Remembering Our Best Valentine's Day Gift: Meeting Frank Brown

Prologue: Written February 14, 2015

It was 11 years ago today that we met a dear friend who enriched our lives immensely in the year and a half that we knew him. We had our web site for travels but not our blog back then, so I never really got a chance to write much about our friendship online. I tried soon after he passed away in 2005, but it was too painful and fresh. But it seems that now is the perfect it makes us smile thinking of him on Valentine's Day. So here is an edited compilation of our journals from the time we shared with Frank. Happy Valentine's Day!

Craig and I are big fans of the blues as a musical genre. We have traveled to Memphis and Chicago on several occasions to explore the blues roots / culture there, and we have seen many blues performers in concert in the Boston area. In early 2004, our local newspaper ran a story called "Blues Traveler" about an elderly man named Frank Brown who was a retired bus driver for B.B. King and James Brown. Frank was originally from Mobile, AL, where his family still lives. But he had moved up north after retiring due to diabetes-related complications, and was currently a resident in a nursing home about 5 minutes up the highway from our house.

It was a very interesting article, and since he had no family up in Massachusetts, we thought it might be fun to set up a visit with him, to get to know him and talk about our mutual interest in the blues. Having had two grandparents in nursing homes for an extended time, I knew how important visitors can be to someone's morale.

We sent a letter to Frank at the nursing home, introducing ourselves and requesting a visit. A few days later, on February 13, we got a phone call from Frank, who was eager for us to come for a visit.

Meeting Frank: 2/14/2004

Craig and I have never really been into celebrating Valentine's Day. It seems like a Hallmark holiday, and our relationship is no more special on Feb 14 than it is on any other day of the year. But we thought it might be a nice day to visit Frank, so we told Frank that we would come by the next day.

As soon as we met Frank, he immediately won our hearts. He was chatty and clever and had a great sense of humor. At first we weren't sure when he was putting us on and when he was serious. As time went on, we grew more used to his sense of humor, but there were still times when we weren't quite sure. I think he liked that.

Frank's memory wasn't what it used to be, and he was often confused, but we enjoyed chatting with him and hearing stories about the old days, when he drove James Brown's tour bus, and subsequently drove B.B. King, first in a Cadillac and then in B.B.'s tour buses. [We would later learn that he appears in an iconic photograph of B.B. King's first tour bus on Beale Street, taken by photographer Ernest Withers.] Frank used a walker to get around these days, and he nicknamed it his Cadillac. Frank referred to B.B. simply as "B". Our visit flew by and Frank asked us when we would be coming again.

From that day on, we were hooked. He got under our skin. Visiting Frank on Sunday afternoons became our weekly ritual. During the week he would call us on the phone just to say hello. When we talked to him on the phone, we could hear the smile in his voice.

We would bust him out of the nursing home to take him out to eat when he was in the mood for some southern soul food (Redbones for fried catfish and hushpuppies, Bel Air Diner for liver and onions), and we would take him to blues concerts. Frank referred to us as his "ace boon coons". But he could never seem to remember our names. He called Craig "The Boss" and me "Mama." As time went on, he would start calling Craig "Sherlock" for his ability to locate items that Frank had misplaced. Then he started calling him "my lawyer," for reasons unknown to us. He had nicknames for his nurses, too. One he was especially fond of was called "Rolls Royce."

Frank would always argue with us when we tried to pay for anything. "You ain't got no grown up son named Frank Brown that you got to pay for." Craig said "You're the 80 year old black son we never had." Frank thought that was hysterical, and it became our little inside joke.

We asked Frank about his family in Mobile. He told us about his wife Beatrice and their daughter Bernice, a jazz singer. However, he only ever talked about them in the past, and sometimes the information he recounted was contradictory, so it was difficult to know whether he still maintained a relationship with them. He got us in touch with his sister Eloise in Mobile, and we corresponded with her via letters and phone calls about Frank's health. She was very sweet. We tried to locate Bernice, but we did not receive a response to our letter.

In addition to driving musicians, we were always finding out about other jobs Frank had held. He had worked on a banana boat, at a state mental hospital, at a funeral home, and at Mardi Gras selling roasted peanuts. We're sure the list goes on and on. When he was younger, he excelled at football and participated in boxing as well, but gave it up because driving was his passion and he couldn't train and drive at the same time.

