Frank’s way

Franklin A. Souza’s funeral

Madeline, Joy and Frank Souza in 2006.

Madeline, Joy and Frank Souza in 2006.

PHOTO courtesy joy souza

There’s nothing like a funeral to inspire thoughts of mortality. I attended the funeral of a man I never met, but who, due to the remembrances of family members and friends, I think I would have admired. But then, I have a soft spot for people who go their own way in life.

Sunday, I ended up in Hawthorne, two and a half hours southeast of Reno, because my girlfriend’s great uncle died, and he wished to be buried on Nevada Day, which made for a Halloween and Sunday funeral. Gunter’s Funeral Home Chapel was packed, people standing in the aisles. Immediately before the service, three songs—Willie Nelson’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” John Wayne’s “America, Why I Love Her,” and Elvis Presley’s version of “Amazing Grace”—repeated several times.

The service was conducted by B.P.O. Elks Lodge No. 1704, and I could see it was a duty some of these gentlemen had performed or witnessed often enough that they did not consult notes for their parts, but recited them from memory. The service itself was thought-provoking, and the Elks made promises that they would not allow the name Frank A. Souza ever to be forgotten. The seven Elks at the front attested to their fallen brother’s principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and patriotism.

There were two parts of the service that particularly were in my head during the long drive home after the graveside so-longs (I may be paraphrasing a bit):

“The incident of death is not more mysterious than the incident of birth. We were born to die, and we die that we may live;” and “Speaking for the surviving members of his lodge, I say, ‘Good-bye—good-bye until the hour of eleven shall regularly return. Thou art I and I am thou, thy name shall never be forgotten.’”

The first is a sentiment that rings through every spiritual philosophy that I’ve ever experienced, even atheism, in that there is no net gain nor loss of matter or energy in the universe when someone passes, everything is reborn through death. That phrase, “thy name shall never be forgotten,” though, gave me pause.

Never is a very long time, and one thing I’ve come to realize in 20 years as a journalist, people don’t remember anything after a few decades, no matter how hard they try.

But I got to thinking about Frank and about his bequest to immortality through something his son, Gary, said. Everyone who spoke talked about Frank’s commitment to commitment, to keeping his ideals and his cowboy values no matter what else was happening in the world, or how high the price Frank paid for doing things his way.

“There’s the right way, there’s the wrong way, and there’s Frank’s way,” said the son, and I got to thinking that that’s the real immortality that people own.

Yes, there are the keepers of the names, the Elks brothers and genealogists, but the real stuff that passes from fathers to children to grandchildren to great-ad infinitum grandchildren are the family’s core principles. I know families that pass on mores of hard work, education appreciation, individualism, and I’ve heard the qualities attributed to people long since dead. “Oh,” I’ve heard, “he gets his stubbornness from his grandpa” or “She sings just like her grandmother.” And when that grandchild becomes the grandparent, no one remembers the progenitor of the singing voice, just, “She sings just like her grandmother.”

And so, as I sit here, my grandfather’s generation passing out of recall, I expect that Frank’s rugged cowboy way will be passed down through the years, until some kid named Frank is herding what passes for cows on Europa, and he’s going to love the hard work—even when it rains.

Anyway, Franklin A. Souza was born in Fallon on July 21, 1928, and he died in Hawthorne on Oct. 25, 2010. He was a cowboy.