Frie Scott Leaves Behind a Zest for living; Joy in Simple Things

Almost reaching 102, she lived a full life

By Nancy Heden Clayman
Frie Scott and Nancy Clayman in earlier years, on one of their monthly visits.

With the squeal of brakes and toot of a horn, Frie pulls into our driveway. I give my Mom a guilty kiss, as I dash out of the house to meet her. I climb into the passenger seat, as she snuffs out her cigarette and lowers the pop music that’s accompanying her tapping toes. She grouses, about her husband being late – again, “I miss not having my own wheels, damn it.”

I notice immediately that she is dressed “to the nines” – skirt, cashmere sweater, heels, and an assortment of trinkets, notably the earrings. I look down at my drab slacks and sweater thinking I perhaps misunderstood our destination.

“We’re still heading to Franklin so you can go grocery shopping, right?”

 She laughs and looks down at her outfit, “Am I overdressed? Well, I don’t get out much in this little place they call a town, no sidewalks – I can’t believe I live here now – anyway, I love my “city clothes” and I’m gonna wear them”.

I squirm a little, hoping I didn’t offend her, but a part of me wants to complain with her. Living directly on a busy road between the Andover and East Andover villages, without neighbors, feels lonely. My mother doesn’t drive, and Dad works the 3 -11 PM shift in Concord, so I’m forever asking for rides. Yet another part of me feels disloyal – this is my town; I’ve lived here nearly all of my 11 years.  Mostly it’s Frie’s “plain-speak” and honesty, seemingly without hesitation, that grabs me. So refreshing, I admire it.

Franklin, a city to me, is always exciting and, with Frie, even more so. She slows, searching for parking. I take advantage, catching glimpses of the clothing featured in the windows of the “tony” department store, WH Nelson, and shoes at Thom Mcan. I look for the both of us! We end up in the parking lot behind the A and P. Once inside, I look for some grocery items on Frie’s list until she “sets me free” to meet her at JJ Newburys 5 and 10, my heaven on earth!

I walk slowly up and down the aisles; much of the stuff looks familiar, but I always have a wish list from my last visit. Frie rushes in just as I’ve finished making my purchases. We have 12 minutes before the town closes, just enough for a Coke and shared French fries, while we twirl on the red stools that line the lunch counter.

“What’d you buy?” starting to peek into my bag. I grab out some barrettes to show, then fib about a notebook for school. I’m embarrassed, too old to play with paper dolls – Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, and all their gorgeous outfits keep my secret inside the bag.

On the way home, Frie announces, “I have a job here, in Franklin, at a mica factory.  Did you notice my broken finger nails and little cuts on my hands?” She holds them out for my inspection; I cringe – they look so red and sore. “They tell me to wear gloves, but gloves slow me down.  When I use my fingernails, I can separate the mica faster which means more money.” I don’t know what to say. “And because I’m working now, and the Arytons are returning to live in the house we’re renting, Scottie and I are moving to Franklin.”  All of this is revealed as she pulls into my driveway.

 Through the giant lump in my throat – “Thanks, Frie, that was fun. See ya!”  Clutching my bag of treasures, I run toward the house, in disbelief, overwhelmed by sadness.

 Little did I know then that our friendship would span over 65 years.  Little did I know then that six months later, Frie and Scottie would move back to “no sidewalk” Andover, and make their home on Short Street, a mile away from mine, for the next 58 years.

I met Frie in 1955. She was 34; I was 10.  Her new husband, Scottie, had lived with my family as a boarder for several months prior, having moved to Andover to start a window making factory with longtime Andover resident, Monroe Haley. I’m not sure how Scottie found us, but my mother, an awesome cook, was looking to make some extra money, and with my brother in the Air Force and sister in college, we had the space. At first, it was weird having a stranger living in our home, but Scottie was respectful, appreciative, warm, and fun loving. He treated my parents like his own and me as a little sister; I adored him. When I learned about Frie and Scottie’s marriage plans, I admit I was a bit jealous!  But then Frie won my heart, too –  another big sister, an aunt, or perhaps a “young” mom.

Lives change. Frie and Scottie welcomed four children to their family over just five years and Frie was beyond busy. I relegated my paper dolls to the top shelf for more teen pursuits. Our time together naturally dwindled.