When we would visit him on Sunday afternoons, he was usually watching church services on TV. He would marvel at how much a particular preacher "walked the floor," delivering a particularly animated sermon. We told him that we had seen Al Green preach in Memphis. Frank couldn't believe that the same Al Green he used to know could ever be a preacher. We assured him that it was true. Frank also liked to watch Red Sox and Patriots games. Other times when we would visit, the TV would be off and he would be listening to blues CDs. No matter what, we always had great conversations and had a lot of fun.

B.B. King: 4/30/2004

Frank was always in the loop about when B.B. King was playing in the area. He asked us to take him to Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom to see B.B. King on April 30. He told us he wanted to introduce us to B.B. So we got tickets to the concert. The nursing home loaned us a wheelchair, since Frank has difficulty walking. When we arrived to pick him up, he was dressed to the nines, wearing a stylish black suit.

We drove up to New Hampshire and got settled at our table at the venue. During the concert, Frank sat there and at times it was hard to tell if he was even paying attention. Then, once an old song started, Frank just looked at Craig and burst into song. His intonation was correct and he even had the little parts right where B.B. stops and says something in the middle of the song.

Frank was so sweet and people around us were smiling at him as he sang. One stranger came up to Frank and shook his hand and said that he liked how Frank dressed and he looked good. Frank really looked stylin', like he was someone important.

Frank talked to some of the crew and told them that he wanted to talk to B.B. By this point Frank was very animated, dancing in his seat, shaking his hands around, etc.

A bouncer came over and told us to wheel Frank to the side of the stage. We went behind the small barricade and waited near the exterior wall, near the elevator. B.B. did an encore, and we watched it from side-stage. Were we going to actually meet B.B. King? My knees were literally shaking. Then at the end of the show, B.B.'s entourage cleared the exit aisle (we were the only ones allowed to be there, even the backup band was cleared away). They were pushing B.B. in a wheelchair, and they wheeled him right towards us. One of B.B.'s guys shone the flashlight at Frank so that B.B. could see him. B.B. lit up immediately. In all of the commotion, Frank couldn't tell where to look and even as B.B. grabbed his hand he was looking elsewhere. B.B. said "Frank, Hi Frank! I'm right here. Don't you recognize my voice?" We turned Frank's attention to B.B. and they shook and then held hands. I asked B.B. if I could get a picture of the two of them together. He said "If you like". I took the photo and B.B. talked to Frank for a minute. B.B. called him "Big Brown."

Then it was obvious that B.B. had to go; fans were congregating near where we stood, hoping for autographs, and the entourage needed to get B.B. safely downstairs and out to his bus. As they wheeled him away, B.B. looked me right in the eye and said "Thank you." He then looked Craig right in the eye and said the same. B.B. King was thanking us for something? We were the grateful ones...he had made Frank so happy! And it was such an honor for us to get to meet him as well. It was really nice to see that the love and respect that Frank has for his friend and former employer was mutual.

They wheeled B.B. onto the elevator and as it was descending he looked at us and waved. We asked Frank about the nickname "Big Brown". He said that B.B. had called him that since their first meeting. Frank was on cloud nine for the rest of the evening!

Buddy Guy: 8/27/2004

When Frank learned that Buddy Guy would be playing at the same venue, he recounted the story of how Buddy had befriended Frank back in the early years when Frank was driving B.B. Frank wanted to go to the concert, and he wanted to talk to Buddy. We bought tickets to the concert, and I sent a letter to Buddy Guy care of his blues club Legends in Chicago. In the letter, I explained that Frank would be coming to the show and asked whether it would be possible for him to talk with Buddy. I had no idea whether the letter would make its way to him, but I thought it was worth a try.

On August 27 we drove Frank up to the Casino Ballroom in Hampton, NH once again. When we got to the venue, I spoke to Buddy Guy's road manager and introduced Frank, who was once again dressed in very styling manner, in a pink dress shirt and trousers. The road manager went backstage, talked to Buddy Guy, and came back to tell us that we could go backstage before the show. As in right now. (The show was a double bill with Robert Cray, and Buddy Guy was on first). This was unexpected; we had thought that if this happened, it would be after the show. So we scrambled to grab our stuff and wheeled Frank toward the stage.

