Fran Plank, November 15, 2010

Title

Fran Plank, November 15, 2010

Subject

Adoption
Foster parents--United States
Schenectady (N.Y.)--Maps
Louisville (Ky.)--History
Baptist women
Upstate New York (N.Y.)
Health
Well-being

Description

Fran Plank was born Francelia Roiter on October 11, 1938 in Schenectady, New York, where her father worked for General Electric. Fran’s endearing stories about her childhood mischief reveal a curious young girl growing up in what she calls a “very different world.” Her father’s job transfers necessitated two relocations for the family: to Erie, Pennsylvania when Fran was in third grade, and to Louisville, Kentucky before her senior year of high school. Attending church was an important component of Fran’s upbringing. Her discussion of her family’s progressive Baptist church in Louisville is especially interesting.
Fran met her future husband, David, while both were students at the University of Rochester. They married two weeks after graduation and began a family soon thereafter. The young family later moved to Philadelphia, where David enrolled in a seminary to become a minister. As in her childhood, Fran’s adult life was marked by frequent moves. The Planks resided in Upstate New York, Maine, and Long Island before retiring in Palatine Bridge.
The Planks were foster parents to a number of children while living in Norwood, New York. Fran speaks poignantly about the struggles of caring for a troubled foster son while raising her four biological children. Her discussion of this difficult situation, resulting largely from the early lack of support services to foster care providers, will be beneficial to those interested in family and foster care history.
In transcribing this interview, I have tried to maintain the sentiment of Fran’s moving storytelling style. I have eliminated most false starts, including them only when necessary for clarification. As the written word often distills the nuances of speech, however, I advise researchers to also refer to the audio tracks.

Creator

Olivia Cothren

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2010-11-15

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
1.2mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
25.3mB
image/jpeg
3.3mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

10-115

Coverage

Palatine Bridge, NY
1938-2010

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Olivia Cothren

Interviewee

Fran Plank

Location

51 W. Grand St.
Palatine Bridge, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2010

FP = Fran Plank
OC = Olivia Cothren

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

OC:

This is the November 15, 2010 interview of Fran Plank by Olivia Cothren for the
Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork Course. We are here at Fran’s house in Palatine Bridge, NY. Fran, can you just start by stating your full name, including your maiden name?
FP:
Yes. My full name is Francelia, my middle name is Roiter, which was my maiden name, and Plank is the last name.

