Dorothea Benton Frank 1951-2019
By Renae Brabham
When I saw the post that Dorothea Benton Frank died, I sat mouth agape at the computer. That just cannot be! I Googled her name and was saddened to learn it was true.
I struggled with her death that week. No matter how much I tried to push DBF out of my train of thought she kept creeping back into the station. Melancholy is a slow-moving train.
As Don and I sat on the porch swatting love bugs on a sweltering mid-September day, I tried to explain an issue I am having with time. I clamored on about this and that, “I feel time-challenged. I dream of hourglasses and quickly changing graffiti; I feel the winds of change,” and then I blurt out, “Dottie Benton Frank died.”
Bless his heart, if he didn’t know who she was he never let on. I told him I was very sad but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it had me on the verge of tears. I am sure most fans are sad and those who knew her well even sadder and family and friends that loved her? Well, they are the saddest of all. But I didn’t know Dottie (as her friends called her) or did I? I can’t say I was the devout fan that read every book but I can say I adored her videos and appearances I went out of my way to watch and was delighted when she friended me on Facebook.
I am drawn to people who are MORE. People who share their lives and realize the commonalities we all have. I would have liked to have been friends with Dottie. I think we would have laughed till we peed and cried till we were mealy red-faced blubbers.
I think what drew me to DBF was her dedication to craft, her accessibility, her gregarious zest for life and laughter. And that zest for life saddens me. Dottie wasn’t done. I’m not done, and that’s a HUGE thing to have in common. Her book, Queen Bee, skyrocketed to the top of the best-selling charts BEFORE she passed away, struck down by a quick but sure leukemia.
I am sure she had plans; we all do. She probably had a note tucked away — a one-liner, an idea for her next novel, a picture in her head of the protagonist. Maybe she even thought of coloring outside of the lines of her beloved island communities. I am confident she wasn’t DONE with anything!
It brought to mind my favorite women authors and artists, both living and gone. Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Harper Lee, Josephine Humphreys, Toni Morrison, Julia Reed, Fannie Flagg, Mya Angelou. They all share their lives through their art and words and none of them are done.
Maya Angelou was a resident of Winston Salem, NC when we lived there. Her house was painted canary yellow for the longest time, perhaps a nod to her poem, Caged Bird. I read an article after she died that said her desk was covered with snippets of things she wanted to research, travel to, listen to, etc. She lived her life to the fullest like Dottie, and like all of my women artist heroes.
Carrie Feron, Senior Vice President, Executive Editor Harper Collins, editor and dear friend of Dottie's shared with me several personal photos of their time together. The colorful and inspiring canvas by Jonathan Green looms over her desk as she works and her larger-than-life pearls (baubles) on her desk make me smile. Carrie visited her Sullivans lsland home many times over the years as they collaborated over 15 of her novels. Perhaps, she knew more than anyone that Dottie wasn’t done.
A FB notification months ago had me click on DBF’s page. She posted a photo of her last finished manuscript, a full 5 inches tall, sitting on her wonderfully cluttered desk. I loved it! I knew what she felt when she snapped that photo. I tapped my own 4-inch manuscript sitting beside me with my pencil as I looked at her photo. All of those words on paper — a part of her; her guts, her heart, her blood. Those words had consumed her for months or years and finally it had taken all she had. She finished with a single period. But maybe a period is not how we should end our novels.
Maybe it should be a semicolon.
I met a dear friend for dessert at Cracker Barrel on Sunday to catch up. I got there ahead of her and canvassed the gift shop. An older man in his 80s inched his way to me on his cane and told me he liked my “bag” pocketbook. I thanked him and as he limped away, I noticed a tattoo on the inside of his wrist. It was too crisp and modern looking to be an old military tat. So I followed him and asked him the significance of the semicolon and script that said, “This too shall pass.”
His eyes filled with water and he apologized for becoming emotional. He said years ago he had decided to take his own life. Fortunately, he reached out and got help in the nick of time and he wanted a permanent reminder of that help and the strength it takes to carry on. The semicolon is a reminder that life can go on; and on; and on; and that whatever you are going through, it will pass. He told me “I shudder to think of what I may have missed with my wife of 50 years if I had gone through with it.”
We can never have enough time on this earth can we? Seeing that tattoo was serendipitous and the perfect ending to my unsettled week.
If it weren’t for illness or heartbreak, no one would utter “I am ready to go.” We all have things we want to do and I want to continue doing them until I am horizontal. And this feeling of fleeting time will pass. That’s what time does. I will always leave something undone, and that’s okay;
Photo Credits: Dorothea at desk and desk photo with her "baubles" by Carrie Feron // Wedding Dance with friends by Lauren Simone // Semi-colon tattoo by Renae Brabham // Cover photo AP News