Recently, Cape Style Magazine asked me if I’d be interested in being there to photograph the moment almost 93-year-old woman, Frances Keogh, got to cross “riding on a motorcycle” off of her bucket list. They figured that, since I’m a biker, myself, it might be a story that I’d be interested in covering. The answer was, of course, a resounding “Heck, yeah”!
My assistant (and most awesome husband in the world) pulled up into the facility parking lot and walked toward a building marked administration. We hadn’t actually been told where to go or who to meet with so we were kind of winging it. However, we didn’t even make it across the lot before a voice rang out asking if we are here for Frances. This voice was attached to Sheila Sweeney, a great friend of Mrs. Keogh. Sheila, told us to change spots and just pull our motorcycles up next to the building so there would be more motorcycles when Frances came out.
We spoke with Sheila, as we waited for Frances to make her appearance. You could tell that she held her in the highest esteem by how her face lit up as she spoke of her friend. She explained that Frances was full of spirit and wanted to cram in as much life into ever day as she possibly could. She was very excited to be a part of fulfilling her friend’s dream and was extremely proud to have organized the event. She went on to say that Frances was very active in politics, loved poetry, was a published author and that she had a smile ready for every person she met.
As the minutes ticked by, more and more people showed up until a nice little crowd had gathered. There were a few other people from various other local press but most of the people gathered were friends and family of the guest of honor. No one had an unkind word to say about the soon-to-be motorcycle mama and I was more and more looking forward to meet her, for myself.
About 20 minutes later, as the camera crew finished readying their gear and the crowd murmured amongst themselves, the double doors to the building opened and everyone grew silent and turned in unison, to see what was happening. Miss Frances exited the building, sandwiched between two people assisting her, leaning on her walker. My first impression of what I saw was as she blinked to acclimate her eyes from the darker interior of the administration building to the blinding light of the sun she had just stepped into was that she is a tiny little woman, unassuming, almost frail-looking. In that very instant, she was transformed, before my eyes, like Cinderella, into the belle of the ball. She smiled with a smile that fought to overpower the sun that had just tried to blind her, only a moment ago. She stood up taller, left her walker in the dust and instantly broke out in a grand exclamation of joy and surprise. I could hear her sing-song voice like the tinkle of a wind chime in a Summer breeze, as she greeted every single person that she came to, along her walk through the crowd, whether she knew them or not. I could tell that what Sheila said was true…there were no strangers to Miss Frances. Her bright and airy voice, dabbed with more than a hint of Southern drawl, just brought instant joy to my own heart. I found myself anxiously awaiting my turn to be noticed by this woman who was slowly making her way toward me, through the line of people. Her zest for life was absolutely palpable.
Finally, she stood before me and I was instantly taken aback by the clearest, most piercing crystal blue eyes that I’ve ever seen. Behind those eyes, I could plainly see, were decades of wisdom and radiated outward with a life full of kindness. On her face was about the biggest, most infectious smile a person could ever hope to lay eyes on. In a moment, I was transported to an earlier time, sitting with my grandmother, snapping beans in her kitchen. The moment of nostalgia passed quickly and I found myself smiling in return. I don’t think it would be possible not to smile when standing before Frances Keogh. She gripped my hand with a strength that belied her dainty bone structure and then she looked me right in the eyes and told me “I’m so glad you’re here”, as she continued down the line. Me, a complete stranger to her; a woman she had never before seen in her life. You want to know something, though? I believed her! She has that power. As the day progressed, I would find out exactly how true it was because Miss Frances truly just loves everyone.
Anyway, within a few minutes, her chariot arrived. In this case, “Prince Charming” was Cape Coral’s very own one-time Senate candidate, Michael Dreikorn, and his steed was a shiny and beautiful Indian Roadmaster that glinted in the sun. The gathered crowd broke into applause and Frances squealed in glee. I followed that sound and looked over to see her face lit up like the ball in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. I tell you, that little woman was so excited that as I watched, decades seemed to melt off of her face so that she appeared more like a little girl on Christmas morning who had come down the stairs to find a new pony standing in her living room. It was quite a sight to behold.
Some of her friends helped get her ready. Miss Sheila had brought a bag of gear for her friend. Inside was a leather biker vest, complete with patches, a pair of leather riding gloves and a helmet. She looked like a princess getting ready for her coronation, standing there in the shade of the building, face beaming like a super nova with arms outstretched as friends helped her into her vest and pulled gloves onto her delicate little fingers and fastened the straps around her tiny wrists then pulled the helmet onto her head and adjusted the straps.
With a swoop, Miss Frances was picked up by my husband and Mr. Dreikorn and gently placed into her saddle (back seat). If it were only possible to harness that energy, her excitement would have powered the entire state of Florida for a month, I think. Defying all probability, her smile got even bigger when Mike fired up his motorcycle. In fact, I later told my husband that I knew that her teeth were real because with a smile that big, they would have plum fallen out of her mouth if they weren’t. The best part for me was seeing, first hand, that that glorious, gleeful smile never once faded, from the moment we started moving, leaving all the other news cameras behind, until the moment we got back.
To get the best photos possible, I sat backward on my husband’s motorcycle as he maneuvered us back and forth around them. He missed all of the excitement by concentrating on steering through traffic but I got to bear witness to her waving at cars as we went by, breaking into laughter, hootin' and hollerin', being overcome with emotion and tearing up from joy at one point…it was, quite possibly, one of the most precious and wonderful things that I’ve ever borne witness to.
Sadly, the ride and the day eventually came to an end. On the way into the building, we got her to stop at my motorcycle to sit on it for a photo. My husband started it up and let her rev it as she laughed like a school girl. There was a small party waiting inside. A special cake had been procured and there were also drinks and gifts. She gleefully showed us how she loves to dance to Mustang Sally. More cameras and interviews awaited.
When asked “What was the best part of today”, she responded not with "dressing like a biker" or "being interviewed by all the news crews" or even the actual motorcycle ride. Her answer was, simply, “All of you people. I met so many wonderful new people that I hadn’t met, before. Now I have a whole lot of new friends. That was the very best part”. She also left us all with some parting wisdom. Her sage advice to everyone was simply “Be kind to one another, all the time”. If only we, as humankind, took those words to heart. The entire world would be as pure and innocent as the heart of Frances Keogh.