Friday, September 25, 2009

Romeo & Juliet - Revisited

NOTE: This blog was originally posted to on September 7, 2006, a little more than three years ago. I'm re-posting it here because it's about two people who I've been dearly missing of late, two people at least partially responsible for any redeeming qualities I might possess.

A love story ended today, the most powerful love story I've ever heard told or witnessed. I have no doubt in my befuddled mind or pained heart of the veracity of that statement because, in this case, I was a witness. I was one of the blessed few to share in the wonderful, magical, and ultimately tragic love story of Kay and Frank Northway.

Kay and Frank met many years before I was born, in the San Francisco Bay area they called home. Frank was an engineer, a man who helped build massive, riveted creations of steel, cable, and reinforced concrete. From drawbridges throughout California's Central Valley (where I myself grew up) to the unparalleled majesty of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Frank left his mark on an America trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps amidst the innumerable challenges of the Great Depression. And, though he was indeed a strong man and a small part of his legacy is truly encased in steel, Frank Northway was also the most caring, sensitive, and loving man I've ever known.

Kay was an artist, a free spirit who, on the surface at least, appeared as different from Frank and his steel creations as a mountain flower might differ from the powerful granite at a mountain's roots. Though challenged to carry a tune, Kay probably sang most of the days of her life. Her songs reflected the joy in her heart and the beauty in her soul, a soul that seemed to derive as much joy from serving a family breakfast as from painting the most beautiful works of art. Yes, she was the artist, he the engineer, and yet, from the moment I first met them, I couldn't imagine them apart.

For Frank was like the mountain's granite, the strong presence that allowed Kay to continuously flower. And Kay, with her ready song and her rainbow of paints, warmed the strong stone, kept it clothed in verdant greens and other beauteous shades, like an idyllic alpine garden where it was eternally spring. Together, they almost always had a smile on their lips. Together, their hands were seldom apart. Together, it was like looking at love incarnate.

And then Frank's flower was lost, brutally crushed beneath the unforgiving boot of cancer. From that day on, it was like a light had been shut off inside him, as if his very soul had been diminished. While he remained the caring and sensitive man I myself had grown to love, a man who still had a smile for his friends and family, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he now had to have a reason to smile. And even then, there was something behind the smile, something in his eyes, a sadness he unsuccessfully tried to hide from those who loved him.

For Frank truly did have steel running through his veins, steel that betrayed him day after day, and year after year. Though his heart felt broken, it was actually stronger than the hearts of many. As the years progressed and other family members passed on before him, first a grandchild, then a daughter, then a son, his heart remained strong. Other parts of his body failed him, his ears, his knees, and eventually his kidneys, but never his heart.

I last saw Frank little more than a month ago, while traveling in California on business, after hearing his health was failing. His medical condition had finally blessed him with a choice he'd never before been given: to live on in constant and progressively worse discomfort, or to finally rest. Frank chose rest.

The news arrived this evening. We'd been expecting it for some time, but it still hurts badly. My chest is tight, my vision blurred. And yet, I can't help feeling a small spark of joy, somewhere deep inside me, a spark that reminds me of an alpine garden clothed in verdant greens and other beauteous shades, set atop a strong, majestic mountain. And in that garden, a flower is blooming again, to the carefree warbling of songbirds.

I love you with all my heart, Frank and Kay.


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