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October 4, 2000
By Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
October 4, 2000
Putting the demons to flight
Did you see Frank Gilbert's picture on page 12A a couple of weeks ago? The caption called him "Mountain Man." He said he was "keeping the panthers away from the ladies and the campsite." Had a bear shown up, he would have kept it away, too with a switch. What a difference a little patience, prayer and faith make.
"Mountain Man" also made my column on September 20. He was one of the two upbeat, happy fellows who had to take a leave of absence from the independent, disorganized fraternity that meets every morning at Bruce's. The other one was John Kinney of the duct-taped billfold.
Unlike John, who was gone for weeks, Frank was gone for months. When he left in February, he had hair. When he returned in July, he was bald.
And so the 24 characters give or take a few who meet at 605 Athens Street, Jefferson, every morning for coffee and fellowship once again had new ammunition for some good-natured kidding.
Just as they had ribbed John about his pig valve, they had no mercy on Frank when he came back looking like Yul Brynner. Made no difference that he had been going through the debilitating throes of chemotherapy.
But Frank had the last laugh. He looked around at George Edmondson, Rance Cantrell and some of his other hairless brothers and said, "I can grow mine back."
And grow it back he did.
Hair was the only thing Frank lost during his months-long battle with cancer (lymphoma). His good nature, friendliness, positive outlook, upbeat attitude and sense of humor were challenged but never defeated.
And then there was his faith in God. That never left him, either. And when the demons attacked, it was faith and prayer that put them to flight.
And now he is back with the club, taking and dishing out some good-natured kidding.
"Kidding? This is not kidding," Frank explained to the newest member of the fraternity. "This is hard-core criticism."
Trying to be serious, he said, "I didn't get any sympathy not at the coffee club, not on the golf course, not at home."
A big smile gave him away, and he admitted that somebody came to see him just about every day. "I got over 400 cards, plus email from all over the country. And every day, for six months, I got a phone call from Henry Asbury."
Frank said John Kinney came to see him often, "bringing me a casserole or pie some widow woman had brought him." John's wife, Jane, died 15 years ago, but Frank says the casseroles and pies are still coming.
"Mountain Man" tried again to take on his tough-guy image.
"Controversy is what I like. Controversy creates creativity. It is good that nobody ever agrees."
George Edmondson chimed in with the reason why, in the midst of hard-core criticism and creative controversy, these fine upstanding citizens get along so well. "You can't afford to get mad, because there is the slightest possibility you could be wrong."
Somebody brought up the politics and health care issue.
"I don't like politicians and I don't like doctors," said Frank, again trying to be serious. "But I've got to have both. One fights for my freedom, the other for my life. And both are after my money."
The hand on the clock pushed 9 and the crowd began to dwindle. Finally there were just the two of us, and Frank became thoughtful, reflective and serious.
"Playing golf doesn't make you sick," he began. "I didn't have any pain or anything. Never had any health problems."
But it was on the golf course that he had his first symptom. "A lymph node just popped."
Frank soon discovered that he had something in common with Andres Galarraga. He had the same type cancer as the Braves' first baseman and went through the same treatment.
But "Mountain Man" is better than Galarraga in one respect. "I swing at a little white ball and never miss. Galarraga swings at a much bigger ball and strikes out a lot."
Frank said he and his wife, Joyce, joked about his bout with cancer "to keep from crying."
"We're all sick. It's just life."
Depression nearly always goes along with chemotherapy. Doctors gave Frank anti-depression pills. "I took three of them and threw the rest away."
"The demons came after me. I chased them with prayer. I prayed them away."
Knowing someone who had similar experiences and survived also helped. "Aaron McKinney saved my life," Frank said. "He understood the psychological stuff."
For "Mountain Man" the answer was patience and prayer. The chemotherapy was tough, but it never got him down so low that he couldn't come back up. He even wrote a book while going through the ordeal.
Frank said he wrote the book "to stay creative."
"Chasing the Wind" is a historical novel about the Civil War. A history buff, Frank has read approximately 300 books about the War, and decided to add one of his own to the collection.
The book is written but not typed. But it will be. And knowing Frank like they do, his friends in the club have no doubt that it will be published someday.
Be patient. Live one day at a time. Be thankful for every day. That seems to be Frank's philosophy.
At first there were weeks with no good days physically. Then it was one or two a week. Then three.
Now he is back on the golf course in Commerce every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday ... after checking with the boys at Club Byrd in Jefferson.
Frank really does believe that part in the Book about all things working together for the good. Thus it is that he sees his illness as a blessing. He says it gives him an opportunity to witness to others, as Aaron McKinney witnessed to him.
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.
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