Category Archives: Fran Simone

August 10 – All Those Old Photos

by Fran Simone

My husband, Terry, an only child, died eighteen years ago. His mother, Zona, died last year. Her nephew settled her estate. She didn’t have much except for a truckload of old photos taken from the time of Terry’s birth until our last visit to her home in Dallas few months before he died. At Zona’s graveside service,  Bobby asked, “Do you want anything from her apartment?” I asked for some photos.

Many months later four huge boxes arrived. Three contained hundreds of black and white photos. Terry in his Daniel Boone outfit, his Boy Scout uniform, his high chair, his swim shorts. Opening presents on Christmas morning and wearing a tux at his high school prom. You get the picture. Hundreds of pictures. .

After culling through three boxes I sent photos to Terry’s cousins and stuffed the remainder in a cabinet that already houses hundreds, or maybe thousands, of family photos taken over a period of forty years (most jammed into shoe boxes).
I wish I could emulate my friend, Bonnie, who has made it her mission to cull through and organize old photos and give them to family members and friends. While visiting her a few weeks ago she “returned” several taken during our annual vacation at Holden Beach in North Carolina. Lovely memories.

The fourth box contained a large oil which I suspect was painted when my husband was in high school. He appears neat and conservative, with a soft smile and no glasses (he always wore glasses). Definitely painted before his hippie phase. It had been prominently displayed in the living room of Zona’s tiny bungalow and later moved to her assisted living apartment in Texarkana, Texas, home of Ross Perot and perhaps the ugliest city in the United State. But I digress.

Although many pictures of my husband are displayed throughout my home, I did not hang Terry’s portrait. In fact, it sits in its original packing box in the garage along with tools, flower pots, old paint cans and other paraphernalia. It feels irreverent to part with it, yet I know that I will never hang it in my home. Therein lies my dilemma. What the hell do I do with it, or for that matter, the thousands of old photos sitting in shoe boxes? Do I bite the bullet and sort through them like my friend Bonnie? Or do I bequeath that task to my kids after I’m gone? I know one thing. If I decide to downsize to smaller digs, I’m in trouble.

Fran Simone’s memoir, Dark Wine Waters: A Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published in 2014. She blogs on family and addiction for Psychology Today. This essay on old photos developed from a writing prompt from ecircle 9.

April 5 – A Stretch

by Fran Simone

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything original.
– Sir Kenneth Robinson

Several years ago I signed up for a class in collage because I felt the need to stretch beyond the familiar, never mind that my artistic talent (or lack of) consists of drawing lopsided stick figures. In elementary school I couldn’t stay within the lines of a coloring book, and a painting class in college was a disaster.

The class met for five sessions in the messy studio of Marc, a gifted artist and enthusiastic teacher. My four classmates were repeats with Marc.  Each was talented with a flair for style as evidenced by their bright colors, bold jewelry, and eye-catching hats. What am I doing here? Should I bolt out the door? But I had paid my money and set myself a challenge.

Session one. Marc talked about the elements of collage and turned us loose to page through old magazines and “cut out or tear out whatever strikes your fancy.”  I looked, cut and tore, and wound up with a pile of flowers, birds, trees, and clouds. Well, maybe a nature theme.

Session two. More of the same: look, cut, tear, and puzzle over ways to arrange disparate pieces.. My classmates were way ahead. Two had already chosen themes, farm and music, and had begun arranging pieces on their canvasses. One sketched a design. I was still undecided.

Session three. Again, not a clue.  Then, I stumbled across a picture of Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David, which I had marveled at while visiting Florence. Eureka. My theme. Italy.

Session four. I located pictures of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Tower of Pisa.
“Great,”  Marc said, “now tear pieces to represent the sky and the earth. Then begin to lay out your design.”

My first attempt was as out of proportion as an unassembled puzzle. Marc patiently showed me how to divide the canvas into three spaces. He penciled in three parallel lines in equal proportions.

“Now place the sky above, the objects in the middle, and the earth below.”
I devised various combinations and consulted with Marc and my classmates.

Final session.  I carefully positioned my clouds and sky, statue, bridge, tower, and earth in various combinations. Running out of time and patience, I had to plunge right in like a swimmer jumping off a high diving board. Here goes. Glue pieces on canvas. No turning back. Hope for the best.

A month later we were invited to exhibit our creations with students in Marc’s art class at a local college. While the students’ works weren’t as magnificent as Michelangelo’s, they were pretty darn good. Although out of my league, I wasn’t embarrassed.

Today, my Italy collage is displayed on a book shelf in the office where I write. It reminds me to stretch beyond my comfort zone.


Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University, South Charleston, WV, campus. She directed the West Virginia Writing Project and taught classes and conducted workshops in personal narrative, memoir and creative non-fiction. Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published last year.

January 15 – iPad Blunder

by Fran Simone

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.”
– Neil Gaiman


I’m out-of-town visiting my friend, Ted, at a skilled nursing facility. He sleeps. I read a book on my iPad. Hours pass. Ted’s daughter arrives. I wait for her in the lobby where I place my coat and Baggallini tote on a chair. I love that bag. It’s lightweight with multiple compartments, including an iPad slot. Susan joins me and we head out for dinner.

After dinner, I drive to Comfort Inn and grab my suitcase from the car trunk. My bag isn’t there. I search inside the car. No bag. Not a problem. Probably left it in the lobby. I settle in and call the nursing facility, confident it’s there. No bag. Still not a problem. I call the restaurant. No bag. Maybe it fell in the parking lot.

I call Ted’s sitter. “Please double-check the lobby and if my bag isn’t there, then look in the parking lot.” No bag.

Now a problem.

The next morning, I check housekeeping at the nursing facility. No bag. I call customer service at Apple to report a lost or stolen iPad. I learn that I need my Apple ID and password or serial number.

“Well, what if I don’t have either one?”

“Then call the place where you purchased your device for serial number.”

Who carries around the serial number or memorizes their ID and passwords?

I call Best Buy back home to track the serial number. No dice. I need my credit card number.

My iPad was a gift to myself when I retired in 2011. Since then, Bank of America issued me a new credit card, one with a chip.

I call my daughter.

“Calm down, mom, we’ll figure it out.”

She calls back. “Mom, check your Amazon account which lists old credit card numbers.”

I track it down.

Back to Best Buy. They find the purchase order, but don’t keep track of serial numbers.

My daughter calls again. “Mom, I located the serial number.”

I don’t ask how.

Back to Apple.

“We can now resolve your problem but not over the phone. You have to report the loss in the cloud.”

What’s the cloud?

It’s late and I have a six-hour drive ahead of me. Although exhausted when I return home, I locate iCloud and report the loss. My iPad’s locked and can be located. Triumphant I fall into bed.

Next day while unpacking the car, I push aside a blanket in the trunk and uncover my tote bag. I am elated. My iPad is located at my home address. I am embarrassed.

During that frenzied day, I learned to keep track of serial numbers and passwords. More importantly, I learned that loss of an iPad  is small potatoes compared to Ted languishing in a nursing facility. Mistakes happen. No doubt I will make many more this year.

Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University, South Charleston, WV, campus. She directed the West Virginia Writing Project and taught classes and conducted workshops in personal narrative, memoir and creative non-fiction. Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published last year.

May 13 – Mother’s Day

by Fran S.

August 30th has become the happiest and saddest day of my life. On August 30, 1967, my lovely daughter, Simone, was born with a head full of curly black hair. This first child (and first grandchild on the maternal side of the family) was a blessing. When I held her for the first time, I felt pure love. On August 30, 2012, I sat in a crowded courtroom in Florida where a cynical judge announced that my second child, my son, might be going to prison for a long time. When I heard the news, I felt pure fear.

My adult son has been challenged with a serious mental health illness (bipolar disorder).Like many bipolar individuals, he has self-medicated with illegal drugs. He’s been in and out of treatment, in and out of mental health facilities, in and out of trouble. Our family has experienced the joy of recovery and the sorrow of relapse. We speculate on “what if,” ask ourselves “why,” and wonder, “how can this be?” What if I hadn’t lent him money when he was broke? What if I hadn’t believed him when he lied? What if I hadn’t divorced?

Why God? Why me? Why again?

And how can this be? I’m a professional. I owe a nice home. I drive a nice car. I have a loving extended family and caring friends. My son graduated from a good college. He worked for the National Basketball Association in Europe. He comes from a good family. How could this have happened? Turns out that no one is exempt from addiction. The disease cuts across gender, race, nationality and affects family members, friends, employers, and co-workers. Seventy-six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, are exposed to alcoholism in a family.

This coming Sunday is another special day. Mother’s Day. Since my daughter is working in South America and has limited phone access and my son is in jail, I doubt that I’ll receive a phone call or a card. And forget about flowers. But I plan to honor it anyway. I’m having brunch with two of my twelve step friends. Three moms whose offspring are troubled. No doubt we’ll vent. But also we’ll help one another “accept the things we cannot change.” And that’s a big step toward coping with the tragic news I received on August 30, 2012.

Fran is new to Story Circle Network. She recently attended her first conference and looks forward to future experiences with SCN.