I no longer saw Frank as the man in the family who was ill, and I hoped that everyone else would see him for the rich person he was. Although Frank was barely physically present in my life, these lessons he taught me have played an integral part in me shaping who I wish to be.
After moving into my apartment in Jersey City, I went to a shady jewelry store and bought a pair of pearl earrings that I later discovered were fake. They have since fallen apart and disintegrated.