My interest in chemistry deepened as I approached my twelfth birthday. I sought mentoring from anyone I knew who was involved in science. I befriended the pharmacists, from whom I purchased various chemicals – saltpeter, flower of sulfur, potassium permanganate (I’d ask you to guess what I was concocting in my basement laboratory, but that’s another story).
Sometimes I would go to Leblang’s and walk to the back and watch Dave or Frank study a prescription, mix an elixir, compound some powders in a mortar, or deftly roll suppositories. They never seemed to mind my voyeurism and they were always interested in answering my many questions. I was so flattered to feel welcomed in this inner sanctum. I guess on those quiet winter evenings they also welcomed the company of an enthusiastic young boy.
Frank Lauria could never sit on a chair. He told me that soon after he finished pharmacy school, he contracted severe arthritis and his lower joints were locked and frozen. Hence, he wended his way round the village in his rigid, stiff gait steadied by a cane held in each hand. When I saw him in the Arion Theater, he would stand watching the screen from the back as if he were in a standing room section. He had a contraption in the back of the pharmacy against which he could lean and rest during a lull. He never complained about his affliction and was always of cheerful disposition.
For the most part, he and Dave got along in their symbiotic relationship: Dave had time for other activities while Frank had a job near his home, an apartment he shared with his sister and her family. He made the most out of what life offered him. Although he never married, it was rumored that he had a relationship with a Village woman or at least, a close friendship. When I was told this, I thought to myself, good for him. He retired when Dave finally closed the store in 1974.
For many years, Frank was quite active in the Middle Village Senior Citizens Center, formerly the Hebrew Institute.
In 1988, on one of his excursions to Manhattan to see a Broadway show, he fell in the street and suffered a brain hemorrhage after he banged his head on the sidewalk. Although life was not completely kind to him, Frank knew enough to make lemonade with his lemons. I don’t know why, but I think of Frank from time to time and see him so clearly; very erect, not by choice, shuffling along holding firmly on to his two canes, walking slowly but with determination to be somewhere.
This article was originally published in the Middle Villager.