Once again, my knees started to knock. Something about meeting these blues legends! We followed the road manager and a security guy behind the little barricade, past a rack of Buddy's trademark polkadot Stratocaster guitars, and into a little tiny room. There was a purple velour chair, on which Buddy Guy was sitting. We walked in and there was barely room to maneuver Frank's wheelchair. Buddy was stylin'. He was wearing a monochrome striped black suit, white and black wingtips, and a white hat. On one hand he had a large ring that spelled out "Blues" in diamonds. On the other hand was a ring with "BG" in diamonds.

"Frank! What you doing in that chair? Ain't you pimping no more? The last time I saw John Lee [Hooker] he was in a chair but on the stage he was dancing around. He said he couldn't be seen in a chair in front of them ladies." He asked Frank how he was, and Frank said fine. He said that he's living in a hospital, and we explained that it was a nursing home. Buddy asked if they treat him well there and he kinda shrugged. Buddy continued "Well, we ain't gotta talk about that."

They started talking about a lot of mutual friends who had passed away, and Buddy told Frank to be thankful that he's still around. I asked if I could get a picture and Buddy posed with an arm around Frank. Buddy seemed genuinely happy to see Frank. He introduced Frank to some of his entourage, saying that Frank used to drive around B. when B. was "like this" (holds his hands up to indicate skinny figure). I asked when he started driving B.B. because Frank couldn't remember. Buddy said it must have been around '56 or '57.

Members of his entourage came in and said that we needed to leave so that Buddy could prepare for his set. But Buddy was very generous with his time, and continued talking to Frank, insisting that we could stay longer. Craig and I started to get a bit antsy, knowing that Buddy had to get on stage very soon. Buddy signed a CD for us, and we thanked him and said goodbye, wheeling Frank back out to our seats.

A few minutes later, Buddy came on stage and played an awesome set. Partway through the set, he stopped and said "Throughout my life, ladies and gentlemen I've met some very great people who helped me with my career. And the first time I ever met B.B. King" (the audience applauds) "he had a bus driver and his name is Frank and they brought him in in a wheelchair tonight and he said 'I had to come and see you Buddy'." He had the audience give Frank a hand. He asked where Frank was sitting. I stood up and pointed to him, and Frank waved. Everyone around us was waving and cheering.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, Buddy Guy then asks for a hand for "the people that brought him here tonight". And there was another big round of applause. "They rolled him in and I said Frank, you know when I met you there was a lot of blues players living that's no longer with us and you still and you still here so let's be thankful, Frank, alright?" He asked for another hand for Frank, which the audience heartily provided. "And I'm gonna do this for Frank anyway." He launched into an impromptu version of "Drivin' Wheel".

From that point on, people were coming up to Frank, shaking his hand, patting him on the shoulder. A man that used to live in the same building, some other acquaintances, a girl who worked in the gas station 30 years ago and whom he brought to see B.B.. a guy who "plays bass". (During Robert Cray's set he was onstage and turned out to be Robert Cray's bassist!) Frank was truly touched, and wanted to thank Buddy for such a nice tribute. I told the drummer to pass along his thanks. As we left and crossed the street to the car we heard someone say "There's Frank!" and pointed in our direction. Frank was a rock star that night, and he talked about it frequently for the rest of his life.

B.B. King: 9/2/2004

On September 2, we took Frank to the FleetBoston Pavilion to see B.B. again. This time Frank's contacts at B.B.'s management company had provided us with backstage passes, and we might get the opportunity to visit B.B. on his tour bus!

As usual, all of the ushers fell in love with Frank and he always had someone to chat with. The Muddy Waters Blues Band played first, followed by Elvin Bishop. Next was Shemekia Copeland. Frank had known her late father, Johnny Clyde Copeland. Then Dr. John did a set.

During one of the intermissions a man walked by, saw Frank, exclaimed "Mr. Brown!" and immediately went to get his mother. It turns out they were old friends of Frank's. They wound up sitting in the empty seats next to us for B.B.'s set. B.B. put on a great show. Frank sang along to "Key to the Highway" and "Rock Me."

