by John Wester, November 18, 2009
Just back from Frank's funeral. I'll never put my friends through that.
Frank was Catholic, like most Mexicans. Juanita, Frank's wife, is Baptist. and Black. So we hauled Frank's ass in the hearse from one church to the other, putting on the white gloves, and finally to the cemetery. The casket, top of the line, must have weighed 150-200 pounds, and Frank was 250, at least. We had an “honorary” pall bearer, so when we walked the 40 yards to the grave it took seven of us, most of us old men. Robert, the youngest, who knew Frank since he was 17 and hung out with him off and on until he died. Robert was always a wise ass, and said, as we were hefting him to the grave site, if it gets too heavy we'll just slide it. Juanita heard him and yelled, “Who said that?” She knew it was Robert. Robert used to work for Frank when Frank had a shop and he said, I'm still working for him. But Robert loved Frank as much as the rest of us.
The service in the Catholic church was sterile. Frank's brother, Enrique, who lives in Albuquerque and calls himself Henry, was the only one asked to speak. Frank didn't like Henry for re-enlisting during the Vietnam War and they rarely spoke. Not because of politics, but what his re-enlisting meant to their mother. Enrique, in the infantry 101 Airborne earned the Bronze and Silver Stars for valor, plus a Purple Heart. Frank cold-cocked him when Henry was back in San Diego on leave from Vietnam, after telling Frank he re-enlisted.
No one asked me to speak, but at the Baptist church which followed the service at the Catholic church, I got up and spoke. I first thanked the Pilgrim Progressive Baptist Church for praying for me when I went through my colon cancer last year (Juanita's doings) and there was a lot of applause and cheers when I said I was now cancer free. I did nothing to unburden them of their illusions by explaining that I had stage one cancer and that I was thankful for science and health coverage.
I told them I'd met Frank in '71 and we couldn't have been more different. I grew up in a comfortable home in Anchorage while he at seven years old was shining shoes in Tijuana to earn nickels to buy beans and rice and kerosene for his grandma when the mailmen stole the money his folks would send from the states. I'd gone to college. He'd gone to work. We met in Julian where we were both living and our politics were the same so we became close.
I told them about Frank's and my trip to Berkeley in '75 to research mass picketing in the law library at Boalt Hall, and staying with my proper aunts, who he charmed the pants off of. I said Frank was probably the only Mexican to have been in their house, except for housekeepers. That didn't get a laugh. I was one of six white guys (the others were Frank's union brothers) there in the church that was full of Blacks and Mexicans. I told them my aunts couldn't help but ask Frank if he had belonged to a gang. The people in the pews laughed at that, although some gasped.
I told them that my mother loved Frank and after we got back from Berkeley we went to visit her. She asked Frank not to let me get him into trouble.
I talked about the mass picketing at the gates of the Solar Turbine assembly plant, Frank manning the bullhorn, trying to keep the pickets from doing something stupid, because the mass picketing was working. The pickets got stupid, broke some windows on the scab buses and a court injunction came down limiting the picket line to three. Frank was out the next day with 150 pickets and that landed him in jail for 30 days. That got a big laugh. Don't know why. The strike last 123 days, the longest strike in San Diego history until the grocery strike a few years ago.
I told them that when Frank and I visited my mom after my brother, who was living with her, had quit drinking. She'd slip him a drink when Peter went back to his room to get on his computer. I told them that when my mom was in the hospital dying, Frank wanted to see her. He wanted to stop for flowers. I told Frank that she was in the ICU and they wouldn't let him take the flowers into her. I told the mourners in the church that I couldn't tell them what Frank said to that — the congregation laughed because they knew — and that Frank and I stopped and got a beautiful bouquet. No one stopped him from bringing the flowers in and my mother's eyes lit up when she saw them, but her eyes lit up more for him than the flowers.
Most of the people at the Baptist church were Juanita's fellow parishioners — she's the church's bookkeeper and one of their Sunday school teachers — has been for 25 years or more. Frank's family came to the Baptist church — the Catholic service had been first — feeling uncomfortable except for Terry, Frank's daughter who was close to Juanita. Some of her aunts and cousins were there from her mother's side. Her mom was white. There were a half dozen union members. Frank had been a thorn in their side because of his radicalism, but they respected him. I remembered them from the '75 Solar strike when I helped Frank research mass picketing and had gone to the picket line and union meeting with him.
The preacher at Juanita's Pilgrim Progressive Baptist Church, the reverand Joseph Foxworthy, a bit of a scoundrel and philanderer (according to Frank), led the service, and what a joyous service it was. He preached (“can I have a witness?” repeated 20 times) and the congregation raised their arms and shouted encouragement. Foxworthy said if he didn't hear from the congregation, he'd preach twice as long, so his parishioners joined in and peppered him with hosannahs. He half-sang his sermon and everyone was into it. The man could preach! He kept his eye on me and when I stood to join the others to clap time with the choir, missing a few beats, he noticed it and a little later from the pulpit he looked over at me and said, “even our brother over there is getting it.”
Later, the Reverend Foxworthy told me he saw me missing the beats and just had to say something. In his sermon — which wasn't like any sermon you hear in a white church — he had a message for non-believers. He said if you're ready to receive the Lord Jesus, you don't have to stand or raise your hand, just accept the lord, Jesus Christ. I think he was talking to me, his eyes were on me. He and Juanita are close, and I know Juanita is bothered about my atheism because she likes me. When Frank and I “split up” last April (over his drinking — ironic, no?), she'd call me to see how I was doing, and let me know how Frank and Frankie were doing.
When Frank fell into his aneurism/coma last week, Frankie, who sleeps in Frank's pick-up in front of their house, was being picked up that day by Susan, mother of Frankie's son, Jesse. Frank was in his bed and wouldn't wake up. Juanita asked Frankie to stay and he said, call an ambulance, my ride is waiting. Frankie had been Frank's gofer and driver for years. He'd taken Frank to the hospital countless times, not to mention the daily runs to get vodka.
When he lapsed into the coma, Katheryn and I were on our way to see Candi and Kim in northern California. I got a call from Juanita while we were in Arcata, telling me about Frank being in a coma — she was trying to get in touch with Frankie and asked if I knew Susan's email or phone number. I had neither with me.
When Frank died, I heard it through Susan from email — Juanita had gotten in touch with her, somehow.
In her email, Susan asked me if anyone could send some bus fare to Frankie. She couldn't handle him.
The last time I saw Frankie was after I'd taken him and Frank to a liquor store on our usual Sunday menudo mornings. That was last April. They didn't have any money for breakfast but had money for booze, and I got pissed and told them so, because I'd bought them countless breakfast's before and wasn't buying that morning. As I dropped them back home, Frankie threw a dollar bill at me, saying — that's for gas. That was the last time I saw either of them, until I saw Frank in his coffin at the viewing. He looked great. Everybody said so, except his barber who said his hair wasn't right. Frank had great hair. We went together to Richard, his barber, for 15 years every five weeks on Fridays, after he closed. Richard kept rum and coke in his fridge for Frank. After Frank and I had our falling out, I shaved my head and quit going to Richard.
Frankie didn't make it to the funeral. His relatives asked about him in the limousine I was sharing on the way to the Catholic church — I told them them that Frankie was in Riverside with Susan and didn't have money to make it down. Enough said. They knew. Frankie was too angry to come. But he could have made it.