As Jack Kerouac described her, she was “the cutest little Mexican girl” who happened across his path at a bus stop in Bakersfield, Calif., and became “Terry” in his classic novel, “On the Road.” In reality, Kerouac scholars knew she was a woman named Bea Franco, but despite many efforts over the fog of years, none could find her. Until now.
Tim Z. Hernandez, an award-winning author and poet, spent years building and sifting through a list of nearly 200 Bea Francos across the United States, searching for the one whose brief romance with a young, wandering writer was immortalized in the book that defined the Beat Generation. As chance would have it, Hernandez found her living in his native San Joaquin Valley barely a mile from his own home.
“Manana Means Heaven” is a combination of fiction and memory, based on the conversations Hernandez shared with the elderly Franco and his own research. It is a story of that 1947 romance as told from her side, the events that led up to her meeting “Jackie” as she fled an abusive husband and the complications that caused their lives to drift toward different paths.
Hernandez’s intimate knowledge of life amid the agricultural fields of central California and his ability to conjure the thoughts and emotions of the young Bea Franco make for a graceful and melancholy tale.
Until Hernandez came knocking at their door in 2010, Franco (whose name had become Kozera) and her children had never known that she was part of one of the most important works of American literature. Just weeks before Hernandez’s telling of her story was to be released, Bea Franco died in California at the age of 92. In her final days, however, she was able to hold a copy of the novel, her image on the cover. The title refers to words Kerouac wrote, “manana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven.”