Lil’ Bug Frank

by Ken Grout
Copyright 2011

When Harry and Emma Frank bought their 1930 Ford Model A, it was the first car on Hotchkiss Street. Harry wrote his cousin Mal Lonergan from down Sugar Grove a series of bragging postcards about it, so one Sunday Mal took the train up along with his wife, Joanie, and their three, to see this new automobile for himself. It was June 25 of 1932.

Harry took first Mal for a ride, then Mal, Mitchell, Norma, Lil Bug, and three-year old Lois Frank. But soon after the old A left – too soon – it returned to the house and the children tumbled out, in various stages of huff, save Lois, who wept for life in her father’s arms. Emma met him on the front porch step. “She missed her Mama,” Harry explained, as Lois lurched toward her.

The Lonergan children pleaded for more; Harry said he would take them, but only if Joanie came long. Emma thought Harry flirted with Joanie, and she thought Joanie knew and did nothing to discourage it. She fantasized about flirting with Mal to even the scales, but she didn’t know how to. Besides, Harry was tall, with a wide back, dancing eyes, and jet black hair; Mal was milky, pudgy, and disagreeable.

Off they went – Joanie, too – with Harry behind the wheel. Emma watched them round the bend onto Weeks Street before taking Lois into the kitchen for milk and solace.

The Model A spit and sputtered some, but once it got sailing down the Old Ivory Road outside of town, they made great time, passing the Hodges Farm and The Marsh house, and over the tracks to this plot of land – 44.25 acres – that Harry figured he could get by charming Old Mrs. Marsh once Old Man Marsh passed away, if he ever just would.

Harry pulled over to the side and all emptied out. The adults stayed by the car spinning yarns; Harry used a spot-on Irish brogue which tickled Joanie near to death. When it was time to head home, Mal pulled Harry aside, “How about letting me drive her back?” Harry smiled and walked to the passenger side. Joanie climbed in back with Mitchell and Norma; Lil Bug pooched on Harry’s lap. Mal proudly took the wheel and started the Ford; she jumped and sputtered almost as soon as he eased off the clutch. Three more starts, three more heaves. Finally, he got her going and kept her going.

The Old Ivory Road ran across The Erie Line tracks at a nearly level pitch, but Mal approached them as you would a boxing partner or a Math problem. The Ford choked and stalled. Mal started her and willed her forward, jimmying the front tires in-between the rails of the tracks. It was Lil Bug who first noticed the oncoming smoke; she stammered like the Model A until she could find her voice and scream, “Train!”

Mal fevered to start her, get her moving. Start she did, move she would not. Harry was the first to jump. “Get out!” he yelled, grabbing Lil Bug and leaping from the car. “Everybody out!” The Lonergans were both frozen and frantic. Mal continued to grind the motor. Harry tossed Lil Bug into the field and ran down the tracks, flailing his arms at the oncoming locomotive. It roared past him and Harry turned back to see the 1930 Ford pushed down the track for nearly one hundred feet and flipped into the side field, where she exploded, taking the Lonergan family, save Lil Bug, with her. It was near another half mile before the Erie train could grind itself to a halt.


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