When I left for nursing school, one suitcase overflowed with cashmere sweaters Frie swore didn’t fit her any more. Though some were a little itchy, I wore them to stave off homesickness, breathing in her familiar scent.

Frie Scott and Nancy Clayman, longtime friends from Andover, enjoy a visit.

While Frie shuttled toddlers to nursery school, I built nursing skills injecting saline into oranges and composed lonely letters to a high school sweetheart. When Frie and Scottie helped their oldest move into his dorm at UNH, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child.  Caught up in my own life, I was oblivious to Frie and Scottie’s support of my aging parents, especially my father as a widower. Frie and I communicated rarely.

 My husband and I are planning a weekend of respite from parenting our toddler and infant, when the person we’ve asked to care for the cherubs calls to cancel. I’m frantic; we need this so badly!  I review my back up list; guilt should keep Frie from even being on the list, but I call her.  Without recrimination, like “where have you been for the last month/year?” Frie quickly responds, “Of course, how soon can you bring her to me?”

After I retire and my children are adults, I find myself traveling to Andover from Boston to visit Frie and Scottie every month or so. They treat me to lunch; we share stories of past and present, and laugh uproariously at least once per visit. We discuss the challenges of aging, and a few years later, I rouse some nursing skills and spend precious time with Scottie and family in his last days.

With great sadness, Frie gives up her home of many years in the little town that still has few sidewalks, and moves into independent living in Massachusetts, close to her daughter, Elaine. Lucky for me, Frie now lives less than an hour away.

We resume our time together as if no years have passed at all. Tuesdays become my “Frie” days. Though Frie is approaching her mid 90s, she’s still a “clothes horse”, bargain hunter, and lover of trinkets. We both appreciate black and white; sometimes we vie for an item; often we buy two of the same! However, while I purchase nighties, she buys “shorties”!  Remember that “plain speak” – it is alive and well in the dressing room, unmuted by age.

  Our “Friedays” always include lunch, and sometimes a movie or a visit to friends or perhaps the lush gardens of Tower Hill. Frie uses a cane at first, then a walker unless the store has shopping baskets. After her 100th birthday, Frie reluctantly agrees to use her little red wheelchair on our outings. 

As for most, the pandemic interrupted our routine. For six months, Frie, like all the other residents in her independent living facility, was secluded in her studio apartment. Frie was fortunate to have an iPad, and despite her age, was quite facile with it. We “met” on FaceTime, several times on many days, as she did with other friends and family.  We would discuss books, sports, politics, fashion trends, movies, recipes, relationships, parenting – she was informed and curious – add 100 years of life experience – priceless.

Frie entered her 101st year with surgery for a fractured hip, multiple falls, mild Covid, and other health challenges of aging. Frie needed more care than independent living provided; it was a heartbreaking move for her, therefore sad for all who surrounded her. Frie groused about her progressive loss of independence; she did not pretend otherwise, but her answer was always an action plan – more physical therapy, more activity – up and dressed, earrings on, in her wheelchair by dawn, ready for what that day might bring.  A piece of mail, a lemon donut, the Sox or Celtics, some bird watching, 15 minutes in the sun, a telephone call from a grandchild – even just one made her day!

Nearing 102, staff members visit Frie like she’s a celebrity. Everyone wants to know the secret of her long life. As they near her room they hear:  “Alexa, is Tampa Bay playing today?….. The Pats? …. At the same time?… What channels?  OK, thanks!” With the TV remote in one hand and her iPad coming to life, she greets her visitors warmly despite her busy Sunday afternoon ahead. 

Soon after the games are over, Frie’s iPad announces a call; her faithfuls having been tracking the games for the conversations that will follow. Shortly, many family members and friends will be texting each other, “Who’s ‘on’ with Frie? Whoever it is has been on forever; it’s my turn”. 
After a nasty bout of flu, Frie bemoans her persistent lack of energy.  She tells me the doctors believe it is her heart; in disgust, she notes, “I never had a heart problem before!” Just one month short of 102, Frie’s heart gives up.

 I miss our daily calls; the words “no matter how long, it’s always too soon” repeat in my mind. Yet Frie’s zest for living, her joy in the simple, the connections she made and nurtured live on. These gifts and more she leaves for us all.