Miss Frances

by Earl J. Warren, Jr.


The phone rang at 7:40 PM. It was my friend Judy calling to tell me an old slide projector I had been looking for was listed on eBay and there was only twenty minutes left in which to bid. I quickly got off the phone and got on-line. It was, as luck would have it, the right slide projector.

I was looking for this projector because the old one my parents had was broken and could not be repaired. They have hundreds of slides, some dating back nearly fifty years. My mother and father told me several times that they really wished they could find one so they could look at all those old pictures.

I got off-line and called Judy on her cell phone, so she could stay on-line with her computer. I told her it was indeed the right projector but that I had no idea how the bidding and purchasing process worked. She said she would bid for me, and if we got it, she would put it on her account, and I could reimburse her. When the time ran out, we were the top bidders. It took a few minutes to finalize the transaction, but by 8:20 it was all over. The projector was on its way.

When the projector arrived a few days later, I set it up in my apartment to make sure it worked. I discovered that the bulb had been broken in shipment. After several frantic phone calls, I found that Central Photo in Paducah had the right bulb. I was running out of time; Christmas was just a week away.

Two days later I arrived at the store, only to be told that they didn't have any more of the right bulbs because someone had come in the day before and purchased the last two they had in stock. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I told them my story of barely getting the projector, the hundreds of slides, and how much it would mean to my parents. The salesman apologized and suggested I try a photo supply store right down the street.

Leaving the store, I walked slowly, trying to be optimistic toward the second photo shop. Just before getting to the second store, I heard the salesman from Central Photo call to me. He said that they had found a bulb they were holding for someone else, but it had been quite sometime and he had not picked it up. They would go ahead and sell it to me. I was overjoyed and took it home as carefully as I would a newborn baby.

On the following Sunday, while my parents were at church, I set up the projector and screen in their living room. After we had returned from lunch, I led them in to a darkened room with an old slide projected on the screen. They were thrilled. My mother said many times over the next few days that the projector was the best gift they could have received.

The Friday after Christmas, my parents, a close friend of theirs, Virginia Jewell, and I went to lunch in Columbus and drove around a little on the way home. We were celebrating Virginia's birthday. During the afternoon, after we returned to my parents' house, I put a load of clothes in the washer, and we sat down to look at a tray of slides. My mother had found quite a few loose slides, and I had put them randomly into an empty tray. We had quite a time looking at those old photographs that afternoon, stopping on each slide to figure out who was in the picture and where and when it was taken. Later that day, clean laundry in hand, I returned to my apartment in South Fulton.

The phone rang at 7:40 PM. It was my father calling to tell me that my mother had passed out, and he couldn't get her to respond. He said the ambulance was on its way and for me to meet them at the emergency room at Parkway. I quickly got dressed, grabbed a few things, and rushed to the hospital. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later. The EMT's rushed my mother into the emergency room, and my father and I were sent to the waiting room. In a matter of minutes, we were joined by other family members, friends, and my parents' pastor. A few minutes later, the emergency room doctor came out to the waiting room and told us that they could not save her. By 8:20 PM it was all over. In the same amount of time it had taken to buy her Christmas present, the slide projector, three weeks before, she had a heart attack and passed away.

Some people say that when a person dies, their life passes before their eyes. Now I don't know about that, but I do know that "Miss" Frances saw a small part of her rich, full life a few hours before she died, in a tray of slides. Slides of family dinners around her large round oak dining table. Pictures of my father and their friends, the Jewells, on vacation, digging for diamonds in Arkansas, followed by her eldest granddaughter, an infant in diapers, digging in a paper bag. There were scenes from grand vistas of the Great Smokey Mountains to a single pink dogwood tree in full bloom in her front yard. But most of all there were lots and lots of smiling faces.

My mother was the photographer in the family and had taken most of the photographs we had seen that afternoon. She had seen that day, in the hours before she passed away, just a very small number of the friends and family, both young and old, that she loved so much and who in turn loved her. Each and every one of the people in those old slides she had, at one time or another, given a hug and said "love you," and they smiled.

Earl Warren (always "Butch" to his friends) was my best friend when we were growing up in Clinton, KY. Seems like we were always together, and always into something because we had the same interests. So his mom, Miss Frances, was like a second mom to me. She never failed to be kind, would always ask if we were hungry, and was always willing to let us use their upstairs as our personal playground, come workshop, come laboratory. Butch and I studied everything from electronics and ham radio, to photography and astronomy "upstairs". Those were very memorable times that I will never forget.

But there is now an empty place deep inside that only Miss Frances can fill. Thanks, Earl, for writing such a beautiful story about "our" mom.