OC:
So, Francelia, how did you get that name?
FP:
That was my great-grandmother’s name, and I don’t know where it came from before that. It’s a name that when I was a kid, I thought was a real pain to have. I tried to change it once but my mother was not too amused by that. It’s still Francelia, but mostly I go by Fran.
OC:
From when you were little, did you go by Fran as well?
FP:
Not until I was in junior high, maybe a little before that. When I was little, I was Francelia.
OC:
Can you tell me when and where you were born?
FP:
I was born on October 11, 1938 in Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, New York.
OC:
Can you tell me a little bit about what Schenectady was like when you were growing up there?
FP:
One thing I remember is my house number, which was on Grand Boulevard. It was 1959 Grand Boulevard. I remember as a young kid—I lived there until I went into third grade—thinking, now this would have been in 1944, ‘45, somewhere in that range, I wonder what it will be like when it’s 1959? That’s one thing I remember. Also, it was a very different world then. I walked to school, about three-quarters of a mile, and you didn’t think anything about that. It was just what you did.
OC:
So you lived in a residential neighborhood?
FP:
It was a residential area, yes. Today it’s the city of Niskayuna, but at that time it was part of Schenectady.
OC:
Your father worked for GE, right?
FP:
Yes.
OC:
Can you tell me a little bit about his job and how he got there?
FP:
My dad grew up in Hudson Falls, NY. He was the oldest of three boys. He went to college at RPI and became an electrical engineer. I think he graduated in 1922. He had a lot of experiences in college but he was offered the job at GE after he graduated. This was the very first home refrigeration department there ever was, and he was one of the first three engineers to be in that refrigeration department. So he was partly responsible for designing what became known as the monitor top refrigerator. He stayed with GE in refrigeration until he retired 40 some years later.
OC:
Wow! So did you socialize with other GE kids in Schenectady?
FP:
Not really. I knew a few. Mostly it was kids in my school and church, which was the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Schenectady.
OC:
Was church very important to your family when you were growing up?
FP:
Yes it was. It was a major, major piece. I can remember my mother telling me that she sent me to Sunday school with a nickel to put in the collection plate and I came home with a dime. I guess I put my nickel in and brought home a dime.
OC:
You made out good on that!
FP:
She was mortified but I thought it was pretty cool. [laughter]
OC:
That’s great. Did you have any siblings?
FP:
I have one younger sister. She’s three and a half years younger than I am.
OC:
What was your relationship like with her?
FP:
Well back in those days, children were not apprised that there was going to be a new sibling coming. So all I knew was that I went to stay with my grandfather and my mother was in the hospital. I could not figure out why my mother was in the hospital and I can remember saying to my grandfather’s housekeeper, well maybe she drank too much coffee. I wasn’t told anything. So anyway, my father came and got me from my grandfather’s and took me home and they said, well we have a surprise for you! And they took me upstairs and showed me my sister and my remark was, well why didn’t you get a dog? So that’s been the family story ever since. Now my sister and I are very close and we have a good time together, but early on she annoyed me, I annoyed her, and we ignored each other as best we could.
OC:
Yes, as sisters often do. When you were kids, did you have any other family living in the Schenectady area?
FP:
No. The closest person was my grandfather in Hudson Falls. My grandmother died when I was three, so I don’t remember her really. The only thing I remember about her is when she died, at that time they had the calling at home, so the casket was at the house. I can remember asking my grandfather to take me in to see grandma, which he did. It was in a tiny little room off the living room and I couldn’t figure out how you could get that big casket in that little room and I said, well maybe they had to bring it in through the window. I guess from an early age I was always trying to figure out things. [laughter] And the other thing I remember about that is some lady came to call, I don’t know who it was, but she had a hat on that had a dead bird sitting on it. I was very intrigued by the dead bird and wondered why she had a dead bird on her hat. As I say, I think I was always trying to figure things out. But my grandfather lived fifty miles away from Schenectady. Today it’s nothing, but this was wartime, so you had gas rationing and you didn’t make casual trips. So visiting my grandfather was always a big treat, and only done occasionally.
OC:
So your family had a car?
FP:
Yes, one. At that time, the Freihofer man would come with his wagon and the milkman came with his wagon. I can’t remember which, but one of them was horse drawn. A vegetable man came too, so you pretty much stayed in the neighborhood. And my mom was at home.
OC:
So your mom stayed at home then?
FP:
Yes. She was a librarian before she married, at Nott Terrace High School in Schenectady.
OC:
That’s great. Did you grow up reading a lot then?
FP:
Yes, reading was important. I did.
OC:
What do you remember about school in Schenectady?
FP:
One thing I remember in kindergarten is at that time we were given the Schick test for tuberculosis and apparently I tested positive for it. I can remember with a small group of people we went out to the sanitarium and were X-rayed and it was found that I had a healed lesion on my lung. So apparently I must have been infected but threw it off, so that was the end of that. Another thing I remember, my mother always thought we should have good shoes. I hated good shoes. I wanted pretty shoes! [laughter] So I had to go to school with high top shoes. Well of course they wear high top sneakers now, so that’s swell. Well, I didn’t think it was very swell, so I remember that. I had a good time in school. One thing I do remember, if you can believe it, I had long black ringlets halfway down my back which my mother always put up on rags which I also did not like very well. She always put a big bow in my hair when I went to school. Well, I didn’t want any big bows in my hair so I took them off, stuck them in my desk and then toward the end of the school year, I had this desk full of bows. So now what am I going to do? So I took them and I stuffed them down the storm drain on the way home from school. [laughter] Another thing I would do on the way home from school, I was curious and I liked to check out people’s bathrooms, so I stopped at a different house every several days on the way home and asked if I could use their bathroom. Well, one day I must have hit the same person twice and she told me she thought I could wait until I got home. So I thought, well okay, I guess we won’t do that anymore! [laughter] One other time, and I was only in first grade, a new family had come in and there was a little girl in kindergarten that I was supposed to pick up and bring home from kindergarten. Well I didn’t remember, I totally forgot. I got home and I guess her mother called my mother, well where was Carolyn? And I said well I don’t know, maybe she’s hiding in the clothesbasket in the basement. Well, the truth came out and I was back in my doghouse.
