My father, Kenneth, was the youngest of three brothers. The oldest of the three was Arthur John Frank born in 1911. He was six years older than my father. A.J. as family knew him, and I remember him, was a curious and studious man. In fact he wrote the family genealogy as well as other historical books on various Old Milwaukee subjects, including my favorite on “Der Puddel Club.” This was a 19th century men’s social and drinking club in which there were family members. In fact, we own two of the drinking cups, one a beer stein of our Uncle Oscar and the other a sterling silver half-gallon chalice. I suppose you didn’t need to go back to the bar as often with that one.
Through the years I saw Uncle Art twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving brought us to the Tripoli Country Club where our Uncle Oc invited us each year. The Three Frank Brothers, Arthur, Robert and Kenneth brought their families while several “shirt tail” relatives celebrated with us. I just remember Uncle Art as being very tall and very stern.
Christmas Eve was celebrated at one of either the Arthur or Kenneth Frank homes, as I remember. We would gather in our living room with the three families from Thanksgiving and the Sanbourn family, with Uncle Roy, Aunt Lou, and Uncle Frank, their son. We children called Frank the “sunken living room” because he just seemed to sink into the couch and never move as he smoked his straight Lucky Strikes and drank martinis.
For years, that’s all I knew of Uncle Art. However, I enjoyed the time with his son, Doug and eventual classmate and close friend of mine to come who partnered as artist on my first book, Great is God’s Faithfulness. Suffice it to say, Art was just not a major part of my life.
Through the years, I learned of Uncle Art’s interest in things ancient. He was a collector of Egyptian antiquities. In fact there is a display of vases from the King Tut or thereabouts era of Egyptology at the Milwaukee Museum. So, I frankly saw him as older than dirt.
Yet as time went on, he became wiser. After my father died before him, it seems transformation took place. It was December 1994. Uncle Art called and asked if he could come over to visit. Shortly thereafter he arrived baring gifts. He had in his hands pieces of red cedar, strung like a necklace, cut from a tree on his North Lake property. I remember spending some joy-filled hot summer afternoons in the Lake. He said Red cedar is a naturally pungent incense for starting a fire. In fact, as someone who remembers and even learns by the gustatory sense, this was a beautiful and lasting gift. He then pulled out a quart bottle of “Old Fezziwig” Christmas ale from Sam Adams brewery. If you remember, he was the model of joy and happiness in the Dickens, a Christmas Carol. I could imagine this portly gentleman playing his fiddle and dancing in the sawdust of the shop in Victorian England. We sat for over an hour reminiscing the past and connections of family history. It was a scintillating repose.
We never had a redo of the Christmas visit. But today I remember Uncle Art with a joyous sense, even Christmas Carol-like, where a Scrooge type character, in my mind, became alive and enchanting, bringing joy and peace. Thank you Uncle Art.