Hey gal, have a seat, was the standard greeting Lee offered when I reached the table in Los Pericos where he and my cousin Frances would be sitting down sipping margaritas. Los Pericos was their favorite Mexican restaurant in the little town of Willis, Texas – a fifteen minute drive from their condo at Lake Conroe or maybe shorter depending on how fast Frances was driving.
Frances always drove. I never remember seeing Lee get out of the car on any side except the passenger seat in the front, but then I never saw Frances get out of the car without Lee. Frances and Lee. Lee and Frances. Their names were linked as indelibly as their margaritas were to table prepared guacamole at Los Pericos where the staff knew their names and what they wanted. As soon as they came in, the whirring of the margarita blender could be heard, and two large frozen tequila drinks appeared almost as soon as they sat down. Cheers.
Frances is the daughter of my paternal grandmother’s sister Thelma and has been a fixture in my life since I was born. We weren’t close when we were growing up in neighboring Grimes County, Texas towns because she was too many years older than me (all of five years) plus she had a younger brother who was my age, a boy who entertained me, and a boy who could manipulate me into activities that annoyed his older sister.
Frances married Lee when she was 20 years old and for all practical purposes disappeared from my teenage consciousness while her brother and I remained close. Whenever I saw her and her husband at family gatherings, she was sweet, smiling with the same look her mother had – like they knew a secret the rest of us would never know. Lee looked at Frances with the adoring gaze of someone who knew the secret and loved her either in spite of it or because of it.
The vicissitudes of life, as my daddy often called inexplicable coincidences, brought Frances and Lee into my conscious life again when I became bi-stateual and moved home to Texas to care for my mother. Our home on Worsham Street in Montgomery from 2010 – 2014 was twenty minutes from their condo on Lake Conroe. I shared their love of margaritas and Tex-Mex which led me to meeting them at Los Pericos in Willis many nights for dinner. They occasionally acquiesced to my favorite place, the Big Sombrero in Montgomery, but they rarely gave two thumbs up to its margaritas.
Playing canasta with one of my favorite neighbors, Carol, at the kitchen table on Worsham Street with Lee and Frances was always rewarded with bottles of wine they brought. Lee was an excellent card player with no loss of focus on the game regardless of how much wine I poured for him. We had several afternoons of card games, a variety of wines, but always loads of laughter while my country music station played our background music.
In February of this year, Pretty and I made a quick trip to Texas and had a good visit with Frances and Lee in their new place not far in distance from the condo on Lake Conroe but a world away from the life they had there. Lee was obviously very ill which distressed us; Frances was obviously very worried about him. Health problems for Lee had multiplied after a serious stroke which forced them to change locations of their homes, but not their hearts.
On Friday, June 10th. Lee and Frances were to celebrate their 61st. anniversary. The only people I know who had more than 60 years together were my paternal grandparents, so I am not only impressed by the longevity of Frances and Lee’s marriage but also the abiding love that inspired it. Lee died Monday, June 6th., at his home with his wife and only daughter Kelly by his side.
I loved this man who married my cousin and will miss his hey gal, have a seat greeting. I will remember him and would like to think that somewhere somebody has poured the best tequila in a blender for a margarita that’s already whirring by the time St. Peter opens the gate. No salt please (thanks, Kelly – I had forgotten that)
Pretty and I send our love to Frances, Kelly and the rest of Lee’s family. We are with you in spirit. Rest in peace, Lee.
Lee, Frances and first cousin Eloise sharing a laugh with me in 2019