After a vacation of more than 30 years, Farmer Frank is back to work.
Being a scarecrow, he scares crows, of course, but his main job is to bring smiles.
As he was from the late 1970s to at least the mid-’80s, Frank is perched atop a pole in a cornfield, grinning at motorists who drive past on South Carpenter Road, southwest of Ceres. A few years after first appearing among the stalks, he “mysteriously” (wink wink, nudge nudge) began waving, says the family on whose land he stands.
Because he’s real.
Isabella Michelena, 8, on how the scarecrow Farmer Frank is able to wave
So, why did Farmer Frank rise again? “I did it for my children, and I wanted him back for my grandchildren,” Eldora Avila said Friday about working with her husband, Martin, to create Frank decades ago and welcoming him back now.
Frank returned to the cornfield Tuesday, just in time for the start of the school year at Westport Elementary, right across the street. He generally goes up when the corn stalks get to a certain height, then is taken down right before harvesting in late September or early October.
Friday morning, the Avilas, their children, a son-in-law and eight grandchildren were at the home in the 5200 block of South Carpenter to talk about Frank, then and now.
“On back-to-school night, we saw parents with their cameras,” said the Avilas’ daughter Jeanene Michelena, who attended Westport for some of the years Frank was originally up, and whose older children go there now. “My sister (Heather Fraser) has seen people pull over, do U-turns and take video. My dad has been out here and saw a couple of truck and trailers go by and honk their horns.”
Michelena recalls her and her Westport classmates’ excitement at being able to see Frank from school. The same thing is happening for her kids now, she said. She and her husband, Jim, have five children: Joshuah, 10, Isabella, 8, Tiffany, 6, Felicity, 4, and Eli, 2.
They and their cousins – Heather and Charles Fraser’s children, Sadie, 4, Jocelyn, 3, and Zélie, 16 months – have enjoyed being part of Frank’s return, including picking out clothing and getting him dressed for work.
“I think it’s really cool because I’ve never really seen him” except in old photos, Joshuah said of having Frank as part of the family again.
Frank once wore Martin Avila’s hand-me-downs, but now has his own duds. “We had to get some new clothes,” Jeanene Michelena said. “He’s (Frank, not Martin) gotten a little bigger in the midsection, we noticed, as the years have gone by.”
He must have been eating well in the land of Oz, which is where the family figures Frank’s been vacationing the past three decades. Michelena said she knew of no particular reason for the vacation other than things get busy on the farm.
The Avilas and their children enjoy keeping an air of magic and mystery around Frank.
How is it that he waves? An electric motor?
“As my daughter says, he waves because he’s alive,” Jeanene Michelena said. “It’s always been something, we don’t know, he started waving in 1980, my parents said. They always said, ‘We don’t know – he just went up one year and started waving.”
“As they said,” added her husband, Jim, “he uses his brains.”
“Must have been Oz,” said Jeanene, where another, slightly more famous scarecrow, got that gift from a wonderful wizard.
Frank’s putting those brains to good use. He’s even started a Facebook page.
And his field duties extend beyond keeping pests away. “He even helps me irrigate, tells me where the water is, tells me when it’s time to change,” Jim Michelena said.
Eldora Martin says Frank earns his keep through the smiling and waving alone. “It’s a good feeling” having him back, she said, looking up at him Friday. “It’s a very, very good feeling. It’s like he never left.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327