OC:
So did your mischief ever get you into trouble?
FP:
Oh yes! [laughter] I just found out a short time ago that one time my sister really ratted on me. I was in what we would call junior high then and was going to go to a movie with some friends. But I liked to buy comic books and my mother would let me buy one once in a while. Well, one day I decided I wanted some more. My sister said she went with me, I don’t remember that, but I guess she probably did. My mother, she was pretty savvy, she knew I was up to no good. So I went and bought some comic books and she found out about it and I did not get to go to the movie. My sister did, my friends did, and I got to go to Sears with my dad! [laughter] So sneaking didn’t work real well.
OC:
So would you say that your parents were pretty strict?
FP:
They were very fair. I would get spanked. A really annoying thing is I can never remember a time when I didn’t deserve it. They were very, what shall I say…consistent, you know? This is good, this is not so good. You do this, you’re fine and dandy, you do this, well, you take the consequences. So I learned very early on that I better be ready to take the consequences if I was going to get myself into jams. But they were never unfair. Whatever was doled out was very reasonable and very appropriate for whatever I’d been up to.
OC:
So you moved away from Schenectady in third grade. Where did you move to?
FP:
My dad was transferred. They moved the appliance part of GE to Erie, Pennsylvania. So I did third grade in Erie and I lived there until the end of my junior year in high school. So I did most of my growing up in Erie. I liked that, I was very happy there. My mother did not like Erie at all. She found that the adult level in Erie had already been pretty set—social groups and so forth—and she never really felt that she fit in much. I mean, she had some good friends. And the weather was not good for her. They always called it “Dreary Erie, the Mistake on the Lake” because there were a lot of gray days, drizzly days. It was not really a sunny place. I didn’t care about that but it bothered her. I had a good time there. I had good friends in the neighborhood and in school, and yeah, I liked that. So it was hard for me when I had to move, especially right before my senior year. That was probably one of the hardest things I had, growing up, which given what a lot of other people have that’s not a big deal. But it did have an impact.
OC:
Where did you move to from Erie?
FP:
Louisville, Kentucky. And again, GE moved their appliance division to Louisville. There were a number of kids from my class who also were GE kids that had to move to Louisville but they didn’t live anywhere near where I did. Once they got to Louisville, I really never saw them. They were in a very different part of the city. So my senior year, in a way, was kind of a lost year. I did alright, I did fine, and there were a couple of kids in the neighborhood that I palled around with but it was too short a time to really ever feel that I was really there. But my parents stayed there until they died and that was 40 some years [ago]. And they liked it, they liked that very much.
OC:
Did Louisville have a very Southern feeling to it?
FP:
For a Southern city, it was pretty cosmopolitan. There would be pockets but it was nowhere near as Southern in the old sense of that word as a lot of places were. Had it been, I would have been in really deep doodoo. [laughter] I would not have done well at all. I look back on it now and where I lived, it was a very segregated city, really. But I wasn’t really in the city, I was out in the suburbs.
OC:
Were you aware of that?
FP:
Yes. At that time there was what was called Sunshine Chapel and that was a small black chapel down in the city along the river. I spent a lot of time there and my mother did a lot there. We went to Sunshine Chapel and worked with the kids and so forth. But they were very caring people, the people in the church there, so it wasn’t like they were somehow less than [us]. They had a rough go and we’ll do what we can to support them.
OC:
Did you going to the black Baptist church, was that through your church?
FP:
The church my parents went to was called Broadway Baptist Church. Originally it was a downtown church that then moved out to the suburbs as the suburbs began to grow. And it was just this little tiny chapel in this one little pocket of population there. For whatever reason, the church took that on as one of their projects, one of their things that they thought was important to support. And interestingly, this church was Southern Baptist but not Southern Baptist as Southern Baptist is usually understood. These were very open-minded, broad-thinking people and they were connected with the Southern Baptist Seminary which was in Louisville, which was not so broad. Many of those professors were in that church and they were always in trouble. They were always going to be fired. Their thinking was just much too…broad for the traditional Southern Baptist way of thinking. And in fact, just a few years ago, that church disassociated from the Southern Baptist Convention and all those professors were fired.
OC:
So did your parents choose that church because of that reputation they had for being open minded, or…?
FP:
That’s a good question, and I probably don’t really know. But I think that my mother and my father, for different reasons, felt that was a place where they could fit. And my mother would get into wrangles sometimes, not with the first minister but a later minister who came there who had a different philosophy than she did. My dad loved the music and it was a church that had a lot of musical talent in it, the choir and so forth. They felt comfortable with the people. I have to say, they were very grand people, very gracious people. So that was very good. Most of them have died. There are a few that I still have contact with. But that was a strange year in many ways for me. I never joined the church. In Erie, there was a big Presbyterian Church in the city. It had a huge youth group and we did all kinds of things. We had great times together. I learned an awful lot from some of the people that were there. That was more my range, so I didn’t join when I went to Louisville. I went, but I didn’t become a member there.
