Home > Reunion Beach : Stories Inspired by Dorothea Benton Frank

Reunion Beach : Stories Inspired by Dorothea Benton Frank
Author: Elin Hilderbrand


Victoria Benton Frank by Molly Lawson



Victoria Benton Frank

Dorothea Benton Frank was Dottie to the world, to her friends, and to her family, but to me she was always Momma. Momma believed in magic. She was the ultimate magician whenever there was none to be found. She wove it through her stories, planted it in her garden, made it in her food, and made the impossible seem possible in any way she could.

We all knew that she was an incredible storyteller, but I would always joke that she was just writing the truth and calling it fiction. My momma had a fantastic life. We all miss her, because, well, it just isn’t as much fun without her, but whenever I get sad, I think about what a riot of a life she lived, and how everything she touched was better because she made it so, and even though she is gone, her lessons, which she so carefully taught me, are carrying me through. Not just the fun ones like the “Three F’s: food, fashion, and family.” Or that pink always makes you look pretty, hair is fifty percent of your looks, or when in doubt buy red over black. I hope one day to plant the seeds of Dot’s garden in my own children. Making them also believe in magic.

Birthdays in our life were national holidays. Hers especially. One of Dot’s rules was “The three-gift minimum.” Something had to smell good, something had to feel good, and something had to sparkle. You were not allowed to give a gift to someone that had a plug attached to it, or something that would benefit yourself. It had to be something the person would never buy for themselves, and bonus points were given if it thrilled them. Momma loved to thrill.

When I was four years old, I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid. So naturally, Momma turned herself inside out to turn our sunroom into an underwater escape. She hired local actors to put on a live performance of The Little Mermaid, and as goodie bags, she gave everyone a Little Mermaid–themed fishbowl with two live goldfish. Meanwhile, most of the fish died within a week, and Dot took a few phone calls from upset parents.

When I was five, it was The Wizard of Oz. So she bought a sewing machine and made me an exact copy of Dorothy’s dress, and with a hot glue gun pasted bright red sequins all over a pair of Mary Janes, giving her permanent scars all along her arms. The same actors came over and performed, and the sunroom was then transformed into the Emerald City. She got on all fours and hand-sponged a yellow brick road for me on mural paper. Nothing was impossible, and everything was fantastic.

Belonging to my mother wasn’t just a privilege for reasons obvious to everyone; what she did that I miss the most is that she made me feel like we were a secret team against the world and the rules didn’t apply to us. She never told me to be quiet, instead encouraged me to laugh as hard and loud as possible. She wanted me to question things. She allowed me to read anything I wanted at any age. Movies were limited, but not books. I read Valley of the Dolls at twelve years old. She sat me down and gave me the honest answer to all of my questions. I remember asking her why people did drugs, and her response was perfect: “Because they make you feel good, but they will ruin your life.” As a result, I never did any drugs.

In high school I transferred my junior year to a public school and didn’t have any friends. The mean girls ignored me and so my mom pulled up in her navy blue Mercedes-Benz and picked me up every day and took me to lunch so I didn’t have to be alone. I was never sad about those silly girls, I was happy to spend the time with my mom. Once I finally did make friends, we would all go over to my house to have lunch with her anyways. Everyone wanted to be around her.

In college, I never went on any spring break trips with my sorority sisters or friends, I went somewhere with her. Some of my best memories are from those trips. I was so lucky to be her friend and her daughter. I spent the entire two weeks laughing.

As I got older, got married, and had children, our relationship changed. She sat me down and said, “Victoria, you’re a writer. I know this in my bones. Stop cooking, stop working in boutiques, write your story, or I will.” So I started to write. I would send her what I was working on, hoping she’d lend her expertise, and she would always just say, “Keep going.” She encouraged me to be anything I wanted, but she wanted me to see the wonderful world she got to see by being a storyteller.

I was lucky enough to go on a book tour with her twice. We had so much fun we couldn’t believe we were getting paid to be together! I got to see her in her groove. Talking to packed theaters, libraries, schools, bookstores where the masses would come to hear her talk. If you have ever seen my mom speak, then you know it was a little like stand-up comedy, but then she would open her heart and read a passage from one of the books she had written, and it was like looking into her soul. She connected with her readers because she wasn’t afraid to go deep. She could make you laugh and cry and also give you something to think about. Her stories were sad and heartwarming but they were also funny. Humor, my momma always taught me, is the sharpest tool in one’s toolbox. You can say anything, if you make them laugh.

Maybe that’s what I miss the most, making her laugh. Every single day we talked . . . usually a few times . . . and emailed, texted, etc. I would try to make her laugh. Whenever I did it was like hearing a love song. Her laughter was approval. She would say, “Oh, Victoria, you’re so crazy. I love you girl” and my day would be made.

I MISS MY FRIEND. I miss my soul mate. I miss the moon to my tide. I was lost at first, but then I remembered she gave me everything I needed to dig deeper, to try harder, and to never forget to create magic. She gave me hope, and faith in myself and my ability to go on. I am not lost. I am very grounded. My children will always know her, she will never be forgotten. My wonderful, magical Momma.

Right before she got sick, she attended her high school reunion, and was going to write a book about her memories, her friendships, and the women she knew when they were girls. Instead, now we women, her friends and fellow storytellers, have all come together in a reunion, to write about my momma, and how she created inspirational magic in their lives. I hope you read these memories and stories inspired by the great and wonderful Dorothea Benton Frank. If there was one thing my mom inspired and encouraged it was the power of women coming together, and especially to share stories.






Patti Callahan




The Answer

Lachlan was waiting for an answer. Beatrice’s answer.

And she didn’t have one.

The lemon-light of the restaurant’s overhead chandeliers fell onto the linen-covered tablecloth in shaded patterns, imitating branches of a naked tree. Beatrice stared at that pattern because she couldn’t look Lachlan in the eye, her mind scrambling for the right words.

As if there were right words.

“Beatrice.” Lachlan said her name softly, and she finally lifted her gaze to his. “Are you here?”

“I am. I just don’t know what to say.”

“It’s simple,” he said.

“And complicated,” she said.

They, by all rights, looked exactly like who they were: a middle-aged and quite beautiful couple in love at a fine restaurant—the Olde Pink House on Abercorn in the heart of Savannah, Georgia. Soft music played in the background from a piano player in the far corner by the fireplace. Lachlan, in his fifties, silver at his temple with tortoiseshell glasses reflecting the candles. Beatrice, with her thick chestnut hair tied in a low bun at the nape of her neck, her hands clasped in her lap.

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