Frank Agresti is finally united with his wife, at least symbolically, 11 years after her death.
At age 95, Agresti lives alone in the Wilmington home that for decades he shared with his beloved wife, Lorene. He’s in pretty good shape, mentally and physically, but until recently there was something weighing heavy on his heart.
It began about a year ago, when he was visiting his wife’s grave and noticed a picture on a nearby headstone.
The photo was of the couple buried there. It was embossed on porcelain and cemented to the headstone. It offered a glimpse of the couple when they were young and happy.
Agresti instantly knew he wanted a similar picture for the headstone marking the space where he will someday be buried next to his wife.
He found an old snapshot of the couple when they were in their 30s with big, beautiful smiles on their faces. Agresti took the snapshot to a business that specializes in converting photos into what’s called a “porcelain portrait.” (The business asked not to be named.)
But, weeks later, when he first saw the finished product he felt, somehow, that it wasn’t what he had in mind. He later changed his mind and said it was fine, but then changed his mind again.
The business listened patiently and offered to refund his $500, but he said no, he was still undecided. The business put the porcelain portrait aside for safekeeping.
Months passed with the portrait in a state of limbo.
For decades, Agresti has been a daily reader of the Globe. In his indecision over the porcelain portrait, he came across my name in the paper and decided to write a letter asking me for help.
He didn’t say exactly what he wanted me to do. But he was clear what was bothering him.
“At 95 time is running out and I would like to have a picture of my wife and me on the stone,” the letter, on lined paper, said. “She was a wonderful wife.”
I called the number Agresti included in his letter. My mother died this year at age 94, and she was lucid and capable and agreeable to the end. A few minutes on the phone with Agresti led me to believe he was equally so. I felt I should try to help even though it wasn’t clear what I should do.
We sat at his kitchen table and talked for a while. He’s originally from Somerville, enlisted in the Marines as a teenager, and then ran a drapery business until he was 85. He and Lorene had a son who now lives out of state.
Agresti was good-humored and self-deprecating and clearly delighted to have a visitor. He asked if I had time to look at some pictures and led me to a wall filled with a dozen framed pictures of Lorene.
What made her so special, I asked.
“Her friendship,” he said. After a pause he continued: “Her kindness, her honesty. She was the most wonderful wife anyone could ever have.”
Agresti showed me the snapshot he had picked out for the headstone. It was old and tiny and a little tattered. I told him I’d go to the business to see what they had produced and report back.
As I first mentioned Agresti’s name, the business office manager gave me a knowing look. She opened a desk drawer without saying a word and unwrapped a small package. It was the porcelain portrait.
I picked it up and said, without hesitation, “Wow. It’s really beautiful.”
To me, it was close to perfect: a heavy oval plate, about 8 inches across, showing a handsome young couple from a bygone era. It had a beautiful sky-blue background behind the couple, which the business had substituted for the wallpaper in the original photo.
I felt compelled to bring it to Agresti and tell him how impressed I was. This little portrait belonged on their shared headstone, a lasting and public testament to the deep connection they shared in life.
“Frank, in my opinion, this is really beautiful,” I said when we sat down again in the kitchen.
“I agree,” he said after a moment, his eyes a little misty. “One hundred percent.”
Agresti said the porcelain portrait he had seen months earlier, in his mind, somehow looked different from the one he now held in his hands. Maybe he just needed a second opinion. I don’t know. But no matter. He said he loved it and wanted it on his headstone.
I took it back to the business and told them Agresti wanted it cemented to the headstone.
But, by the time I got there, Agresti had already called ahead and apologized for his indecision and offered to pay any balance (there was none).
The porcelain portrait is now smiling back at the world on the Agresti headstone in Wildwood Cemetery in Wilmington.
We met at the cemetery last week at a time when the late afternoon sun was low in the sky and casting long shadows. The portrait had been permanently bonded to the headstone that morning and this was the first time Agresti was witness to his wish come true. Tears came to his eyes.
He said it made him feel united once again with Lorene.
“I feel much better now,” he said.