OC:
What exactly do you mean by become a member?
FP:
In the Southern Baptist Church, in the Baptist tradition, to be officially baptized you have to be immersed. I wasn’t. I wasn’t baptized until I was 12. My mother came from the Baptist tradition and she felt that for the baptism you should be the one to choose for yourself instead of an infant baptism. So I was not baptized until I was 12. When they said that to become a full member I would have to be baptized again, I thought, I don’t need to do that, thank you. What was very interesting was that essentially I could have full participation in that church except I couldn’t vote. I could take communion, I could sing in the choir, I could take part in any programs, but the one restriction was that if you weren’t a real Baptist, you couldn’t vote.
OC:
You couldn’t vote for what?
FP:
Any church business, any leadership positions, any money issues, and so forth. Well, I didn’t care about that anyways at that point in time, so I said no thank you.
OC:
But your parents did become members there?
FP:
Well both of them had been baptized in the Baptist tradition earlier on even though they went to the Presbyterian Church when we lived in Erie. My religious background is quite a varied piece. Actually, it’s been very beneficial, I think.
OC:
How so?
FP:
Because it gives me a broader understanding of where people are coming from and how things work, that kind of thing. My mother was very insightful, very wise. When she was an adult actually, there was a huge split [in her church] because part of the congregation said the end of the world was coming and it’s coming at this day at this time and that’s it. The other part of the congregation said no, I don’t think so. So it split and some of them went off on the mountain and waited for the end and my mother and her mother chose not to go that direction. So she always told the story about the four blind men and the elephant. And the four blind men really, really wanted to see an elephant. They couldn’t conceive of what an elephant really was. So someone took them to see an elephant. And the first blind man, he’s feeling it—oh, now I understand, the elephant is like a big tree trunk! Very solid…now I’ve got it! And the next said, what are you talking about? And he had the trunk. And he said, no, an elephant isn’t like that at all! An elephant is like a big hose. Very malleable and it moves around, very flexible. And the third guy said, I don’t know what you guys are talking about, but that’s obviously not an elephant. An elephant is like a big flag! It’s very thin and blows in the wind. That’s an elephant; I don’t know where you’re getting this. And the fourth guy says, you guys are really out of whack. An elephant is obviously like a rope with a frayed end. And they just went at it tooth and nail because they were sure that they each had it right. That’s kind of the way religion gets to be sometimes. You see a bit and a piece and somebody else sees another bit and a piece and we assume that we’ve got the whole thing. That’s really what I mean. I see now that it’s much broader than I’m ever going to understand, so I’m not going to sweat it.
OC:
When you were in Louisville, did you feel like you were ready to go to college then?
FP:
Yes. I always did well in school. I didn’t have a problem with school. I look back and I thought, well that took some nerve. I only applied to one school.
OC:
Oh, wow.
FP:
I applied to the University of Rochester and was accepted and…that’s where I went! [laughter]
OC:
Was that unusual, to only apply to one school?
FP:
Yes. It was not considered very wise, which is interesting because our granddaughter did exactly the same thing and this year she’s a senior at Elmira College. So it must run in the family somehow.
OC:
So why University of Rochester?
FP:
I really could not tell you. Now, my aunt had gone to U of R, but she was a math major, which was certainly not what I was going to be. My uncle went to Eastman School of Music, and that was not going to be my [thing]. I had visited some other colleges, but not many, actually. It just felt like, okay, this is where I’m going to go. So kind of weird, but that’s what I did.
OC:
What was University of Rochester like when you attended it?
FP:
It was a killer then.
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
FP:
It was non-stop academic stress, the whole time. [laughter] If you went to the bathroom, you felt you had to take a book. You had to underline everything and you had to know everything. Basically, what I did in college was work. Actually, we just went back this summer for our 50th reunion which was fun. David went to the U of R, too. We had a very good time there. It is so different. It’s still a very highly academic school, but the whole atmosphere is so—I mean, when we were there, the cafeteria, it was take it or leave it, that was your option. Now they have an Italian section, an Asian section, a vegetarian section, and so forth. Very, very different. I went up to the women’s dorm which was new. It was the second year that women were on campus; they’d been on a separate campus before. There were four lounges in this x-shaped dorm and they’re gone! [laughter] One of them is a health section and one of them is a business—I mean, they aren’t even there! It’s been totally redesigned. Oh well! Different world. Later on, our son actually went to the U of R too. That was hard work. By the end of the four years, that was enough of that, thank you very much. I was going to do something else. I went for social work and in my junior year the department vanished because all the professors left and went to the Midwest. I wasn’t inclined to change schools, so I changed majors and I took elementary education. So that’s what I finally got my degree in.
OC:
So when you were a sophomore, that’s when the schools integrated?
FP:
What do you mean?
OC:
Male and female?
FP:
No, it was all integrated the year I got there. They’d done it the year before. The women the year before me were the first class to be in the mixed campus.
OC:
What was the feeling like when it was mixed? Was there any tension?
FP:
If there was, I totally missed it. Maybe in some sections, but I don’t ever remember there being a problem. David never said anything about that either. No, I think it was an easy mix.
OC:
Do you remember what the male to female ratio was?
FP:
I think there were more guys, but I really don’t remember. Although there must have been, because the guys had several dorms. The women’s dorm was new but it was a big dorm. I don’t know, I’ll think about that. I don’t remember.
OC:
So how did you meet David?
FP:
