I mean, what can I say about Frank that you aren’t already thinking? He was an ass. I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like that at his funeral, but it’s the truth. The man was a cantankerous, angry ass of a man. Angry at the world, angry at all of us and the meanest sonabitch any of us ever met.
Y’all can laugh if you want, but you know it’s the truth. Frank never met a person or a pet he didn’t hate. When Widow Mullen’s dog went missing, well we all know Frank hated that dog. Hated it rotten. And we all knew what happened, what Frank had done. But the police need proof and, well, we still miss that dog. If y’all remember, it would bounce around trying to lick everyone, ‘kept Frank. Maybe it knew something we didn’t.
Frank was in the army, or at least that’s what he said. He didn’t know his way around a gun proper, so I figure he was making all that up anyway. Still, he was there at the ceremony every Memorial Day, standing silently to pay his respects. Maybe he was in the army, maybe war was what changed him. Or maybe he was born that way, I dunno.
As far as I can tell, Frank didn’t have any family left. Or, whatever family he had left Frank. Either way, the man was an island and didn’t want any company to join him there. If I try to imagine Frank as a child, all I see is a smaller version of the old man, limping around school with a full, scraggly beard at nine years old, yellin’ at everyone about everything. Maybe that’s the best way to remember Frank, the same way he always was.
But then, he jumped in didn’t he? We were all standing around, looking, and Frank jumped. The Sanchez boy, I mean Jose, was in that river and God knows how he got there. The rains had made the river a flood and there was Jose, clinging onto a tree in the middle. We all wanted to help, but swimming ain’t something we do a lot around here and, if we’re all being honest, we was glad we weren’t stuck on that tree with Jose.
But Frank, man, that cantankerous jackass, pulled up in his pickup and immediately started screaming at all of us about why we wasn’t doing nothing to help. Frank always screamed, so we learned to ignore him, but even over the roar of the water you couldn’t miss his voice. I can’t say that’s the angriest I ever heard Frank, but I can tell you I never heard him more angry than he was that day.
I still remember his glare. He stopped screaming, stared his dead eye gaze at us for a moment and then shambled over towards the water. We were so used to avoiding Frank at the store, on the street or anywhere that everyone just moved away. He limped his limp to the water and everyone just parted before him.
And then, that horrible ass of a man, he jumped into the river. Overalls still on, boots still on. I still can’t believe that happened, even though I was there. I don’t think Frank could swim, and I don’t think it would have mattered in those waters. But he grabbed that old oak tree long and he moved towards the boy one hand at a time. To this day I still think it was the anger that was driving him. Anger like that, ain’t no nature going to hold back. Not even the river when it was that angry.
For me, it felt like I watched Frank struggle and climb and paddle for years. I don’t know what I thought, or expected to happen. I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping the river would take him. But he made it to Jose, even though the boy looked like a worn out flag after a tornado. It’s a miracle the boy was still alive, God’s grace protected him I gather.
And that devil, he grabbed the boy and dragged him back. Even slower than before, hand by hand, inch by inch. None of us came to help, shocked as we were at the sight of Frank doing what he was doing. Or we was too scared to move. Or embarrassed that Frank, of all us, was doing something to help. I don’t know, I think about that a lot. I’m sure y’all do too.
When Frank got close enough to the shore, still grippin’ that boy with his gnarled, angry hands, we did come to our senses. Most of us rushed down to help grab the boy, make sure he got out alright. But even then, did any of us reach for Frank? There were four of us carrying that boy up the bank of the river, but did any of us carry Frank? I don’t rightly remember. I want to believe that we did. I want to believe that we reached out a hand to him, and he knocked it away like he always did. I want to believe that Frank scowled his scowl at us from the water, angry that we’d try to help him. But I really don’t know. Everything happened so fast.
Frank never got out of the water, as y’all know cuz we’re here today. The doctor said it was a heart attack, but I figure if Frank’s heart was going to kill him it would’ve done that a long time ago. If anything, Frank killed his heart just to get it to stop beating. Nah, I figure Frank was ready. No man can be angry for that long, even Frank. Maybe he wanted us to remember him from that day, instead of the years and years before that. Or maybe he lost his grip and his anger finally failed him. I’d like to think Frank left the way he wanted.
He didn’t have to jump in, but he did. Was that who Frank was? The man who jumped in when he had no right to be doin’ so? Or was he the angry, dog-killing, people hurting jackass that we all knew?
I dunno, I’m sure the good father here will have his wise words for us about that this Sunday. What I do know is that Frank is gone, and nuthin’ I’ve said so far you didn’t already know. But I do think all of us think about it a bit more than we’d like, based on the fact that I ain’t never seen so many people here at one time before.
I don’t know if y’all are here for Frank, or for yourselves, or for Jose but I do know y’all ain’t here to listen to me talk. If I had one last thing to say to Frank, I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’d say it here. The best thing you could ever do for Frank was just leave him alone, and I will do just that.