The show ended at around 11:15 p.m., and we headed over to the backstage access area (to the right of the stage).The guy in front of us got on the bus, and I followed, with shaky knees. I climbed the steps and then turned around. Craig and one of B.B.'s entourage were helping Frank out of the wheelchair. and onto the bus. I took Frank's hand and guided him back to where B.B. was sitting on a leather couch. I said, "This must bring back memories, being on the bus, huh, Frank?" He agreed.

At this point we could see B.B. and I said "There he is, Frank!" B.B. said "Big Brown! How are you?" He asked Frank to sit down and Frank was a little confused and kind of tried to sit on the table where B.B.'s laptop was set up. B.B. said "Frank, man, you're grabbing my computer!" and told him to hold out his hand and feel where the seat was.

B.B. shook both of our hands and said, "Thanks for being kind to my old friend. We had lots of good times together." Frank took a seat right next to B.B. Craig sat on the other side of Frank. I was still standing, but B.B. said "Please. Sit down." and I squeezed in. B.B. reached behind him and turned down the volume on the stereo. We said that Frank had a lot of stories about his days on the road and B.B. said "And they're all true!"

I asked if I could get a photo of the two of them together and B.B. said sure. He leaned in to Frank and put his arm around him and I got a nice close-up shot of the two of them. It was really great to see B.B. in his own element where he could be himself. Seeing him sitting in his own bus, calmly receiving everyone, being a gracious host and oh so friendly and low key...he was a joy.

We were really happy with the way the whole evening turned out. Frank didn't talk much (he doesn't like to interrupt other people) but it seemed like he enjoyed just being there in such close proximity to his good friend. B.B. signed some photos and gave us a couple of B.B. King lapel pins. When we were leaving (with some encouragement from Craig), I asked B.B. if I could have a hug, and he said of course. I gave him a big hug and told him that Frank is our good friend and we love him. B.B. said "He's a good man. He's a good friend of mine. He took good care of me."

Frank Comes Over for Dinner

One day we invited Frank to our house for dinner. At the time, Craig's brother Steve and his kids lived upstairs in our house. Frank was a bit concerned and asked if Steve would mind him coming over to the house. Naive as we are, we didn't understand what he was getting at. We asked what he meant, and he said, "Well, sometimes, neighbors have a problem with someone like..." and he trailed off. Only then did we realize that he was talking about racism. Having always lived in this area, we hadn't even considered this as a concern. It saddened us that his experiences growing up in the South had led to this kind of concern, and we assured him that our family and friends would welcome him with open arms.

When he came over that day, he surprised us even more. I was flipping through a coffee table book, showing Frank photographs of blues musicians. When we got to Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Frank said "I worked for him too!" He never ceases to amaze us! We told him that we had seen Gatemouth at the Regattabar. He feigned offense that we hadn't taken him. I laughed and said that we hadn't even met him at that time!

On the subject of photographs, Steve had given us a coffee table book of Beale Street photos. In there, we found a photo of B.B. King with his first tour bus, in front of the King's Palace Cafe. The photo shows his entire entourage and 2 bus drivers. We wondered whether one was Frank. Then our friend Francis gave us a book of the music photographs of Ernest Withers, an acclaimed African American photographer who photographed the Civil Rights struggle, as well as the Memphis music scene and the Negro Baseball League. The credits listed the people in each photo, and there was his name: Frank Brown! [In 2006, we would have the pleasure of meeting Ernest Withers in Memphis and purchasing a copy of the photo from him.]

Frank's 80th Birthday: 10/2/2004

October 2 was Frank's 80th birthday. We wanted to do something special. He had once admired my Patriots Super Bowl Champion shirt, and had asked why I hadn't bought him one. I told him that we hadn't even met him yet at the time of the last Super Bowl. (He always thought he had known us for much longer than he actually had.) But I had stored it in my head and thought about getting him some sort of Patriots clothing. It dawned on us that not only do the Patriots have a Brown on their team, but he is number 80! So we got Frank a Troy Brown replica jersey for his 80th birthday.

