It was the final time that I engaged in a normal conversation with my brother Frank.
Dad drove, Mom sat in the front seat, Granny sat over the bump in the second row of seats and brothers and sisters filled in the remaining seats and the rear. Mom passed back crackers to everyone to settle queasy stomachs but everyone threw up anyway. My 18 year old brother Frank sat to the right of my Granny Finley, and I asked him to crack the window a bit more to let fresh air in for those of us in the far back who could barely breathe.
Frank said, “No, all that air will give me a stiff neck. I have to pitch in this Monday and I can’t afford to get sick.”
Mom threw back a pack of gum to me to distribute to the unfortunates sitting over the back wheels and my brother kept the window clamped shut.
We were traveling to the Holy Land, not the one in Israel, but it’s facsimile in Waterbury where most decent Connecticut Catholic families in the Sixties ventured on a pilgrimage. After taking a few stops along the roadside to get sick, you knew you were close when you saw a gigantic crucifix on the side of a hill, partially shrouded by the pollution emanating from the local mills and factories. Then, like the Hollywood sign, you saw in large inspired letters, Holy Land USA. If God was everywhere, it stood to reason that God also checked into Waterbury.
Then, a large family on a limited budget did not fly out to Disneyland at best you found your fun on a public beach. You made do, so on this day, after being liberated from the Jaws of Death station wagon, we rejoiced, as Granny bought the tickets for everyone and Mom and Dad hosed the vomit out of the car.
Jerusalem and Bethlehem awaited, Jesus in the crib and Jesus on the cross with saints all over the place. Climbing fake rocks was fun and at the end, we met at the gift shop where the adults bought medals and statues and the kids bought coloring books about young Jesus and the Old Testament characters. Except today, everyone met at the shop except for Frank.
We played with our goodies and ran around some more, but after fifteen minutes boredom set in and Mom and Dad became worried. Dad asked us to go back into the hills and villages to locate Frank and bring him back. That sounded fun, plus no one wanted to get back into the car, so we huddled and agreed to spread out into separate directions, giving ourselves another fifteen minutes to find Frank. Granny took out her vial of Holy Water and blessed us as the expeditionary force re-invaded Holy Land.
I went rock-climbing, scaling the faux-rocks made out of God knows what, less concerned about finding Frank than having fun, but as all my other siblings followed logical paths in their search for Frank, I found him.
He was praying off the path, talking jibberish, words I had never heard before , “yunna lecktow….” It didn’t sound good, it didn’t sound like one of the foreign language records that we listened to once or twice before we mothballed them.
My brother looked at me, then returned to his inscrutable prayers.
“Frank, we gotta go now. We are done here, we got stuff at the gift shop, we’re done here.”
This time Frank did not look up and since he was ten years older than me, I did not know what to do, so I ran back to the gift shop, where my Dad was dragging on a cigarette.
“Dad, I found Frank.”
My Dad smiled, took one final drag off his cigarette, then stamped it on the ground. “Well if you found him, where is he?”
“Dad, you need to follow me.”
“Is Frank hurt?”
“No. He’s okay, he’s just kind of praying, but not really and its like he doesn’t know who I am.”
Dad grabbed my right hand and asked me to lead him to Frank, first walking, then jogging, then running to Frank.
When we got to where Frank was, Dad tapped him on the shoulder, “Frank, you can pray all you want when we get home, but we gotta’ go now. It’s almost supper time.”
Frank looked up and said, “I’m talking to Jesus.”
“That’s good Frank, I talk to Jesus in the morning and the night when I say my prayers, but now we have to head home.”
“Dad, Jesus is talking back to me.”
Dad looked at me, grimaced. “Jimmy, I am going to lift Frank up, you get his legs.” We lifted Frank and carried him back to the car.
My Mom asked, “Is Frank okay, did he get too much sun today?”
Dad looked at her, nearly crying. Granny blessed Frank with Holy Water and it started to rain. We squeezed into the car and drove home as Frank started blubbering in tongues again and the rest of us all prayed that Frank would stop.
Arriving home was the worst part because we still thought we might put Frank back together but none of us ever did. My Dad offered to play catch with him, my sister Hawaii put some Beach Boys and Everly Brothers records on the turntable and my Grandmother made piping hot chicken soup. Still Frank babbled in tongues.
My Grandmother placed the hot soup on a table next to Frank, and he didn’t even thank her, he just grabbed the bowl and lifted it to his lips…
“Frank, put it down, it’s hot…”
…and he drank it all down, scalding the back of his throat.
Mom and Dad lifted him up, back into the station wagon and drove to the hospital.
Frank had gone.
Donald Hubbard has written six books, one of which was profiled on Regis and Kelly and another that was a Boston Globe bestseller and Amazon (category) top ten. Two books have gone into a second edition and he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame as an author in 2015. He has published twenty-six stories in fourteen magazines and had a chapter from one of his books published in Notre Dame Magazine. He studied English at Georgetown University and the University of Kent.