My Grandfather

Frank McCloskey was born 29 Nov 1882 and died 09 Jun 1959.   Grandpa Frank grew up during the industrial revolution.  His parents Michael and Martha were immigrants from Northern Ireland. who came to America in 1868 (Separately) Frank used to say his father had to escape Ireland because he was a member of the early IRA and had been accused of running guns.  The hangman’s noose was his fate if he didn’t run.

Franks early life was not easy as he was one of 6 children.  His father was a house builder and was said to have worked on the railroad and horse hair factory.  Frank McCloskey was able to attend school up to the third grade.  From there on it was off to work in the horsehair factory in Central Falls Rhode Island.  He lost his big toe when something fell on it and crushed it.

Franks Catholic faith was a lifelong devotion.  He served as an altar boy and member of the Holy Trinity Church society, perhaps an early version of the Knights of Columbus.  Until he could not travel he attended mass every day.

As Frank grew up he became a house painter and Married Martha Brennan on 28 Jun 1915.  Their marriage resulted in 2 children Francis Joseph in 1917 (died in first year) and my father Leo Anthony McCloskey.  My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, which probably had little effect on his meager living.  He never owned a house or a car. The farthest he ever traveled was to Washington D.C.   His 3rd floor apartment, where he lived when I grew up had no central heat except for a large silver stove that was always burning wood.  His tiny kitchen had a small gas burner for cooking and a sink.  Very little storage for food.

His two-bedroom apartment consisted of the bedrooms a kitchen, a large open room where the stove set, was used for family gatherings and the dining area.  There was also a large room in the rear of the apartment that I saw as his music room.  In that room he had his violin, a large standup piano and his drum.  As you can probably see, life was never easy for Frank.  His beloved wife Martha passed away on 01 Oct 1930, leaving Frank to raise his 10-year-old son Leo on his own.  Frank married again, but it didn’t last, and they were divorced.  However, a large extended family helped Frank raise Leo Sr. while he worked.

My Grandfather Frank was a kind and gentle soul. He was also very artistic and painted scenes of boats and the local countryside.  I still retain a couple of his paintings along with his box used to hold his brushes and paints.  Although he only had a 3rd grade education he was an eloquent speaker.  He also had beautiful penmanship, which I have in my dad’s childhood book like a diary.    Frank was never a wealthy man, but his wealth was how he served his fellow man.  He was a very fervent Democrat and very active in the community.  He ran for political office as a councilman.

He also took in his brother who was an acholic.  Jack spent most days in the Knotty Pine Bar across from Franks apartment on Garfield Street in Central Fall, RI.  Many nights Frank would go to the bar and retrieve his drunken brother.  As a child I remember going with my Dad to see Frank, his brother Jack and a host of comical characters that seemed to arrive at his place.  Many times, we would move from the great roome to a darkened music room where my grandfather would play the piano or violin while the others picked up an instrument and sang along with Frank.  The songs were all about Ireland and the struggles.  You felt you were a part of the Irish resistance.  Frank never used an icebox or refrigerator in his life although through the years my dad bought him both.  He used them to store newspaper going back to the thirty’s. He kept one bedroom as his refrigerator.  Keeping his daily supply of milk, cheese and butter.  The room was kept cool by an open window.

I was a child when my grandfather was alive.  Frank was in his 60’s when I grew.  He died on 09 Jun 1959 at the age of 76, a day that saddens me even now.  Growing up Pa Frank became a stabilizing force in my life.  My mother and father divorced and my mother left the family, with my dad to raise 3 children.  We were a bit dysfunctional with no mother and my dad working as a salesman for a large Pharmaceutical Company and an Army reservist.  We mostly fended for ourselves, many times relying on the kindness of neighbors to keep us on track.  However, it was the arrival of grandpa on a bus corner that made my life come alive.  Frank was barely 5’2 and always wore a gray pinned stripped suit and tie when he got off at the bus stop adjacent to my grammar school.  He always had a big hug and a smile when he greeted us.  From the time he got off the bus he was pure entertainment.  We would start off by walking around the block where he would suddenly stop and bend over as if seeing something we couldn’t see.  He would pick up an object and say “Look what I found” a clear rock.  He said “This looks good enough to eat” and would break a piece off and chew it.  He then passed a piece to my sister and I and said try it.  Little did we know it was rock candy.  Other walks we would stop hat a telephone pole and he said we were at the candy store.  “Does anyone have money” he would ask.  Next thing you know he would pull NECCO wafers from his pocket and give to us as if it was money.  Of course, we ate the money, my favorite was the chocolate and the licorice.  No matter when we walked he always had some kind of candy in his pocket of his suit.

Some Nights my dad would bring him to our house as a baby sitter.  As always Frank kept us entertained.  my brother and I slept in metal bunkbeds while my sister had her own room.  When it got time for us to go to bed he would usher the 3 of us to my room where he would bring a chair and sit down next to us.  Sometimes before he began to tell us his stories he would use an little Irish Brogue and say, “my throat is a bid dry would you mind getting me a wee bit of whiskey”.  My sister who was the oldest would leave the room only to return a short time later with a shot glass filled with his beverage.  He would sip it down then commenced with his tails.  His gentle talk would take us back in time and take us to unknown places.  There was the story of Soap house Pete, Tung Tied Gizzard, Rumpelstiltskin, Puss and Boots and an array of stories that kept our eyes wide open.

When Christmas would creep upon us it was always grandpa Frank who would for sure bring us a gift that we would cherish.  Frank had barely enough money to live on but he never squinted when it came to buying a toy. I remember one year he bought me a city bus and my sister a small piano, very generous and loving grandfather.  He would often say “ I cried because I had no shoes, until  I saw a man who had no feet.”

Today as I look back and I realize how great my grandfather was.  It was his constant love that helped me through my hard time as a child.  He was a role model.  Living here in Florida now, many miles from my own grandchildren I regret that I have not been the grandparent he was to me.

My dad was always ashamed of my grandfather because he was uneducated and never overcame his circumstances, but to me he was a King, the King of my childhood.  May you rest in peace Frank McCloskey

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