Auntie Frances, Part Two

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(Editor’s Note:  A few days ago, on one of our fifth-week-days-of-the-month, i.e., an unassigned Welcome day, we ran a piece by Brooks Judd about his Aunt Frances;  it was subtitled “Part One.”  Well we’ve had some requests for Part Two, so here goes.  This column is from 2010.  the Welcome column Brooksie wrote for this morning will run in January)

My Auntie Frances

I jokingly and adoringly refer to her as my crazy Sicilian Auntie Frances who I love and cherish. She was neither crazy (on the contrary, crazy like a fox) nor my aunt. She is full blooded Sicilian, staunch Catholic, has a mind like a steel trap ,was one of the first women in our county to cross the gender line in owning and operating one of the first Chicken Delight’s, (a newly created take out-delivery concept) and later on would become an extremely successful real estate broker. For reasons unknown she took a special liking and interest in me and treated me like another son. (She has three of her own.) I think she had hopes at least one of her sons would become a priest. All three sons were successful in their own career decisions but neither one of them chose the path to the priesthood. Enter the priest plot, Auntie Frances and Brooks.

It was Christmas and I was in the seventh grade when Auntie Frances would instruct me to dress up in my best clothes because it was time to make our pilgrimage to All Saints Church, the cavernous Catholic Church located on Second Street in Hayward to offer up our prayers for the nine days of Novena. After our prayer sessions we would convene with the rest of her family at her home (just three doors down from where I lived) and I would observe as she expertly mixed the spices and meat to create Sicilian Sausage and then lovingly place the spicy sausage generously on top of a thick fresh layer of mozzarella and other spices to create one of the best home made sausage pizzas I had ever eaten.

In the eighth grade she put me to work at Chicken Delight showing me how to mix the batter to prepare the chicken for deep frying. A year later her husband, Stephen Sr., patiently taught me how to clean and filter the deep frying machines in the restaurant. By the end of my sophomore year Aunt Frances had painstakingly taught me how to run the store, from the cooking of the chicken, ribs, shrimp, fish, pizza, French fries, to taking orders on the four constantly ringing phones, getting the food prepared, and setting up the drivers with their delivery orders and their “starting money.” In many instances she would hand over the keys to the store and I would have the responsibility of opening and closing the store. I was sixteen years old at the time, the youngest person working at the store, (We had drivers in their 30’ thru 50’s working there.) Auntie Frances trusted me and that trust rubbed off on me.

In my senior year I was working 5 days a week for Auntie Frances and one day in December she asked if I would like the week-end off. I grabbed at the offer. There was one small catch. Auntie Frances made all the arrangements, paid the pricey cost, and was willing to escort me to and from the beautiful San Damiano Retreat Facility in the Danville Hills. The occasion was a “silent retreat” for high school boys. (Auntie Frances had now officially sweetened the Priest Plot) Only the priests were allowed to talk. We were allowed to speak only during our sweat induced 30 minutes spent in the stuffy confines of the darkened wooden confessional box. Coming home Sunday night with Auntie Frances I came away from the retreat experience spirit filled with a sense of rebirth. But after a few weeks most of the spirituality had worn off and I returned to my nihilistic 17 year old ways.

A year later Aunt Frances felt it was time to stoke my spiritual fires once again. Another retreat. But, this time is was co-ed and it was for college students who were seeking inspiration and had entertained thoughts of joining the clergy. It was to be held at the beautiful Mills College in Oakland. I met some wonderful people there, and listened to some great motivational speakers. After lights out, a few of us spent way too much time putting together a plan to sneak out and purchase forbidden six packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon. We were not successful. After three days at the retreat I once again felt rejuvenated much like I had the year before. But sadly after Aunt Frances had driven me home reality set in and the retreat was nothing but a fond memory. I think the priest plot ended there.

I moved out from my downstairs basement room after that into an apartment with a co-worker. A couple of years after that I married my lovely wife Sheila. I didn’t see Auntie Frances but a few times at all over all these rapidly passing years.

Auntie Frances taught me how work could be fun. She accepted me for who I was and was always there when I needed her. She was like a second mother to me. Did she really want me to become a priest? I don’t know. I know she loved me and the Catholic Church and maybe she thought the Church and I should get together.

Auntie Frances, you are in my thoughts, I love you, thank you, and may God Bless you.
Until next time: Read a book, smile at someone, and in the words of the late-great Warren Zevon: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

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