I don’t really remember. The women’s dorm had their own dining room and the men had a dining room. They were separate. But at lunchtime, I guess you could eat at either one, and I remember eating lunch in the men’s dining room and I think he must have come with some other people that I knew or something. That’s the best of my recollection. The funny story is a friend of mine who lived across the hall from me was interested and would have liked to date him. I wasn’t the slightest bit interested, so I tried to fix her up with him. There was what was called the Dandelion Day dance. Dandelion Day was the day off of school. Now they have umpteen days off of school, but then we didn’t. You got there in September until you had a weekend off for Thanksgiving and you went home for Christmas. That was it. So he asked me to go and I thought, oh, for crying out loud. So anyway, I went, and actually wasn’t interested really at all. Then later on, I wasn’t really going with anybody. I was dating someone else and that kind of fizzled. And I said, may as well go out with him. [laughter] Better than staying home by myself.
OC:
I guess it worked out, right! [laughter]
FP:
And in some ways, you look back and think, talk about two people that are totally not compatible in a whole bunch of different ways! But I say, we have a very committed relationship and we probably both should be committed [laughter]. A lot of it is very, very good, and some of it not so, but that’s all right.
OC:
So would you say it was kind of an opposite’s attract kind of relationship?
FP:
No, I’d say I really wasn’t attracted at that point! [laughter] It was sort of like attract and not attract. But I obviously saw something that was worth going for.
OC:
Were you serious in college?
FP:
Yes. At that time, the kind of traditional way—he was in a fraternity—was to be pinned, which was kind of like a pre-engagement. Then we were engaged at the end of our junior year. And we married two weeks after graduation.
OC:
Wow. Was it hard to plan that while you were in school?
FP:
Weddings were much simpler. It was a church wedding. My mother did most of the arrangements. I did make my wedding dress the summer before. And it was much simpler. There wasn’t the big extravaganza kinds of things that are so common now. The reception was just little sandwiches and cake and punch in the church hall, which was a very nice hall. But it certainly wasn’t anything like is done today, for the most part. And so there wasn’t the kind of planning that I hear about today when my eyes glaze over and I think, oh God, I couldn’t stand it! Not my can of worms. But it was very nice. But very simple.
OC:
And where did you get married?
FP:
At the church there in Louisville. And for three days, we went down to Cumberland Falls, and we went to an inn in Bardstown for about three days. Then we had the long schlep up to Saranac Lake where we both worked in a boy’s camp on Rainbow Lake that summer. I was camp nurse. [laughter] Again, a totally different world. I had done some nursing things. I had worked the summer after my freshman year in college at a mental hospital outside Louisville. I had done everything from medications to giving shots to assisting with shock therapy to being in charge of a ward. And this was a hospital where I worked the three to eleven shift. There were over 2000 patients. Some of them were what was called criminally insane at the time. And there was one nurse on duty. A hospital was literally run by aides. And that’s what I was. I was psychiatric aide.
OC:
What was that like?
FP:
It was a humungous education, and I really liked it. It sounds really weird. But I learned an awful lot. It was when the first chemical treatments were just beginning. Some people were very, very sick—a lot of young people. That was kind of a shock. I remember a young girl was having a shock treatment, and I asked her, is this your first? And she said no, I’ve had twenty some. It was not a pleasant place on any of the wards and units. It was just very basic, very crowded. I learned an awful lot. I liked a lot of the people. One of the scary things was that sometimes you couldn’t tell the difference between the patients and some of the staff. You had to be careful.
OC:
Did working there and being exposed to that help you later in life, if you had to deal with any illness in the family, help you cope with that?
FP:
Right. And also to realize, we are extremely complex creatures. When things don’t work right, it really is a real challenge. Not to take your well-being for granted, that’s for sure. I learned that.
OC:
That’s very true.
FP:
I just did that that one summer.
OC:
What did you do for work after the boy’s camp?
FP:
The boy’s camp was just that summer and then we both began our teaching jobs in Hudson Falls. I had first grade and David had sixth grade. Our oldest son was born in May of the next year. At that time, I was surprised given the times, that they let me continue teaching until maybe a couple months before he was born. I chose at that time to stay home. I think I may have told you this before—I took what I call my eighteen-year maternity leave. David taught for four years in sixth grade, which he liked very much, and during that time we came into the Episcopal Church. A friend invited us one summer and we went. We were probably in that church three years and we became members there. Then David felt that what he was to be about was to go to seminary. So when we had two kids, our oldest Peter, next Laura, she was two years younger, and Andy was not yet born but was I was nine months pregnant, we moved to Philadelphia. In the summer, with 104 degrees! Andy was born two weeks after we got there. We had three very good years in Philadelphia when David was in seminary.
OC:
Was there a lot of discussion about how that move and career change would affect your family life?
FP:
No. It was more like, okay, this is what we’re going to do! It was agreed upon. It wasn’t like there was any reluctance. David’s mother was terrified. She had every hospital located on route to Philadelphia. She hired a nurse and her husband with a Ford Econoline van to truck some of our stuff down. We had a Volkswagen bus at the time and David’s father and mother drove in their car and pulled a trailer on this move to Philadelphia.
OC:
A whole caravan!
FP:
A whole caravan. When we got there the seminary had just bought the apartment building. There hadn’t been any married students with children living on the campus at the school. So they had bought this apartment that was just across the road from the seminary. When we got there, the apartment was not ready and the bathroom did not work. It was dirty, and fortunately David’s family had relatives in Upper Darby, which is outside Philadelphia. They were away and they’d given his mother the keys to their place so we went there and they had air-conditioning and that saved us all! Then the next day we bit the bullet and got things in. To move into this apartment, there was a door and you had to go up a few steps and there was a locked door, then there was the lobby. We were on the second floor, and the elevator was one of those old-fashioned kinds where you had to pull the gate. So I was useless at that point, so essentially David and his mother and this twelve-year-old boy who stood out not believing what he was seeing, and David’s mother said I’ll give you fifteen dollars if you’ll help move these people in. So he did. What they finally figured out, rather than juggling all those doors and the elevator, somebody would hold the things up, somebody [else] up on the balcony of the fire escape would grab it and bring it in through there. Somehow we got moved in and the bathroom did get fixed…