I looked all over for a bakery that would sell sugar-free cakes, but came up empty. So I bought a sugar-free cake and frosting mix at the store and made a chocolate 2 layer cake. We went to visit Frank in the morning on his birthday, as we had a wedding to attend in the afternoon. Craig read Frank the card that we brought: "80 years and a million memories." "And a million miles," Frank replied. He was thrilled by the Patriots jersey, and we also gave him an alarm clock with large digits as he was having a hard time seeing his previous clock. We each had a piece of cake, and though it looked rather amateurish, Frank sang its praises and thought it was delicious.

Taking Frank to see Ray at the Movies

Frank wanted to go to the movies sometime. We asked what kind of movies he liked. "Oh, everything. Westerns..." Hollywood isn't putting out too many westerns these days, and we didn't want to take him to anything he might find offensive (he was a spiritual man), so we decided to sit back until the time was right. That time came when the Ray Charles biopic "Ray" was released. Perfect! He had known Ray Charles. Of course he had.

So we took him to the movie theater. I asked Frank if he wanted anything and he deadpanned "tonic and gin". Then he asked for a diet coke and a hot dog. He was quite pleased. He couldn't believe the size of the theater even though it was a small one. At the end of the movie Frank seemed sad. He told Craig it was a shame Ray got into drugs because he could have had the world. I asked how he liked the movie and he said something to the effect of "more or less" He said he thought it was a little confusing (I think it had to do with the flashbacks).

Christmas: 12/25/2004

We invited Frank to Craig's parents' house for Christmas dinner. The whole family really enjoyed meeting him. Frank was just watching as everyone opened their presents, and occasionally, when Craig was free to watch, I would pass Frank a present. He was guessing the contents of all of the presents, but wanted me to open them for him. He correctly guessed several boxes of handkerchiefs. I handed him a T-shirt and he said "What football player is this?" I said it wasn't football but baseball. "Red Sox?" he asked. I said Red Sox World Series Champion with all the players' names on it.

He guessed that the next gift was a dress shirt. It was indeed - a pimpin' purple shirt. He said it was beautiful and he hoped that it would fit. We said that Sherlock Holmes had been on the case and had checked out his size. He said that he was surprised that Sherlock Holmes picked out a shirt like that. I said that Craig had determined the size, but I had picked out the shirt. He said that made more sense. We then gave him Craig's parents' present: fancy sugar-free chocolates. He was happy and asked me to pick one out for him to eat. I said "Do you want milk chocolate or dark chocolate?" He said "I want one like me." I said "sweet dark chocolate, then."

We enjoyed a nice roast beef dinner which Craig's mom had prepared. It was delicious, and Frank was so appreciative of a home-made meal. (He never enjoyed the food at the nursing home). Ever the generous spirit, Frank was genuinely saddened by the fact that he had no gifts to give to the family. We assured him that his presence was all the gift any of us needed.

Frank was so happy when we brought him back to the nursing home that he was singing in the elevator He laughed when he got to the nurses' desk. They asked what had gotten into him, and he said "I had some great scotch!' We said "Oh no you didn't! Don't get us in trouble!" and the nurses laughed and said they wouldn't have told on him anyway.

Shemekia Copeland: 2/25/2005

On February 25, we took Frank to see Shemekia Copeland at the RegattaBar. As she sang, she was about four feet directly in front of Frank. We could tell immediately that he was enjoying himself. He kept raising his right hand and he was practically dancing right out of his chair. At one point Shemekia introduced "Love Scene" by quoting a line from the song "Is anyone out there capable of giving me high romance on a foreign train?" Frank raised his hand and she saw him and burst into a smile saying "He wins. That's what I'm talkin' about."

It was obvious that he was having a blast. He couldn't sit still. Near the end of the show he asked me if I shad seen her daddy [Johnny Clyde Copeland] perform. I said I had only heard him on records. Frank said that he used to do a little boogie. Shemekia sang "2 A.M." and asked everyone to sing along with the chorus at the end. Frank was singing away, "It's 2 A.M.!" It was so cute.

After the show, we bought Frank Shemekia's CD "Wicked" so that she could autograph it for him. Shemekia saw Frank and said, "Well hello. Thanks for coming." He asked if she knew who he was. She said she thought she remembered seeing him before. He said that he knew her dad and that he used to drive B.B's bus. She said that she toured with B.B. in the summer, and we said that the three of us had been at that show. She signed Frank's CD and posed for a cute photo with Frank.

