‘I’ll Be Frank’

by Toby Cooper

Sounder contributor

Frank Loudin squinted through the stage lights at the sea of smiling faces before him on a Sunday in November at Orcas Center.

“The Lower must be closed,” he quipped, sending the first mirthful ripple through his assembled fandom. Loudin, unparalleled master of many a coffeehouse soliloquy, had arrived to launch his new book, “Christmas Yarns: Stories From The Way We Were.”

The son of a rural West Virginia preacher, Loudin, 93, looks back on a lifetime of random moments and snippets of conversation that he captures, tweaks, massages into a relatable story, and then distributes for all to enjoy. “I’ll be Frank,” he promised the room – one pledge he was certain to fulfill.

Moderator Cathy Ferran tried to steer the conversation with stock interview questions, but it was no use. Each of her questions simply unleashed a string of stories until Loudin would have to ask – once again – “Now, what was the question?”

“I started out wanting to draw pinup girls,” he said, addressing his early experiences in art class. “It never worked. I discovered I was better at drawing rusty bumpers on Model T Fords.”

The talented Loudin has enjoyed three overlapping careers – Captain in the Marine Corps Artillery – artist, commercial illustrator, and writer. Christmas Yarns is his second book. The first, Yarns: Stories From The Way We Were, which came out earlier in 2023, is likewise a compilation of the prolific author’s repertoire. Both books feature the same front cover disclaimer that all stories are “[B]ased on a few actual facts.”

A collection of Loudin’s paintings flashed on the big screen behind him, providing the audience with another window to a mind focused on perspective and perfection. Loudin, the artist, is fascinated by the minutia of a monster steam locomotive, apparently hissing at a station with all its intricate parts represented in photographic detail.

He loves biplanes, vintage cars, flatbed farm trucks from 1932, and rustic homesteads. He adores industrial infrastructure – boats, trains, container terminals, and shipyard drydocks to name a few. He takes delight in juxtaposing a gleaming 1950s Ford or Cadillac in the painting – out of his sheer passion for American cultural icons.

With his roots in Appalachia, Loudin dotes on snow. But Loudin’s snow is the peaceful kind, never deep – big flakes drifting down windlessly while smoke from a chimney rises. A warm glow shining through the windows transforms his winter scenes into images of inner warmth.

Jannie, Loudin’s wife of 64 years, sadly passed in 2022. He reflected more than once on the delicacy of their relationship, but could not pass up one of those jabs reserved for a lifelong spouse. Asked by Ferrin what he wanted to be in his “next life,” Loudin did not hesitate – “one of Jannie’s dogs.”

For that generous hour at Orcas Center, Frank Loudin led his many friends on a pot pouri of memories, each relatable to something tangible in their own lives. There were stories from his life on Catalina Island, moments amongst skeptical cowboys, and a peppering of contact with celebrities.

Jorg and Lise Reinholt of Eastsound told the Sounder they always saw a touch of Norman Rockwell in Loudin’s photo-detailed art. Jorg had his own story of admiring one of Rockwell’s paintings at a Massachusetts art show many decades ago.

“Would you like to buy it?” asked a voice from behind.

“Sure,” Reinholt had replied. It was Rockwell himself. Reinhart bought the autographed print – a treasure to this day.

“That’s how we feel about Frank,” they said.

Resident writer Edee Kulper served as Production Manager and Assistant Editor for both of Loudin’s self-published books. As Loudin polished off his last stories, she took the microphone and told a truth about him that was based on more than “a few actual facts.” “If Frank at 93 is writing books, you gotta do that too,” she said, and nobody in the room disagreed.

“That’s just bootiful,” said Frank.