My name is Frank W. Brown. The W was supposed to stand for William, but someone must have been in a hurry when it came to writing it on my birth certificate. Consequently, my official middle name is W.
I was born on June 30, 1926 to Frank Brown and Calla Marguerite Hurd Brown. My mother told me my first word was “pie”, and that I said it intentionally and with great feeling… “Pie!”
My sister, Marguerite Lucille, was three years old when I was born. I’m told she was delighted to have a baby brother. We lived in Montour Falls, NY. My brother and life-long best friend, Robert Oliver, was born three years after me.
My father, Frank Sr., grew up in Seneca Falls, NY. He was the only one of seven children who did not play a stringed instrument. His siblings all performed with their parents in the area. Though my father didn’t play music, he sang in the church choir and later taught dance lessons in Buffalo, NY.
My grandparents, William and Edna Brown, played music together at dances and social events. William was a rudimental drummer and an excellent old-time fiddler, and Edna accompanied him on piano. (William’s claim to fame was that he was once invited to play on Henry Ford’s radio program.)
My father had been married before and had three daughters, the youngest of whom died in a drowning accident. He and his first wife divorced, and that’s when he moved to Buffalo. My father was a quiet, and I’d say, discouraged man. Perhaps he was grieving his daughter and maybe his former marriage, but growing up, his quiet demeanor left me uncertain he approved of me.
I was lucky enough to meet his two eldest daughters, my two half sisters, Ethel and Pauline, late in our lives. I was thrilled to know my sisters. They were retired and living a comfortable life in Nokomis, Florida. They’d made their careers in the service. Ethel had been a WAACs 1st Sargent. Pauline had been second-in-command of the US WAACs. We became good friends.
As sullen as my father was, my mother was his opposite in temperament. She was a creative, resourceful, cheerful person who would do anything for me. She was dedicated to my success, as you’ll see. Her father was a minister, strict and sanctimonious. She’d wanted to become a dancer on the stage. She was so flexible that as a teenager she could lie on her stomach and make herself a complete loop, bringing her feet over her forehead, her toes touching her nose. As for being on the stage, her father said “No child of mine will be part of that world!”
As soon as she was old enough to leave home, she went to Buffalo to work for a wealthy family. While living in Buffalo she went to a dance hall to take dancing lessons, and fell in love with her teacher (my father). They married in 1920.
Leading up to the Great Depression, jobs were scarce. My parents moved back to Montour Falls and lived in the house where my mother grew up. I was born in a small wooden hospital in town.
When I was about 4 years old, my father took a job as caretaker to the cemetery. I vividly remember playing among the graves, petting the lambs on babies’ small headstones.
When I was in elementary school, my father got another job, this time as the town dog catcher. Nobody with a heart wants to be a dog catcher. My father must have hated the idea but felt resignation. I felt the sting of shame. I was teased for the uniform the town handed out to the poorest kids. This act of generosity had the effect of branding the impoverished kids. Those years were the most difficult of my life, but perhaps they contributed to my wanting approval… applause.