OC:
I was just going to ask that!
FP:
And [at] the seminary that year, there were a number of married couples with children. Peter actually started school in Philadelphia. Andy, as I said, was born two weeks after we got there. So that was good. And we had no money. I cashed in whatever retirement I had from teaching, which wasn’t much, and David’s mother sent fifty dollars a month. The bishop gave David a grant of $500 a semester, and we lived very well. Don’t ask me, but it worked. We had a good time. There was one two-week period where I thought, I don’t know how we’re going to do it this time. And the dean called him in and said, there’s a couple out in one of the well-to-do suburbs. He has to go on a one or two-week business trip and his wife would like to go with him. They have some children and wondered if Fran would take care of the children and you’d go out there and stay. So I said, all right, I’ll do that. So I had three of my own, six of theirs, between the ages of two and sixteen, a dog, some cats, and a snake! But, we also had a refrigerator jam-packed full, a freezer jam-packed full, and cash if we needed to buy other things. I spent the days out there. David of course was going to class. That worked too! Took care of us, and we got paid a couple extra hundred dollars anyway, so we were way ahead of the game.
OC:
How’d you keep track of all those kids? [laughter]
FP:
I don’t know! [laughter] I know it was the first time I’d ever seen a king sized bed! The kids were good. A couple of the teenagers tried to convince David that it was okay if they drove, if they took the car. Well, that was a no pass, so they didn’t get to do that. And they ate like there was no tomorrow. But that took care of what we needed. When we were there, medically speaking, everything was covered for the kids. So that was good.
OC:
Did you like living in a big city like that?
FP:
Yes. Because I grew up in cities, I was very comfortable in cities. David liked it too. He was good with that. After he graduated his first position was as an assistant, a curate they would call it, in Delmar, just outside of Albany. So we were there a couple of years, and then we went up to what I call the North Country, St. Lawrence County, north of Potsdam….
OC:
Oh! I’ve been to Potsdam, and that’s…. [laughter]
FP:
Yes, and we’re six miles north of that! In the little town of Norwood. He also had the church in Colton, which is south of Potsdam. We were there eight years. Then we went to Maine and he had two churches and then he also assisted later on with helping a third one get started. We were there seven years. And then to Long Island. We were on Long Island almost twenty years.
OC:
So you have Peter, Laura, Andy, and….
FB:
Carrie. Carrie was born when were up in the North Country, up in Potsdam. She’s ten years younger than Andy. She’s the youngest and she now lives in Nassau County on Long Island with her family. After they had grown and done their college and married and so forth, at one point Peter and his wife Annette and son Gregory were on the west coast, just south of San Francisco, in Half Moon Bay. Andy was with his wife in the Houston area, in Texas. Maris, Andy’s daughter, was born in Texas. Dave, Laura’s husband, went to the Navy after he finished Maine Maritime Academy and he was in Virginia Beach and then San Diego and then Pensacola. Sarah was born in Virginia. She’s a senior now at Elmira College. And Carrie was in New York. So we had them on all the coasts. Now they’re all back up in the Northeast. Peter and Laura are in Maine, Andy is over in Salt Springville and Carrie is in New Hyde Park on Long Island. They’re all in the Northeast. That makes it much easier to get together.
OC:
What was the relationship between the four of them growing up?
FP:
Well, they have a wonderful relationship. Now, when they were growing, I remember when Carrie was maybe an early teenager she saw a picture of Peter holding her hand by a deer pen somewhere, and she said, did Peter really like me then? I said, I don’t know! I didn’t make him hold you hand! In their growing up times, I remember Andy saying Peter used to make him buy his old toys to make money. [laughter] So they had their fits and starts. But now they’re wonderful to each other, they really are. It’s awesome. I bust their chops, because I said, well when you could talk for free you would never talk to each other. And now of course they all have the phones where you have unlimited long-distance. But before, when they had to pay to talk, they’d talk to each other all the time! But they’re good. Actually, Laura and her family came down from Maine and went to Maris’ play this past weekend. So they do that whenever they can. They’re great. Now in the midst of all that, when we were in the North Country, we also had a number of foster children. We had a huge house, a huge rectory, where we lived. And there was a big need for that and we were told when we began to explore this, never to take any child that was more than a year older than your oldest child. So Peter’s about ten. The first person they sent was a seventeen-year-old girl. And from that point on, with the exception of one child, we had teenagers. There was nothing hardly in the way of resources for assistance, to know what to do in such situations, and that was rough in a lot of ways. If we’d known then what we knew later on, we probably would have proceeded differently. But it’s what we did. We were going to be moving again to Maine, and one of the foster boys we had had no family to go back to. He was almost sixteen at that point. So we looked into adoption. We asked him, now do you want to do this? You don’t have to. And he opted to do that. And then shortly before we moved, things just really fell apart. It had been rough anyway. It had been a rough go. A lot of things, we just did not know. Some things, the kids were aware of that we weren’t aware of and they hadn’t said anything. To make a long story short, he did go and very shortly after we got there he fell in with trouble, real trouble. We began finding things up in our barn and up in the loft of our garage that didn’t belong to us. When we spoke to the police, [they said] if we pressed charges, then we would be held responsible.
