ANYBODY HOME? by Linda Maria Frank           The lock with the doorknob is sitting on my front porch. It’s been there for a very long time. In fact, it was there before the porch sagged at such an angle that…


















How do those turtles do it? Pull their heads into their bodies? Here comes Sr. JoAnn. My head stubbornly remained on top of my neck.

If you think it’s easy writing a note to the kid in the seat next to you when the rattling of Sr. JoAnn’s rosary is announcing her slow walk down my aisle at this moment, you’ve never been to Catholic school. The room is silent. You can hear pen nibs scratching across the pages of our black and white composition books, leaving a trail of ink blots. 

Pen nibs, you say. Ink blots? You won’t believe this about the ink and the inkwell. Will you? We all learned to master a form of writing called the Palmer method. This is just another aspect of toughening the backbone here at St. BeSillius’s. As I look at my permanently stained right middle finger, I wonder if I will be done in by something lurking in the ink and become St. Sprocket, patron saint of calligraphy.

The smell of chalk and old tempera paints barely covers the tinge of pine-scented urine coming from the old radiators. My mom went to this school and tells the story of kids leaning their wet behinds against the radiators to let their underwear dry if they had an accident. Going to the bathroom in those days was a privilege reserved for the Pope.  Thank God things have changed, and St. BeSillius has hired a nurse, and given her an office where this kind of thing could be taken care of.

A floorboard squeaks. I hear the faint clink of keys as if Sr. has reached into the stygian depths of her pocket for something. I slide my ruler over the words I’ve just written and peer cautiously from the side of my vision trying to locate Sr. JoAnn. My stomach bunches. She is reading Eddie O’Malley’s entire page. Eddie’s not one of us, so there is nothing out of the ordinary to see in his notebook.

My page is full of writing, but not what I think I want Sister to see. So far, I’ve jotted a list: LOOK FOR CLUES, including the narvex, the sacristy, the side entrance, the choir loft, and the bushes around the church. I’ve signed it, Sprocket.

Sprocket? Is that a Christian name? Of course not, silly reader. We all have code names to protect the guilty. We are the Buccaneers of St. BeSillius School, a secret society dedicated to solving the mysteries and misdeeds of our little parish school and the island where it’s located.

Uh-oh. Here she comes. If I rip the page out and crumple it, she’ll just grab it. And, I’ll have to explain why there’s nothing on the page, in longhand mind you, about the characteristics that would have made George Washington a good Catholic, if only he had known better.

George was an Anglican having once been a colonial loyal to the King of England, also a George. But that’s another story.

Eddie, not the sharpest pencil in the box, is getting the Spanish Inquisition treatment about his lack of inspiration on the topic. I wonder if the nuns get a special course in interrogation techniques.

Eddie, I love him dearly, is buying me time. Could I quietly turn the page and jot a quick sentence or two? I pick up the notebook and turn the page, knocking a pen full of ink onto the floor along with the ink well. As you can imagine, this was not a silent maneuver. Sr. JoAnn, Eddie and the whole class look at me. I feel my face burn. I get up to clean the mess and knock the composition book on the floor with my note showing plainly on top. Sister reaches for it. I’M DEAD!

The fire drill siren shrieks. Sister turns to move the class to the fire exit, and I kick the composition book under the desk. It obliges me, closing with a snap.

          “I’ll clean this later, Sister.” I smile.

          “And I will be checking your essay.” She smiles back.

          “Yes, Sister,” I say, noting that the proverbial glove his been tossed onto the floor like they did in those ancient duels. I file past her.


Are you wondering why a bunch of Catholic school kids are searching for clues in what looks like a church and the yard around it?

Let me digress for a bit and fill you in on some details about why we are listing clues and what all this skullduggery (Great word, isn’t it?) is about.

Well, before I fill you in on what happened when we found those clues, let me explain who we are. We call ourselves The Secret Crime-Stoppers of Sts. Christopher and Michael, but I wanted a shorter title like Buccaneers of St. BeSillius. I thought calling on both St. Christopher and St. Michael was pushing the envelope of sponsorship. And who even knows who St. BeSillius is? So, just think of us as the Buccaneers.

For the past year, our class has been raising money for a class trip to visit seven churches on the mainland and distribute toys to the children’s day care centers in those parishes. We did bake sales, car washes, leaf-raking, snow shoveling. We cleaned attics for old ladies, cut lawns and pulled weeds. Some ill-informed parents even let us do fence-painting. Don’t worry! Those shrubs will come back in a year or two.

