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Franca liked a room with a view

March 09, 1997

Some of us are so afraid to live life that we spend our days cowering behind emotional walls. As far as Franca Lewis was concerned, that would be like living in a room with no view.

Before her sudden death on Monday, Franca used to sit across from me in the newsroom. She was my friend.

But let's get back to the view.

Franca let it all hang out, so to speak. She wasn't afraid to live, or to love, or to tell you off if she thought you deserved it, for that matter. She could gently spank you with words, or slap you silly with them. She could dazzle you with her smile, and hold you with her eyes.

Here's a lilttle about who she was - "warts and all," as she used to say.

Franca had a temper. I remember times when I literally paled at hearing her voice her opinion about something, in a voice so loud that an editor could hear her.


One day, after she had let loose with a particularly caustic barrage of words about some work policy she thought was dumb, I crawled out from under my desk and peeked cautiously over the top of my computer at her.

I could tell she wasn't done yet.

"Wanna go outside for a minute?" I asked tentatively.


I dragged her outside before her mouth could open again. I told her all the absolutely horrific things she had just announced in the newsroom. She looked at me in disbelief.

"I said that?" she said.

"Geez, Franca, you don't remember?"

"No, I guess I must have been mad."

Franca and I used to talk about our vulnerability to love and age and the ravages of life itself. "I wear my heart on my sleeve," she'd say, as if that was a bad thing.

We talked about winning the lottery and living the rest of our lives in opulent wealth. No more work for us.

We were both gamblers at heart. I'd share her happiness when she hit the 3-digit daily lottery. She'd be happy for me when I got 40 bucks on a scratch-off.

We laughed.

One day we were standing outside the side door of the Herald-Mail. (The place is like a wind tunnel.) We were having a pity party. We griped for a couple of minutes about how disgusting the human condition is, and discussed what we could do to change that.

We were both depressed.

The wind picked up then, and we felt our clothes billowing and our hair raising. Franca looked at me, pointed at my head and started laughing that contagious laugh of hers.

When I returned her stare, I noticed the permed curls on her head were sticking straight out from her scalp. She looked a lot like Medusa.

That's when I started laughing.

The two of us laughed and laughed until our sides hurt. We just stood there in that mini-tornado with tears rolling down our cheeks.

It was a beautiful moment.

"I needed that," I said.

"So did I," she said.

And it was back to work, where Franca and I soon found ourselves laughing again, this time at her expense.

Franca grew up speaking Italian, and even though she spoke perfect English, she had a problem with metaphors. The problem was that she mixed them. Sometimes she mixed more than two.

She slaughtered similes. She wreaked havoc with cliches.

Anyway, on this particular day we were discussing a story she was working on when out of the blue she said, "Well, I guess that just goes to show that you can make a chicken cross the road, but you can't get him to drink."

"Huh?" I said.

She said it again.

"Uh, Franca, isn't there supposed to be a horse in there somewhere?"

"Huh?" she said. She raised her upper lip into a half-sneer, wrinkled her nose and raised her eyebrows all at the same time (no small trick) with that irritated look she got when she was getting impatient.

Then, in a flash, she got it. She threw her head back and laughed and laughed.

I laughed.

We laughed...

Franca was blue skies and a gentle breeze. She was storm clouds and rumbling thunder. She was a rainbow in a downpour.

She lived life.

There were no walls for Franca.

She liked a room with a view.

Terry Talbert is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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