On the title page of my first novel, “Every Common Sight,” is the standard disclaimer for fiction.
“Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”
That is true, with a couple of exceptions. One is the character named Sister Rosalie, the cherubic, kind, happy nun from the book, who was the same during my elementary school years. She left such a deep imprint on my being. Someday I hope to track her down and tell her that.
The other is Francis Devos, the strapping fellow who worked for the main character, Wendell Smith, at a lumber yard in small town Texas. He was also Wendell’s stalwart sidekick for a half century. Wendell was a World War II veteran who came home to Texas with horrible memories of combat and a secret. Francis and Wendell’s wife, Selma, remained true to the troubled vet through some very difficult times.
I’m very pleased to say that Francis is a favorite character for many early readers of “Every Common Sight.”
A few days ago, I rang up the real Francis Devos and got to tell him that.
I knew him from my college years nearly more than three decades ago, when I worked summers at my dad’s lumberyard in the small town of Crookston, Minn. Franny, as we called him, also drove a truck for my dad. He was about 10 years older than me, a strapping bachelor who worked harder than anyone else.
Franny didn’t say much, always hanging around the edges of office conversations, laughing at the jokes. But I always sensed something thoroughly decent, honest, loyal and wise about him, in a salt of the earth sort of way. When I see the stalwart Francis in the book, I see my friend from all those years ago.
The real Francis is still living in Crookston.
“Who’s this?” he said when he answered the phone.
I told him.
“Geez. It’s been what, 25 years?”
“Longer than that,” I said.
We caught up a bit. Francis is 68 now, retired from a job as a supermarket manager. He’s still a bachelor.
I told him why I was calling, that I had always admired him, so much so that a hero of my first novel bears his name.
I heard a familiar chuckle at the other end of the line. He chuckled for a long time.
“That’s OK,” he said finally. “At least I’ll be in a book somewhere.”
I asked Franny who he thought should play him in the movie.
That chuckle again.
“I don’t know,” he said. “There aren’t too many actors my age around anymore.”
It’s something that Francis Devos, the character, would say, too.