B.B. King: 5/21/2005

On May 21, B.B. King played at North Shore Music Theatre. We managed to get front row tickets because we were members of the theater. The theater is round and the stage rotates, so we didn't always have a front view of B.B., but we still had a great view of the entire band and their very entertaining performance.

We all really enjoyed the show. When the opening notes of "Please Accept My Love" started up, I leaned over to Frank and said "I remember when he did this song last time, you really sang along!" Frank turned and laughed, and Craig jokingly looked at me like I was being an instigator. As soon as B started singing "I don't even know your name, but I love you just the same" Frank was belting it out right along with him. And Frank knows all of the little intricacies, all of the little starts and stops, all of the interruptions. It was great. B.B. was facing the other way for pretty much the entire song, otherwise we have no doubt that he would have heard Frank singing along.
Visiting Frank in the nursing home

Visiting Frank in the nursing home

B.B. King with Frank, Hampton Casino Ballroom,  4/30/2004

B.B. King with Frank, Hampton Casino Ballroom, 4/30/2004

Frank with Buddy Guy, Hampton Casino Ballroom,  8/27/2004

Frank with Buddy Guy, Hampton Casino Ballroom, 8/27/2004

Frank with B.B. King on the bus, FleetBoston Pavilion,  9/2/2004

Frank with B.B. King on the bus, FleetBoston Pavilion, 9/2/2004

Frank comes to our house for dinner

Frank comes to our house for dinner

Frank Brown, Age 80; Troy Brown, New England Patriots #80

Frank Brown, Age 80; Troy Brown, New England Patriots #80

Frank's 80th birthday

Frank's 80th birthday

Frank's 80th birthday

Frank's 80th birthday

Frank's 80th birthday

Frank's 80th birthday

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Frank with Shemekia Copeland, Regattabar, 2/25/2005

Frank with Shemekia Copeland, Regattabar, 2/25/2005

Hanging out on B.B. King's bus, North Shore Music Theatre, 5/21/2005

Hanging out on B.B. King's bus, North Shore Music Theatre, 5/21/2005

Photo Gallery: Frank 2004-2005

The stage manager told us that B.B. was ill with a cold, so it was doubtful whether he would feel well enough to receive visitors after the show. We knew that Frank would be extremely disappointed if he didn't at least get a chance to say hello, so we kept our fingers crossed.

After the show, it was pouring rain. We were told that B.B. would be able to see us, so we were relieved. We walked outside and boarded the bus. We were very grateful that despite not feeling well, B.B. was still being very generous with his time. Our friend Kevin worked for the North Shore Music Theatre at the time, and he was at the show as well. He knew all about our relationship with Frank, but had never met him. So we introduced them, and Kevin was able to accompany us onto the bus.

The interior of the bus was very plush and comfortable. B.B. was seated at the back on a leather couch. He had a table with his laptop set up in front of him, and there was a stereo and X-Box behind him. Frank sat down on a couch on the left, perpendicular to where B.B. was sitting. We tried to convince him to scoot over next to B.B., but B.B. said to let the pretty lady sit next to him. Blushing (B.B.'s charisma is legendary on-stage, and in person it is even more powerful), I said thank you and sat. Craig sat on the other side of Frank, and Kevin sat at the little booth opposite B.B.

B.B. kept saying "Big Brown, how's Big Brown? You're looking a lot better than you did the last time that I saw you." Frank asked if B.B. heard him singing along. B.B. said that he couldn't hear anything from onstage.

It was very cool because it was just the four of us and B.B. It was very hot on the bus, and B.B. apologized, saying he didn't want to melt the lady, but he wouldn't apologize to the men. He called to someone up at the front of the bus and asked him to turn the thermostat down to 75. We are sure this was due to the fact that it was a rainy spring night and he was already sick with a cold.

He is traveling with two buses. He keeps the people closest to him on this bus, and there are two drivers for each so that they can travel any time, in driving shifts. While explaining this, B.B. looked at Frank fondly and said, "But he used to do it all. That's why I always take care of him and give him a present." Craig said that Frank really treasures those memories with B.B.

