On a morning in March 1997, a teenager awakened to his father, who was about to be set on fire, fighting for his life.
Francesco “Frankie” Granieri, 41, was 19 when his mentally ill mother attempted to kill her husband by throwing gasoline on his face, followed by a match, in their Linwood home.
This horrific experience led Granieri to write a memoir called “Pavarotti and Pancakes,” published in March 2018.
In 1999, Frankie Granieri was a student at what is now Stockton University. He was studying abroad for a semester in Argentina, where he attended a concert starring Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian opera singer, who sang “O Sole Mio,” or “My Own Sunshine.”
The performance inspired him.
“What I determined is I was meant to write a book,” he said. “Because when I was younger, one of the happiest memories I have is of my mother making pancakes, my father listening to the same type of music that Pavarotti was performing and us eating pancakes for breakfast.”
He spent the next 20 years working on the memoir.
“It took me 23 drafts in total. The first two drafts were very emotional,” he said.
A series of attacks
Ann Granieri, his mother, thought police, doctors and her own family were conspiring against her. In 1995, she attempted suicide with a knife, aspirin and a bottle of Pine-Sol, her son remembered.
Two years later, Frank Granieri, his father, found a knife hidden in a magazine the day before the gasoline attack. She later admitted the knife was for another suicide attempt.
The same day, a family friend expressed her concerns about Ann Granieri’s behavior. Ann’s sister agreed to temporarily take her in until Frank Granieri could check her into a mental health facility. It soon became clear she did not want to leave home.
Her husband hid all their kitchen knives.
The next morning, in their master bedroom, Ann Granieri was found holding an 8-ounce glass of gasoline, which she threw onto her husband’s face, the book describes.
“Have you ever gone to a gas station on a hot summer day and the fumes of the gasoline, you know, are offensive?” Frankie Granieri asked. “Imagine that it’s in your mouth, your nose, your ears, your face, your eyes.”
Soon after, Frankie Granieri and his two brothers arrived from down the hall. The event turned into a wrestling match among the five of them to prevent Frank Granieri from being set ablaze.
“She was not arrested. She was taken away in an ambulance,” Frankie Granieri said. “They (the police) knew that they were dealing with a mentally unstable person. This wasn’t a criminal. She committed a criminal act.”
His mother had been diagnosed over the years with dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She had been sexually and emotionally abused as a child, “and she never properly worked through all that,” which is why Frankie wants his memoir to raise awareness of mental health, and those who have been abused.
After being estranged from his mother for many years, Frankie Granieri said he visited her in 2007, on her 70th birthday. She died 90 days later.
“I ended up legally changing my middle name to my mother’s first name,” Frankie Granieri said, adding he doesn’t want others to think his family saw her as a “monster.”
Frankie Granieri graduated from Mainland Regional High School in 1995.
From 2003 to 2014, he was a Spanish teacher at Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township. Today, he is a full-time graphics coordinator for ESPN. Granieri currently lives in El Segundo, California, though he added he mostly lives on the road and stays in Northfield when he has extended time off.
“Pavarotti and Pancakes” is available on Amazon and Kindle.