- Published: 28 December 2006 28 December 2006
In 1967, my family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, the day after I had graduated from 8th grade in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The first month in Springfield was spent moping around, reading books and thinking of friends left behind. Then Frank Wren showed up.
Frank heard a new teenager had moved in, so he rang our doorbell to welcome whoever it was to the neighborhood. Two and half years later, on my family's last day in Springfield, Frank burst into my bedroom while I was sleeping, yelling at me to get up and enjoy my last day of school.
It was his sense of generosity, openness and humor that bound our friendship. When Frank and Alicia visited Jude and I a few years ago, it felt like it had been only a matter of weeks or months since we had last seen each other, not twenty years. Hearing from Alicia that Frank had died five days before Christmas was a terrible shock.
Frank would love to tell my mom stories about his cat Harold. One day he mentioned that Harold loved turkey legs. From then on, Mom saved both legs every time she cooked a turkey and would pass them along to Frank. It wasn't until years after we moved that Frank finally admitted that Harold couldn't care less about turkey, but he and his father did. They silently thanked my mom with every bite.
My favorite Harold story was the time he was sitting in the street and heard a car approaching. He hunkered down and started sprinting, racing the car down the street as far as he could. Frank swore this was a true story, but I'm not so sure.
Franks' love of radio began in high school. Cathedral had a speech team in those days. Most of the emphasis was on debating, but they also had a group that competed in radio broadcasting. We would compete against other schools, reading news stories, torn off a local radio stations wire machine. The coach we had, a local news announcer, was arrested years later for sex crimes.
One summer day Frank dragged us over to Springfield College where he walked into the campus radio station and started chatting with the DJ. It must have felt like home to him. I recall the DJ telling us how rancid the cafeteria coffee was, and how cool the huge Poco poster hanging in the studio was.
Perhaps it was that same summer that Frank, Mike, Jim & I were crossing over the railroad trestle near the college when we caught mid-span by an approaching train. Two jumped onto a side platform and stood and watched as the train went by. Myself and someone else (perhaps Mike) just made it down below tracks before the train passed over our heads.
Frank, Mike and I were walking home from Cathedral High one snowy day when we decided to throw snow balls at the passing school buses. Stupid. We were caught, needless to say, and were condemned to after-school detention.
One winter day, someone, perhaps Mike, showed up with some cans of warm beer. We decided that the best way to cool them was to dump the cans in a pile of snow. Returning a few hours later, we popped them open and drank cold, slushy beer. Yuch.
Snow started falling one morning when Frank and I decided to walk to Alicia's. By the time arrived it seemed like there was almost a foot of snow on the ground.
One fall evening, Frank, Mike and I left either Alicia's or Joan's. Someone was carrying bottle rockets. We decided to start lighting them off. Laying them flat in the street. Racing in front after lighting the fuse. We stopped when one of them burst on someone's front door.
While Frank loved his sisters, the fact that they were nuns AND friends with many of the nuns teaching at Cathedral, could at times be a burden. He could do nothing wrong without being warned "I'll tell your sisters" . Somehow he got away with using a middle-finger chord while playing guitar on-stage during school masses. His smile during those moments was so sweet.
I still smile remembering how Frank could hardly pick up his guitar without Cheerios falling out. He would eat them, anytime, anywhere.
In the summer of 1974, I took a bus up to Springfield, and headed out to the Cape with Jim and his brother; Frank followed a few days later. Nickerson Park was booked, so we pitched tents in the unpaved parking lot of a private campground. The day Frank arrived was notable for two reasons; it was the day that we got our camping spot in Nickerson AND the day that the news broke that Nixon would be resigning from office. To celebrate, we went to an Irish pub and sang and drank to the music of the Clancy Brothers. One evening around the campfire, Frank stared into the fire for a few moments, then reached in and picked up an empty can of beer. He screamed and stuck his hand in the ice-filled beer cooler for half an hour. I never understood how he didn't get burnt.
When my first son was born I was thankful for two things. His healthy birth and the fact that my parents were alive to enjoy him. I find it so unfair and unbearably sad that Sarah will never be able to share any future children she may have with her dad.
Frank, I'll never forget you.
December 28, 2006