One Last Lesson

by Jim Bruns
St. Clair, Missouri, USA

One Last Lesson

Frank was a high school boxing and math teacher while I was in grade school during World War II. He lived across the street, and was one of those rare individuals who never tire of listening to endless questions from neighborhood kids.

Frank could have doubled for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and it wasn’t long before he unwittingly became my mentor. He taught me to play chess, fence and directed my reading, religious and music interests. There was nothing off limits in our discussions. He showed genuine pleasure as he shared his time with me. The only time he could not be disturbed was late evenings, while he cranked out what I knew must be the Great American Novel. It turned out he supplemented the family income by writing pulp fiction from plot cards at the rate of three manuscripts per month.

Frank’s wife Cee was also a great influence. She had retained a mysterious beauty from her younger days when they had a Vaudeville dance act. Stories of their days on stage entranced me. Photo albums allowed me a peek into their past. They beamed with pride as I read yellowed play bills announcing their act on the same bill as Eddy Foy. They were inseparable, or so it seemed.

I left home and entered the business world fortified with Frank and Cee’s influence. Then I learned from my family that Cee had passed away. By then, I had found my own true love, and was creating my own experiences to share with kids in my neighborhood.

On my next trip home I hurried to find out why Frank hadn’t answered my letters of condolence. He came to the door a haggard, unhappy man. He neither invited me in nor talked with me. Though hurting for him, I turned and left. He became a recluse after Cee’s death, and lived another 20 years in that condition.

Two years ago, I lost my beloved of 38 years to cancer. Following her death, I understood each day all too well what had happened to Frank. I watched myself turn friends away. I saw myself doing just what he had done, and realized I could be engulfed in this grief for my next 20 years. With this understanding, I chose  once again to learn from Frank.

Rather than becoming a recluse, I began to slowly and painfully rebuild an existence for myself that would enable me to re-enter society. At the ripe old age of 65, I am once again engaged, to a wonderful woman.

Knowing of Frank’s last years hasn’t diminished his stature one bit in my eyes. While I respect and understand the devotion my friend had for his beloved, mentors may teach by showing us how NOT to do something. Frank, I thank you for this last lesson.

Originally published as HeroicStories #152 on June 13, 2000

6 thoughts on “One Last Lesson”

  1. Thank you so much for this poignant-yet-sweet story. I’m sure Frank heard it from Heaven and heaved a great sigh of relief that he is remembered for the great legacy he left from all those years of selflessness, rather than a few years of grief and pain. Thanks to Jim for learning from both sides of Frank’s life, and for sharing this wonderful man with the rest of us! May we all strive to leave such a legacy!

  2. ‘…Mentors may teach by showing us how NOT to do something’
    What a profound observation. What a lesson I myself can take from this when I might otherwise feel let down by someone I had respected.

  3. I just lost my love after a fifty year marriage. The story shows the easy dark path forward unless one has the courage and will to change the path. I will make that effort. The story is the lesson.

  4. I had read this story before then I today reread again I also lost my great love after 54 years together now twelve years later I know of the loss of Frank and the man he mentored Its ‘easy to go down that path when you love a person so much I didn’t do that myself because of age my body / bones fell into disrepair results of Osteo Arthritis and I spent the first five years after my loss getting joints replaced had back surgery plus all major joints I only have one hip not replaced / So all that time I attempted to be made reasonably whole again Must say life has been good to me I cannot get about as much as I would like I spend my time praying for friends and people who are in need and the families of those on the “NEWS “who need uplifting tho they don’t know others feel their pain and loss and are praying on their behalf I look forward to these great true stories they are so uplifting to our soul and give us the will to go on I believe we all need someone yes a MENTOR in our lives

  5. It is nearly 24 years since this heart-felt and inspired story was originally published. The author was 65 when he wrote it. I wonder whether he is still alive knowing that his shared story still provides a profound lesson for us, his readers today.
    Loss and grief are both facts of life, and are part of being human. What we do with them is up to each of us. Pain can wear away ones resilience and cause us to slide into darkness and despair. We are given the tools not to go there: courage, hope and wisdom come to mind, but they require faith and hard work. The author reminds us not to lose hope, not to give in to despair. It is a wonderful story and contains a lesson for any of us who has lost a beloved or will be losing someone in the future.


Leave a Comment