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Searching for the man who defines Brightwood

There’s a very large boulder outside the Brightwood Tavern. Apparently, according to Frank Curran, or “Apparently Honest Frank,” as he is known in Brightwood, the boulder was installed to deter any more drivers from plowing through the wall and into the bar.

“This one time some guy drove a big four-door Chrysler Imperial right through that wall and across onto the bar here,” said Frank, motioning with his whiskey-seven in one proud arc. “The whole damn car was in here. And before that, my friend drove his car through that window over there.”by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Frank Curran has been a regular in Brightwood for more than 40 years.

Frank, sitting at the end of the bar in denim and cowboy boots, is a regular at the Brightwood Tavern, and has remained so for the past 40 years at least. Meeting with him over fish tacos and drinks is the result of a casual question on the general whereabouts of the person who could be considered the embodiment of Brightwood. I’d put the question to a table of three guys enjoying cola and other liquids at around 11:45 on a Thursday morning at the tavern, just one week earlier.

“So, he needs an old dude from Brightwood,” replied one. “Frank’s a good one,” said another. “Yeah, or Cliff. Frank’s in here all the time, except now. But Cliff’s son runs the fruit stand up the highway.”

Thanking the gentlemen, the next stop was to go shopping for kiwi fruits, shallots and cherries at the fruit stand. As luck would have it, Cliff happened to be there.

“Ain’t me,” he said quickly when told his name came up as the guy who defines Brightwood. “I want no part in any notoriety.”

That’s fair. At least the kiwi fruit and shallots were fresh, and reasonably priced.

“But you could talk to Frank,” called out Cliff as I walked away. “Frank Curran. ‘Apparently Honest Frank,’ they call him. You know we had a dog as mayor for a while?”

Any place that elects a dog mayor and consists of a store and a tavern can only be home to good people. The next step was to arrange a run-in with Frank, and that would require an evening visit to the tavern.

The thing about places like Brightwood is that they are anything but small. All the people are from other places, having done other things before choosing to move there. The conversations reveal the road dust each patron brings in. Two guys at the end of the bar swap stories about playing music and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army.

“I finally got my disability,” said one of them, lighting a smoke and laughing.

“You get shot?” asked the other.

“Well, I was on guard duty and I lit a smoke and all the sudden, zing! Guess I shoulda known better,” he said, referencing the sniper’s tactic of targeting the cherries on cigarettes. Down the bar from the pair sat Frank, greeting each patron that called him by name.

“Well, you want to sit over here and talk?” he said, recognizing the camera and the notebook. “I ain’t gonna remember any dates or anything.”

Frank, like Brightwood, doesn’t boast; he just is.

“You know, when I first got here, there were probably 500 people between Government Camp and Alder Creek,” he said. “I think it’s just overbuilt now. They kind of fixed it up after the big flood, the giant flood of 1964.”

Frank talks about the massive flood that washed out the bridge over the Sandy River, leaving people to find ways to get around.

“I kept a car across the river to get into town,” he said, “and then when I thought, ‘Well, it can’t get any worse,’ then this house was washed down stream.”

Such random recollections well up in a person like Frank, and the conduit seems to be the tavern, which has stood in several forms in the same spot, under various owners, for the past 40 years.

Frank himself says he’s been to 49 states, excluding Hawaii, and worked for years in publishing, running a local TV guide in Utah for some years. He did radio spots for a living as well. Next, he comes around to explaining his affiliation with the Sandy VFW post.

“I was one of the first guys involved with the VFW post there, because the guy that was starting it told me I had to join,” he said.

“So you were in the service?” by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - The Brightwood Tavern is the defacto town center for this mountain community.

“Well, how else to you end up a member of a VFW post?”

Fair point.

“The guy told me I had to join, and that all it would take was $11,” explained Frank. “So I paid him the $11 and never did another thing with the post.”

Frank served with the 1st Infantry Division, Headquarters Company, in Germany during the early 1950s.

“I fought the Korean War in Europe,” he said. “And every time they wanted us to go out and play war, I would schedule a dental visit, so I didn’t have to go out and play war. It was freezing out there, and you know we were Headquarters Company, anyway. I got some real nice teeth out of the deal, though.”

While he tells his stories, more patrons wander in, and all of them call him by name. One man, who calls himself Dave the Tree Killer, jokes with Frank about the winter.

“I (**##) hate the snow,” says Frank. “The worst winter we had up here was 1969. People were snowed in for weeks. I had chains on my car from February to March.”

“It’s gonna be a big snow this year,” says Dave. “We’re overdue.”

“No no, we got the global warming now,” says Frank. “We’re like hot tamales.”

Just one more night, and maybe a prediction of snow, from the quiet, cozy cross-street that is Brightwood; a neighborhood of characters.