A whole year of those earnings went into the fund. We kept it in the vestry. That’s the room behind the altar in the church where the priest keeps his vestments. Get it? Vestry, vestments? The box with the money disappeared the day Father Felix was supposed to open a bank account for us. We never got the money back, never found out who did it, and we’re pi….. Whoops! Sorry. I’m just angry. Not mad. Sister Priscilla said that mad means crazy. Well, she hasn’t been paying attention to her students.

Anyway, even though the sisters and priests said we should offer it up to God. I’m not sure what that means, the money or the cursing we did. And, we should learn a lesson. Next time lock it up! And where were we supposed to lock it up? It was in the vestry! With Father Felix, the parish priest!

This didn’t go down too well with some of us, and one night last summer at our club house which is just a shack on the beach, we decided to form our own little PI group, that’s Private Investigator. We voted on and accepted our official title, Buccaneers of St.Besillius. Look. You can’t beat our creativity in naming the group. We even researched St. BS. She’s the patron saint of mimes.

As we gathered around the fire, we wrote up a charter including the following:

·        Each member is sworn to secrecy, under pain of . . .what? Oh, I don’t know.

·        All clues are to be shared by everyone.

·        All communications would be done using our code names. Mine is Sprocket.

·        Our meeting place would be the old fishing shack on the beach.

We made a list of our code names.

Lily code name Sprocket, all around smarty, leader, that’s me.

Ryan: code name Bletch, general genius.

Frank: code name Wingnut, mechanical genius, and a bit dippy.

Leon: code name Snap Shackle, math genius, can put two and two together.

Amalie: code name Ratchet, electronic surveillance, or just plain snoop, meaning she can use a camera.

And so, the story begins.



It all started with a conversation I had with my son, Michael. We were going through the family photo albums.

“Who’s that, Mom?” he said pointing to a couple in a posed photo taken by a professional photographer. In the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. if you wanted a photo, you went to a professional photographer. Ordinary folks rarely possessed cameras.

“No one knows the answer to that,” I said looking at the couple.

He turned the cardboard picture over, no date to be found, only the name Schultz.

“Well, it’s Gramma’s side of the family. At least I know that much.”

Then it dawned on me. They’re all gone; grandparents, parents, most cousins, aunts and uncles, my dad’s work crew. There is no one to ask. I know a lot of stuff, but I am on my own with whatever resources I can find to answer the unanswerable.

I am the repository of the family folklore, and there’s so much I don’t know.


So, here’s the plan. You will be able to access excerpts from “62-15” in future newsletters as I produce them. Look for titles with links. Some material I want to include will require some research, just to get my facts right. I have some old photos too that may require some help. I’m hoping the libraries in Middle Village, Maspeth and Elmhurst will be a resource. I have only a rough idea of dates and I want to look at the original deed to the house. I have a partial family tree and some accounts of how my Frank grandparents entered the country. Here are some of the titles, but as the journey unfolds new titles may appear and other old ones disappear.

The House, The Property, The Neighborhood, Seasonal Rhythms, Baby Memories, School Days, Weddings, The War, Radio Shows, The Nuclear Age, Felix G. Frank: Florist and Gardener

Chapter One of “Girl with Pencil, Drawing”

The Saturday Art Class

The screech of iron wheels against iron rails trilled through my body, making my teeth ache. I tightened my knees against the large art portfolio as the New York City subway train lurched through a turn, slowing towards the Spring Street station. Not able to control my nervous energy, I left my seat and headed for the sliding doors. I balanced the precious portfolio between my knees and looked at my reflection in the door windows, checking for obvious defects in my appearance.

                     Boy, I thought, You are nervous, girl. Let’s see.

          I ticked off the usual list of suspects causing appearance problems, starting with the new haircut and highlights. I thought it made my face look thinner, and I liked it. Check! I used makeup this morning but hadn’t hidden the sleepy eyes. Who gets up this early on a Saturday? Well check, anyway. My outfit, comprised of a black fitted jacket, black and white plaid scarf, and black earmuffs made my light hair and eyes pop. Check!

          My mother’s warning rang in my ears. “Annie, stand up straight! It makes all the difference in the impression you make.” For once I didn’t argue with that voice in my head. I squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, and grabbing the portfolio and backpack, braced for the jolting stop I was anticipating with excitement and dread. Doors opened silently amid the racket of the train station. As cold damp air crept into the car, the few early Saturday morning passenger traveling with me spilled out on the platform.