[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]
FP:
To make a long story short, he left. It was very ugly. Unfortunately, we finally said if you’re going to live this way, you can’t live here. And he was almost 18. He threatened to kill the kids. You never knew when he was coming and when he was going. You had to be on 24-hour watch. So he did leave. Social Services put him in a group home and thought we were, you know, horrible people for what we did. The state policeman came at one point and said we had to take him back. Fortunately, the organist at the church had said, talk to a lawyer. And we finally did and he said, no you don’t have to; given his age and the situation, no you don’t. The state policeman came and said you’ve got to take him back. We said no we don’t. He said who told you that? I said our lawyer. He said who’s your lawyer? David Key. He ran out of the house and knocked over a chair on the way. David Key said before, they knew that he was trouble. So Michael left and was in a group home for a while. He staged a robbery at a gas station where he was working. Somebody he’d met somewhere said he would take him under his wing. Well, that lasted like the June frost. He left the state. He went to Texas first and then I guess he went to Colorado. Every place he went trouble followed, of one sort or another. The last time—we had just moved to Long Island. The phone rang. David answered the phone. Is this David Plank? Yes. Do you have a son, Michael Plank? Yes. Well, he’s been killed. Apparently, he’d gotten in a fight with a girlfriend and punched his fist through her trailer door. And went off saying I’m going to go get hit by a car. And apparently he stepped out into fast moving traffic and was killed. That was a very sad, very difficult time. I’d say it probably took me about 10 years before I finally made peace with it. I thought, well okay, what’d we do wrong here? How did this all shake down? I will give him credit; he did write and apologize at one point. Once in a while we would hear from him. But the kids were terrified that he was going to show up sometime and do something not nice. That was a very rough patch. As I say, if we had known a lot of the things that we learned as we went along—and we did, we asked for a psychiatric evaluation and nothing particular showed up at that point. Later on, the psychiatrist went through this list of characteristics, went check, check, check, check, check, every single one. She said, we know it’s genetic. We have absolutely nothing that works at this point in time. We’re hoping to be able to find a treatment. But his family situation had been a horror scene. It was sad, very sad.
OC:
So how did you comfort your own children during this whole situation?
FP:
I’m not sure we did a very good job! We just hung together and said we’ve got to do this hard thing. One thing that’s very interesting—after he threatened to kill the kids and David went out and Michael was up in the loft area, he tried to slam the door down on David’s head. Somehow we got him into the house and David and Peter wrestled him down onto the bed. They were so angry. They held him down and Carrie is standing right here pulling my leg and saying, Mommy! Mommy! Who’s that lady dressed in white with the black curly hair that’s holding Michael’s hair down? And I’m thinking, what in the world is she talking about? And Mommy! Mommy! Who’s that lady with the dark curly hair and the white suit that’s holding Michael down by his hair? Now that’s the only thing I can tell you except that Michael had no strength. It just went. There was no lady that we saw that was there with black curly hair. But thankfully, she was. And they were able to subdue him because he had gotten very violent. That was kind of our one big drama in life. It was hard for everybody. And in some ways, I regret to say it, but his death at least relieved that fear that they lived with constantly, which was nothing that we could take away or make unhappen. Since then, they have gone on to do very well, for which I am very thankful. Interestingly, if anybody would have told me that this would happen, I would say no way, Jose. Laura and her husband have taken foster children and have adopted Ashley, who is now our granddaughter and is wonderful. She also came from a horrendous, very difficult background and has five siblings who were all removed from school one day instantly. Ashley is lovely. She’s wonderful. A huge difference is the state of Maine has an awesome Department of Social Services that provides counseling and training. If at any point they needed it, it would be available to them, even now, to help them work with issues, which makes a huge difference. I think that’s really extraordinary. And here we are now! We’d been on Long Island, which is where I had my 12-year position working, and David had churches. Carrie finished high school there. The other kids had already graduated in Maine. So we picked up and continued on. Recently, our coming here was just a very serendipitous thing because we never intended it. We found this house one day and said, okay, we’re going to do that. David thought we were going to retire on Long Island, and Long Island is fine but it’s not my cup of tea. Too flat and too crowded for my preference. But good people. We had good things there. I’m thankful for it but glad to be where we are now.
OC:
You’ve lived in so many different places. So I’m just wondering, what would you consider home?
FP:
Where I am. Really. Yeah, where I am. Somewhere along the line, I said well I’m kind of like a potted plant. I set my pot down and then when it gets time to go someplace else, I pick up and move my pot. I really have not minded moving. The hardest move for me was from Maine to Long Island. That one was hard for me. I like exploring new places. I’m pretty comfortable with myself so it’s not like I have to feel like I’ve got to find a particular niche somewhere. I always find they’re places and people that I enjoy. That works for me.
OC:
And how easy is it to see your children now?
FP:
We do quite well. We go down to Long Island almost once a month. It’s nice because it’s the first time we could regularly see our young grandchildren. Of course, Maris is just eleven miles down the road. She’s in a lot of sports so we get to go to her games and see her on a regular basis. The Maine crews we see two or three times a year. We stay in close contact. Now this past weekend, Laura came down for Maris’ play but we were busy on Saturday so we didn’t see her when she came this time. But they’re coming back for Thanksgiving. After Christmas, we’ll go up to Maine for about a week for New Year’s. We’ll see those folks. So we take advantage of it whenever we can. I like that. It was fun when they lived in the different places because it was nice going to visit, but it’s nicer to be close enough so that if you want to in a day, you can do it and you don’t have to fly. We do it whenever we can.
