Farewell to Frank
This is not the newsletter I intended to send out this week. It is with sadness that I share the news that Francis Rudolph Marchetti, my dashing, dependable, dry-witted, even-keeled, book- tennis- and Italian wine-loving father, my “dear old dad,” as he liked to say, left this Earth early Friday morning. He was 95 and in physical decline, especially in recent months, but his mind and wit were ever sharp—right up until the last time I talked to him, Thursday morning. His death was not unexpected, but it’s still a blow.
I’ll be taking a break from the newsletter for the next couple of weeks, but before I sign off I want to share a few random things about my dad, in no particular order:
He was fond of strawberries—not the awful mutant Driscoll supermarket strawberries, but in-season strawberries. Every June when we were kids, he would take my sister, Maria, and me to the strawberry festival hosted by the local 4-H Club in Skillman, N.J., where we ate fat wedges of angel food cake topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh Jersey strawberries. Strawberry-rhubarb pie was his favorite.
He grew up in Providence, R.I., and worked his way through college, earning a degree in chemical engineering from Brown University. He loved clam chowder and boiled lobster with drawn butter. For years, the latter was his favorite birthday dinner.
He and my mom met on a blind date in New York City, introduced by a mutual friend. Their favorite restaurant, where they celebrated their engagement, was Gino’s of Capri, notable for its red, white, and black leaping zebra wallpaper.
His go-to breakfast for many decades was unsweetened cereal with skim milk and sliced banana.
He organized occasional Sunday excursions to New York City, where we would see an old Italian movie, followed by coffee in Little Italy and dinner in Chinatown. He introduced me to some of my favorite black-and-white films, including “The Bicycle Thief” and “Umberto D,” by Vittorio DeSica, and “The Maltese Falcon.”
He had a knack for planning trips, decades before the Internet, to lesser known places in Italy. One of his favorite spots was the National Park of Abruzzo, and especially the mountain towns of Roccaraso and Pescasseroli. In 1994, we drove to a small restaurant in Pescasseroli that he had (somehow) got wind of. Plistia (now shuttered, I’m sorry to say) would become my favorite restaurant, one I would return to for years; I wrote about some of the memorable dishes I had there in The Glorious Pasta of Italy.
In the middle of his career as a chemical engineer, he began traveling to Japan once or twice a year. From that first trip, he was completely smitten with the country, its people, and its culture and food. Kanoko, a small Japanese restaurant near our home in New Jersey, became our go-to place for family dinners out. He had a small collection of tanuki, a traditional Japanese lucky charm, often in the shape of a badger. If my dad had a patronus, it would have been a badger (thanks to my BIL Tony for that analogy).
He was reserved, quiet, occasionally taciturn. He cared nothing for celebrity, brand names, or trends, but he appreciated good Italian clothing. He enjoyed Italian wine—not expensive wine, and definitely not anything that might be considered “cult.” Just good everyday Italian wine.
He loved peaches. One summer, he bought an ice cream machine (motorized, but it still required rock salt) and made peach ice cream, though I lobbied hard for chocolate. I still remember my first spoonful of that ice cream.
He is responsible for my love of reading. Every other Saturday, he took my sister and me to the public library in Somerville, N.J. to pick out books. Even now, I usually have at least one or two books going, more like four if you count those on Audible. Shortly after he and my mom moved into assisted living at the end of 2016, he asked me to bring him a copy of Don Quixote, telling me that he’d read somewhere that a person should read it three times in their life: when they’re young, in middle age, and when they’re old. “I read it as a young man and again as a middle-aged man, and now I’m ready to read it as an old man,” he told me. When he finished it, I asked him what he thought. “I loved it!” he said (he was not one for exclamations). He kept up with his reading until his last day. He was working his way through a biography of Frederick Douglass.
Only once did I ever hear him swear. We were driving in Rome, coming home from dinner somewhere. My mom was in the passenger seat, and my sister and I were in the back. We rounded the corner onto Via Fogliano, where my aunts lived, when a car behind us sped up and nearly took us out as it passed. “Horse’s a**!” Frank shouted. “F**k you!” My sister and I were giddy, needless to say. We had never heard him utter those words before, and we never heard them again.
He played recreational tennis when he was young, but even after he stopped, he continued to love and watch the game. Last week, when I visited him, I brought him a big wedge of peach crostata, the same one I wrote about in a guest post for Anne Byrn’s wonderful Between the Layers newsletter. We sat together and watched Tennis Channel for a couple of hours, discussing matches and players. I’m so bummed I won’t be able to talk to him about Serena’s imminent retirement.
He survived a stroke in 1996, a brain hemorrhage in 2019, two bouts with Covid, and the death, in 2021, of his wife of nearly 63 years. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but he was ready to go.
He kept his opinions to himself and lived by example.
Arrivederci, Dear Old Dad. Alla prossima…