Today I went to a friend's Facebook page to wish her a happy 90th birthday, and that's how I found out author/artist Frances Nail passed away, sometime before Christmas.
So she probably didn't see the note I scrawled on my Christmas card to her..."I hope to see you in the coming year!" If she did, she probably just laughed, way too familiar with my good intentions.
Once upon a time in Houston, a special magazine came with the Sunday Chronicle. It was just named "Texas", and included a column called "State Lines" where each week you could read stories about Texas (of course!) - personal essays written by a different writer each week, as wide and varied as the state.
I read them voraciously.
"State Lines" was my first paid publishing gig, way back in 1991, with "A View from a Catwalk". I went on to publish two more essays in "Texas" before the Chronicle stopped publishing the magazine.
Soon after "Catwalk" was published, I read an essay by Frances about things she had lost, which included the words to one of my favorite poems from childhood - "Little Boy Blue", by Eugene Field. She could only remember a few lines.
Immediately I typed out the poem and sent it to editor Ken Hammond, asking him to forward it to Frances. Within a few weeks, I received a letter from her, thanking me for the poem. And thus began our friendship.
By that time several more of her essays had been published in "State Lines"...
...so many that I couldn't help feeling discouraged, comparing my words and stories to hers. Mine seemed flat and lifeless, hers rich and vibrant, but she was always full of support and encouragement for my writing. After all, she pointed out, she didn't even start writing until she was seventy.
(I admit, that's more consoling to me now that I'm in my fifties and still struggling on my writing path, than when I was in my thirties and had it all figured out.)
When we moved to Austin, she invited us to the publishing party for her first book, a collection of essays, of course, named "Crow in the House, Wolf at the Door". It was held in a fabulous old Victorian home downtown.
TG was barely 4, Daniel around 6, and Tommy no more than 9, but when Frances read from her book out on the screened-in porch, with her distinctive soft, soothing, Texas accent, they sat still and listened. She was that good. Austinites enjoyed listening to her read her stories on pubic radio station KUT for years.
I wish I could say we grew closer once I moved to Austin, but we didn't. We kept in touch with occasional Christmas cards and phone calls, and in 2005 she invited me to a play based on one of her books, "I'm Not the Woman I Was".
But we lived on opposite sides of Lake Travis...I was busy with my three kids and building our home and broke.
I didn't go see the play, just as I didn't take her up on an invitation for lunch when we first moved here, or follow through with any other good intentions I had to see her, except attending the Texas Book Fair panel she was on years ago, along with authors Leon Hale and Liz Carpenter, two of her good friends.
I really wasn't half the friend she was to me.
Frances was truly a remarkable woman. I have wasted many opportunities in my life, but I think one of the biggest is not taking advantage of the chance I was given to know her better.
I still have her words and her stories, though, and thanks to Jim Swift, I can still hear her voice...
Godspeed, and thank you for leaving a part of yourself with us, Frances!
I know the angels are enjoying your stories as much as we always have.
I look forward to seeing you again... and I mean it.