OC:
Do you have any traditions that you do around the holidays?
FP:
Thanksgiving will be here for whoever can make it. That’s a pretty traditional way. One thing that’s happened since we’ve been here is that David went to a fitness class over at the high school. The gal who runs that has what she calls the Turkey Trot. It’s a short marathon kind of thing the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Everybody that’s here, pretty much, will do that the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I suppose it is tradition, but it’s kind of like, oh it’s just what we do! David will say, you’ve got too much stuff, that’s tradition! But it always gets eaten up. We don’t decorate for Christmas until about the last week before Christmas. We observe what’s called Advent, which is the preparation kind of thing. It’s a little different way of approaching Christmas. There are Christmas trees up now! [laughter] I don’t want to do that. If we get our Christmas tree decorated two days before Christmas, we’re doing good. It’ll be up but it won’t be decorated. We just kind of gradually put up a few things here and there as we go along. Thanksgiving is nice because it’s easier in some ways because you don’t have as much hype. It’s more laid back and you don’t have to do any particular things at any particular time.
OC:
I’d imagine David is pretty busy around Christmastime.
FP:
He’s pretty busy all the time! He says he’s retired and I say relatively speaking. He’s talking now of retiring from “less regular.” He likes very much to do the supply work, which means filling in. He can do both the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church, and he’s actually done the Reform Church. He fills in when ministers are away or somebody is sick. So he likes to do that, and that’s fun, I like to do that. He likes a lot of group things. I participate in groups, but I’m very happy doing my projects. I always have about 15 of them going at the same time. If any of them get finished, it’s a miracle. I like to do that, so I’m happy just to work out in the yard. I’m refinishing a desk downstairs. I’m doing some work on a quilt there. People are always saying, oh Fran, why don’t you do this? Mom, will you do that? [laughter] And I like to do that. When I look back, I say, you know, I’ve had a really great run. We had our 50th anniversary this year. The kids planned and orchestrated and paid for a wonderful weekend in New Hampshire. The kids, grandkids, my cousins, my sister, David’s sister, her kids and their children came, and we had a wonderful three-day weekend there. That was awesome. That was a big event this year that was very good. Everybody had such a good time that they said let’s get together again next year. But I don’t know if it will happen. None of our kids, except Michael, Carrie’s husband, have what you would call a regular job as far as timing is concerned. Peter and Annette are both neonatal intensive care nurses. Their schedule is always changing. Andy works for Continental Airlines and his schedule is always changing. David, Laura’s husband, flies a LifeFlight of Maine helicopter. His schedule is always changing. So nobody has a regular 9 to 5 kind of job with weekends off. Juggling their schedules and getting together is a miracle when it happens. Andy’s wife, Dana, is now a nurse working for Montgomery County’s Health Department, but she was working in homecare over at Bassett Hospital. Those were irregular schedules. Her job now is much more regular than any that she’d had before. So getting everybody together at one place at one time takes a lot of doing. We’re very glad when it can happen.
OC:
So going through everything with your family, all these moves, everything with Michael, what would you say was the most important lesson that you took away from everything?
FP:
Oh, my. What would I say? [pause] I would say trusting. One of the people that I find wonderful is Dame Julian of Norwich. I think she came from around [the year] 1200 or something like that. Having come through some very difficult times, she said the one thing she learned was that all manner of things shall be well and you must know that all manner of things shall be well. The other is all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. That means the ones you don’t like as well as the ones that you think are pretty swell. I’ve really found that. One of the really great things I found when I was teaching a course called the Lions Quest, Skills for Adolescence, which is about adolescent changes and development. I worked with 7th and 8th graders, who are crazy. I learned that the positive is right smack dab there in the middle of the negative. If you can zero in on that, there’s always good that comes out of even the most difficult and the most painful and the most troubling things. The other thing, which I didn’t speak anything about but is really important to me, is that all the time through I have been very interested in well-being and health, that kind of thing. As things come together bit by bit, it’s all really about energy. Everything is energy. Thoughts are energy, feelings are energy, material things are energy. This is very scientifically recognized, acknowledged and agreed upon. The thing of it is that positive energy is very high frequency, very beneficial to the body, to the mind, to the spirit, to everything. Negative energy is very low frequency energy and that’s what we consider unpleasant, unhappy kinds of things. They’re very detrimental and do major damage to the immune system and to the mind. They actually cloud the DNA, which can be passed on. And it is possible to actually reverse that. I mean, tough stuff is going to happen. It just comes with the territory. And you can either find that to be bad, negative, depressing, upsetting, and you can get stuck there. When that energy gets stuck in the body, it begins to cause all kinds of medical and emotional and psychological gunk. So one of the things I’ve found is that in a sense, if you think in terms of spirituality, that God is the good. God is the source, however you want to frame that. He’s the positive energy, the positive force. As long as you stay connected and clear the gunk as quickly as you can, then you really can say all things work together for good. So that’s my mantra!
OC:
I think that’s a perfect way to end. So thank you so much, Fran, for your time today.
FP:
Well thank you so much for listening! I do appreciate that. It was fun for me.
OC:
Me, too!
FP:
Okay, good.

Duration

1:16
30:00
30:00
26:18

Bit Rate/Frequency

128kbps

Files

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Citation

Olivia Cothren, “Fran Plank, November 15, 2010,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 6, 2020, http://www.cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/77.