Franklin Chaney was by all accounts what you would call a crank. For years he had lived alone in his upper flat, Vera having gone to be with the Lord many years past. He was pretty set in his ways and by all accounts, especially those of his nieces and nephews as well as his own children, you might say he was eccentric on the verge of “old crab.” His brothers and sisters had passed away and only Frank was left to represent that particular layer of family. He had never been one much for talk or anything frivolous or loud. He attended all the family gatherings but sat on a dining room chair in some shadowed corner of the room with a beer in hand not saying much. The little ones usually gave Unca Frank a wide berth. Where others stood he seemed to loom.
Frank had worked hard all of his life. Married young and barely able to keep an apartment and a bride on the meager salary of a warehouse clerk, he had to work two jobs just to keep things going. The babies came quickly and before long Frank and Vera were Frank, Vera and family. Frank never quite made it in the way of success. Advancement for him was a nickel raise or an extra day-off in the course of twelve months. He worked the warehouse pretty much of his whole life finishing off with a retirement party at sixty-five attended by fresh-faced managers and staff who never really knew Frank. In fact, most had never even had said hello to him. But that old second job hung around for a while well into Frank’s seventies. All his life he had gone to work early in the morning before most folks were barely stirring. Then home for dinner in the late afternoon and back to work again. For years he had been a security guard; working a part-time evening shift that got him home by nine or ten just in time to see the kids off to bed and collapse himself only to get up six or seven hours later and start all over again.
As the years went by and the kids grew up, went to school, got married and left home and town, Frank trudged on through life. He and Vera took an occasional vacation but they really never even had had a decent honeymoon. With the nest empty they thought that perhaps now life might be kinder to them. But then Vera got sick and there were those terrible medical bills. There just didn’t seem to be a let-up. So, Frank trudged on until it seemed that life, family, even marriage had passed him by. When Vera died he sold the house and moved into the upper flat. All that was left was reflecting upon what might have been, of the life that got away and just couldn’t be retrieved.
So, apart from family gatherings, Frank spent his time mostly alone. There was Vera’s cat and parakeet to keep him company. The kids visited from time to time but when their families got bigger, their time got smaller. Frank grew old as others grew tired and died. He outlasted them all and often wondered why. If long life was a reward he couldn’t figure out what he was being rewarded for. As a husband he had given it his best shot, but had missed the mark. As a father he worked hard to provide food and warmth but provided little in the way of support or love. No, he had been pretty much of a failure and he knew it. That’s why when he attended those family gatherings he loomed large but quiet in the corner. He didn’t say much because he didn’t feel he had much to say. He missed his wife and he missed his kids. But, most of all, he missed life. Bitterness has knocked on the door of his heart and he swung the door wide open almost penitently. In a way it felt good to him as it slowly seeped into those lonely chambers. When it had finally filled them, all thoughts of loneliness, grief and, most of all, remorse, were pushed out. He finally felt some relief from the troubling “but for’s” and “what if’s” that had plagued him so long.
It was now Frank’s eighty-second Christmas and the family had gathered at his nephew’s house. After dinner Frank ...
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