B.B. said that they had a lot of history together and have been friends for a long time. "But they weren't only good times. They didn't always treat us nicely." And he suddenly looked serious. He talked about the times that Frank protected him when they encountered racial bias, especially as two African American men driving around the South in a Cadillac! B.B. was grateful that he had "Big Brown" to protect him on the road in those days, and he referenced knife fights and all kinds of dangerous situations. [As a result of this conversation, we noticed scars on Frank's arms which looked consistent with knife wounds.] It was really humbling to witness the massive respect that B.B. has for his dear friend. He is such a down-to-earth man!

I had brought a photocopy of the Ernest Withers photo of B.B. and his entourage with his first bus on Beale Street. B.B. glanced at it very quickly, and said "That's it. That's his bus." He confirmed that Frank was indeed one of the drivers pictured.

B.B. said that he doesn't fly much any more because it is just too much of a hassle, having to take off your shoes, jacket, and cap, plus checking all the equipment etc. He said they strip you down until you're wearing nothing but underwear.

At this point a couple of other people had gotten on the bus. Kevin offered to give his seat to one of the guys who had just arrived, but B.B. said "No, first come first served." I asked if we could get a picture. I snuggled up next to B.B. and he linked arms with me. Kevin took the photo of the two of us, but the flash didn't fire and it came out blurry. I fixed the flash, and one of the other guys who had just gotten onto the bus offered to take a photo of all of us together. We had to squish together to fit in a single photo, and I felt like I was practically sitting on B.B.'s lap. Craig said that he didn't think that B.B. minded.

B.B. mentioned that he wished we could sit and chat longer, but he needed to see other people. He joked that the bus was too cramped and maybe some day when he made some money, he'd be able to get one that had room for everyone.

As we were gathering our things to go, B.B. said, "While you're here Frank..." and got out a little Sony digital camera. He said that he wanted to take a picture of Frank. Craig and I tried to lean out of the way so that he could get Frank alone in the shot. B.B. said "It would be better with the pretty lady in it." What? OK! So we both leaned in towards Frank and B.B. took the picture. He was pleased with how it came out and showed it to us. Wow, B.B. King took a picture of us!!

As we got Frank up and ready to go, B.B. thanked us for bringing Frank to see him. He looked at me seriously and said to take care of him. I thanked him and he said it was a pleasure. It took a while to get Frank up to the front of the bus. The driver helped us to get Frank down the stairs. Another arm appeared from outside, guiding Frank down. It turned out to be Evan Goodrow, the opening act. Craig thanked him, shook his hand, and told him he did a great set.

This would be the last time that the two old friends and colleagues would see one another. Frank grew ill in the summer of 2005. He told us that he wanted to be buried in Mobile next to his mother, but he was worried that it wouldn't happen. We promised him that we would see to it that he was buried with his mother one way or another. It was as if that thought gave him peace, and he passed away soon afterwards.

Frank's Passing: 8/10/2005

On Wednesday August 10, we got the call from the nursing home that Frank had passed away peacefully in a chair in the TV room. We made a few phone calls and headed down there as soon as we got the message. The nurses had not let Frank leave yet; they had kept him in his room so that we could say goodbye. We were left alone with Frank and we said goodbye and told him that we would see him in Mobile. One way or another, we would make sure that he made it back to be buried with his mother. And we would travel down there for the services.

After Frank's death, we were in touch with some of his other friends in the area. We met Bob and Angela, who had been really close friends with Frank for many years, and had helped to get him admitted to the nursing home when he had no longer been able to live by himself in his apartment. They decided that they would go to Mobile for the services too. We met up with them at their house for dinner prior to the trip. They were very nice people and we shared a lot of memories about how Frank had touched our lives. We were sure that Frank would have been happy that we got to know each other.

We made all of the arrangements with the local funeral parlor: delivering Frank's clothes (including a B.B. King lapel pin we had gotten from B.B. himself), and arranging for them to transport Frank to Mobile, where he would be picked up by the funeral parlor down there.

We were in touch with Eloise (Frank's sister), and we got an unexpected phone call from his daughter Bernice (also known as Karmilla Ali for her jazz singing career). They told us that the services would be on Saturday the 20. We made hotel reservations and booked flights for Friday the 19th with Bob and Angela.
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