A Story by Charlie Dennis

Tribute to Frank Francis Frankie–Friend & Cousin

I met Frank when my grandfather and I were visiting at his family’s home. Originally, we lived near the new elementary school, up on the hill where the Eskasoni Supermarket is today. Every chance I got I would spend visiting my grandparents who lived by what we called “New York Corner. I don’t know where the name came from, but everybody in Eskasoni called it that. For the young people, I’m talking about the first house on the right side heading down Beach Road.

Frankie’s parents lived about a mile from New York Corner, but it seemed a lot farther because I was young and my grandfather walked so fast (the late Stephen Francis). This particular day, though I didn’t realize until we got there, we were invited for dinner and were late. As I was a stranger to this part of Eskasoni, Frankie and the family was introduced to me and, after being served a dinner of baked eels with all the fixings, we listened to stories by my grandfather and Uncle Noel, which kept every body good and sleepy, especially after that large meal.

After this visit, I didn’t see Frankie until my grandparents and Dad went visiting in Malagawatch. I believe one my stories mentioned when I got to meet Gabriel Sylliboy–it was the same time that I saw Frankie while he was fishing oysters in River Denys. He was helping his father and brother, Edmond, fish and sell oysters to different barges. They lived in Malagawatch in a small tarpaper shack with just about enough room for three people.

After giving me a tour and introducing me to the oyster fishermen, we went to their shack for a cup of tea. The first thing I noticed was this large stump in the middle of the cabin which was used as a table. It’s not so bad once you throw a tablecloth over it–for special guests only–they chuckled. Frankie commented that sleeping was a different story. Of course, I had to ask why this was so, and they explained that before they went to sleep, they would shove pieces of toilet paper in their ears and noses so that bugs wouldn’t crawl in. We all laughed about it and I thought they were joking. The truth came out through one of Gabriel Sylliboy’s stories. I mentioned what Frankie and Edmond told me and he chuckled. “I didn’t believe it either” said Gabriel, “until I saw both boys come out of the cabin early one morning with paper in their noses and ears.”

Getting back to my original story about Frankie and his many business ventures, I realized that he had his whole year well planned, and knew what he was going to do depending on the different seasons.

When I met Frankie and his family in Malagawatch, they were oystering from September 15th to November 30th, and this would be the average season for oysters, give or take a day or two. As oysters were plentiful in those days, an average of 15 boxes of oysters was always their target, and if the weather was bad, they would try to make it up when the weather was nice.

Fishing with an oyster rake, they could scoop up 15 or 20 oysters of different sizes. Undersized oysters–less then three inches–were always thrown back into the water. Not all the oysters that were fished using the rake were alive, shells would be mixed in with other things, such as mussel shells, sticks, rocks, and seaweed, etc. So you see that cleaning up was hard work.

When the oysters were not as plentiful toward the end of the season, picking with smaller rods was preferred. Of course, the average number of boxes of oysters had dropped–but not too much. Actually, when talking to other fishermen, both native and non-native, Frankie Francis was the champion oyster fisherman.

When the oyster season was over, and before the ice started forming in the Lakes, he would be fishing for eels while they hibernated in the mud flats. Of course, Frankie knew where they were hiding from experience and knowledge he picked up from Elders. Fishing and selling eels was another task that Frankie would use to supplement his income (one of many). Before I forget, I should also mention that he made the best eel stew–people just loved it. Whenever someone passed away in Eskasoni, he would make sure that a large pot of eel stew was made available to everybody at the gathering after the funeral, which is called a salite. Everybody would be talking about Frankie’s katuapu’l, or eel stew.

To be Continued…

From UINR Marten – Vol.3. Issue.3 – Autumn 2007