          My legs had a life of their own, carrying me up the ancient grimy stairway to the street above. My first art lesson at the DiCristiani Galleries loomed ahead of me. All the confidence I had felt when I won first place in my high school’s art contest evaporated like the steam swirling up from the manhole covers in the downtown streets of Soho. Here was my chance to prove the talents I hoped I had.

          I was anxious to get started and most of all to meet my teacher. The gallery had sent a packet of information about their program of studies, the art studio, and my instructor, Francesca Gabrielli. Her credentials were impressive. The fact that she had been accepted in a program at the Metropolitan Museum here in New York was big.

          They had sent me a brochure with photocopies of her work which I admired. I hoped to learn important techniques from her, and go beyond what I had learned in my high school studio art class.

           This was going to be an exciting opportunity for me. I tightened my grip on my portfolio and remembering my “posture for success” pep talk, moved on down the street.

             A fuchsia pennant hanging from a brownstone building furled and unfurled itself in the icy February wind. That brownstone with its steep flight of steps was my destination. Half a block away it posed as a haven from the cold. Even so, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make the short walk there. I’d have to open my portfolio and show my pieces in a place not likely to be so nurturing to a seventeen year old as my art teachers at Rhodes School.

          I took the steps, two at a time, and pushed the heavy oak and leaded-glass door open. What a beautiful place! I admired the wood paneling, the black-and-white marble floor, the art pieces placed around the two-story entrance hall. There was no one around and I wondered where to go. No little signs with arrows posted around the room. The only logical place to go was to follow a hallway leading to the back of the house.

          “No! I can’t do that! It’s…” The strong words stopped me like a wall. The female voice came from the only open door in the hallway.

          “I’m not paying you to tell me…” shouted a deep male voice. I lost the rest of the sentence as his angry voice dropped.

          The sign above the door said ART CLASS. I stopped, unsure what to do. My instincts prickled, sensing the electric tone of the conflict inside the room.

          “You’re hurting me!” shrilled the female voice.

          With that I decided to barge in “Excuse me,” I said smiling. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I continued, staring at the man’s hand still grasping the wrist of a young woman. She couldn’t have been more than a few years older than I. In a rough gesture, he flung her arm away, tossing back a warning as he left. “I’ll see you later.” His emphasis was on the you.

          “You must be here for the art class.” Trying to hide her distress, she approached me with an outstretched hand. “I’m Francesca Gabrielli.  And you are?”

          “Anne Tillery.” I grasped her cold trembling hand and I tried not to stare at the ugly red mark on her wrist. What was this all about? I thought, more than a little confused.

          She withdrew her hand, struggling to gain control of herself.

          “I’m your instructor today. Let’s set you up and get started.”

          Francesca Gabrielli was a small person, probably not over five feet as compared to my five foot eight. She was pretty with large brown eyes and a mane of curly short dark hair. She really looked like an artist, white poet’s shirt over black turtleneck and leggings. Curling down the back of her neck was one graceful curl bleached red and tied with a black ribbon. Large silver hoop earrings and black suede clogs completed the look. She was elfin in appearance. She could have been one of Santa’s helpers, and this image just added to my confusion.

          This was not at all what I had expected to happen on my first day. I felt anger at the man in the office. My curiosity went into full gear as I tried to make the impression of Francesca Gabrielli at my first meeting and her outstanding credentials fit with the ugly scene in the office.

          Pushing these feelings aside and trying to concentrate on the task at hand, I followed Francesca. The studio was in the back of the house in a glass conservatory that must have been the by-gone owners’ year-round indoor garden. That was the style when brownstones were built. The light was perfect. The glass classroom had an abundant supply of easels and small tables for paint and supplies.

          “Pick your spot, Anne. You’re early. I have to take care of something, but I’ll be right back.”

          Francesca Gabrielli was shaken and pale as she left the room. My mind wandered as I set about arranging my materials. I wondered what danger, if any, my new instructor faced.

          The model walked in taking his place on the stool in the middle of the conservatory. He was an old Asian man with long white hair and a deeply lined face. Automatically I began to plan my strategy for placing his image on my sketch pad. He presented a challenge.

          The boy who had set up shop next to me quipped, “Hi. Fred’s the name. Paint’s the game.”

          I laughed and the Asian man offered some of his wisdom to Fred. “Yeah, and you should stick to paint, because your humor is from Oz, man.” We all laughed at this unexpected comment.

          “My name’s Annie,” I said, and along with the other students, began to concentrate on my work.

          Another member of the class arrived, a tall girl who might have been Indian. She chose an easel on the other side of Fred. A fourth classmate joined us, introducing himself as Edward. Edward was an impressively tall African-American and set up next to me.

