Missing Frank Harper

No two ways around it. I miss Frank.*

“I feel like I keep missing you,” Frank wrote once, after a whirlwind visit where I picked up my dog Sweetheart from the Catface vacation she had taken with him. He was writing to list all the things he’d been saving up to tell me. But lately I’ve been the one saving up things to tell Frank. And I’m the one who feels like I keep missing him.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

 

 

 

I thought about Frank at Michael Wright’s epic boat launch. I thought about Frank when the first signs of spring appeared. I thought about him when I saw Spencer and Judy singing “Let’s call the whole thing off,” and I thought of him when Mr Marks conducted impromptu skits in front of the Red Bank for the amazing race.

I think of him whenever I see one of Phil’s carvings, or whenever I drink from my tiny little rounded glass, which should really have a Manhattan in it—made with Crown Royal, of course. I re-read his letters and poems often. And each year when summer approaches, I long to visit him at Catface under the shade of the overhanging alder tree, our feet heating up in the soft summer sand.

 

I first met Frank at the Alleyway Café. I was new to town, working at the Kayak Shop. Something about this grey-haired man with his bright blue eyes drew me to the table where he was sitting by himself, eating half a Double Alleyway Egg. His smile beamed out from under shaggy eyebrows and I felt as if I’d known him forever.

Maybe I had. Maybe we all had.

I find myself wondering what Frank is doing these days. I have little chats with him in my head, but it’s not the same as being able to hear his laugh, or see his pleasure at some new story or joke.

As much as I miss Frank, I also miss the wonderful group of people that could be found around his table at folding parties, eating Barb’s pickles and Jeff’s tabouli, (with raisins) and Frank’s Havarti. I miss having all these people together in one place and the mourn the diaspora that followed his departure.

Realistically, no one has ever “taken over” from Frank—brought us together the way he did—because life doesn’t work that way and it never can. And so I have to treasure the good times and kindle the little flame of them.

Five years ago I was asleep at Spencer and Judy’s cabin at Catface, when Frank came by to give me one last hug. He was euphoric, bubbling, and there was a crowd of women around him. He disappeared with them, happily, and the dream ended. When I woke I knew Frank was, in his own words, “on to his next form: transformed.”

It was a blue moon, a rarity, just like Frank.

 

 

* Frank Harper lived in Clayoquot Sound from 1971 to 2007. On the jacket of his 2006 book, Journeys, he described himself this way:
“He founded published and edited The Sound Newspaper in Tofino, during the 90’s, and was travel writer for its successor, The Sound Magazine. He is the author of several three-act plays, Dream Rovers (1988) and Cougar Annie! (1996), which were staged in Tofino’s community theatre. Mr Harper travels beyond the Ucluelet Junction at least once a year. He says, “I’m a well-traveled travel writer who doesn’t travel very far or very fast.”