          Francesca returned looking much better.  She drew a deep breath, pulling her sleeve over her bruised wrist. “Since this is your first lesson here at DiCristiani’s, I’d first like you to do your own thing. This way, I can judge where I need to help you.” As she circulated from sketch pad to sketch pad she seemed to grow calmer. Our model sat very still, now giving forth purely oriental mystery. We coaxed his image out of our pads and pencils, while Francesca made comments, correcting technique, making suggestions about lighting and perspective. The time flew and I felt good, confidence building.

          “You’re doing real good there, Anne. You’ve got to have some talent to get a place here at Mr. D’s.”

Francesca’s comment was music to my ears. I watched her as she browsed through my portfolio. She looked young, maybe nineteen or twenty, but was probably in her mid-twenties to have this job.

          “Please call me Annie. I like that better.” I ventured, “That’s not a New York accent.”

“No, I’m from Boston. I worked there for two years, so that I could come here. I’m working this job to pay for my own art lessons at the Metropolitan. There’s more work here than in Boston. Lots of restoration work.” She ran her fingers through her thick curly hair, pausing, seeming to weigh her words.

Turning back to me, eyes darkened by trouble, she asked, “Can you do me a favor when class is over, Annie?” Francesca was twisting an oily rag around her fingers, anxiety apparent in every fiber of her body.


What could I say? I thought.

 “Sure, if I can,” I replied, wondering if I would regret it, struggling again with the

images of Francesca-the-instructor and Francesca-in-trouble.

“When class is over, I want to leave with you. I mean, you know, we can go out the front door together. I’ll put my coat near your things, and we’ll just go. Okay?” She waited for a response.

“Are you afraid of that guy who was trying to break your arm?” I asked, thinking it all too obvious.

“Yeah, that’s Mr. D. We had a dispute about what’s business and what isn’t and I’m getting a little bored with his way of proving a point. The last time we didn’t see eye to eye, the security guard showed up just in the nick of time. He saved me from what I suspect would have been unwanted facial reconstruction.”

She rubbed her wrist absently and continued, “If I leave with you, he wouldn’t dare to try anything. He looks into all the applications of the students who come here. You’re a cop’s kid, right?”

“My Aunt’s on the New York City police force,” I shot back. Her knowing about Aunt Jill unnerved me. Aunt Jill’s work as a New York City detective has made her a careful and suspicious mother hen where I’m concerned. “Why don’t you quit working here?”

“It’s more complicated than that. Will you do it?” Again, that pleading look.

“Okay.” I shrugged.

That’s right, I thought, He wouldn’t dare try anything with me. I guess. What could happen to us in broad daylight? When this “favor” was done, I would get Aunt J to see if she could find out more about Francesca Gabrielli, something more than the information on a brochure. I wanted to continue my lessons, but I also didn’t want to feel that my instructor was in danger, especially if I couldn’t help her. Annie to the rescue, I concluded, shaking my head.

The subject of our discussion stuck his head in the room at that moment, causing Francesca to take a pencil to my work, explaining, “This technique works best with the hair.”

She never touched my sketch. Under her breath she murmured, “It’s really good, Annie. When we have more time, I’ll show you some neat tricks of the trade.” She winked. We continued working on for about a half hour, putting finishing touches on our preliminary sketches.

The class ended, my heart soaring with her comment, and my knees shaking with the prospect of leaving this beautiful place in escape mode. We left the building fast, so fast that we were still slipping on coats as we fled down the steps. We headed for the subway station at a trot. As we passed a small alley, two men emerged and stepped out after us.

“Are they following us?” I inclined my head in their direction.

“You can count on it,” Francesca replied stiffly.

          “Look, I know the subways like the back of my hand, Francesca. If we can get on that platform, I can lose them.” My art portfolio banged against my leg as we began to run. My cell phone was in my knapsack.

 Oh, hell, I thought. I couldn’t get it out and run for the train at the same time. Why hadn’t I put it in my pocket!

          “Let’s go!” she said, face grim, pushing me forward.

          The men followed. Taking out Metrocards to speed things along, we squeezed through the turnstile, racing for the stairs and the platform for the uptown train. The station began to rumble. “That’s our train,” I yelled.

          We ran, catching sight of our two pursuers coming through the turnstile as we ducked down the steps. The car doors slid open just as we got to the platform. We pushed into the train. The doors didn’t move for a heart-stopping minute as we watched feet, legs, torsos, and finally, the heads of those sinister forms appear on the stairway.