Author: Judd, Brooks

Don’t cook tonight call Chicken Delight; or how my Sicilian surrogate Auntie Frances almost made me a priest

(Editor’s Note—Bluegrass content? Well, B. Judd is a stand-up bass player in a bluegrass band called the Fog Valley Drifters.)

Part 1

First a little background.

At the age of 59 ¾ in April 2008 I took an early retirement from work. I wouldn’t be bringing home a weekly check (other than my subbing check from the local school district) and I got curious when I did start to bring home a weekly paycheck. I rummaged around and found my yearly social security statement and saw that my first actual checks were from 1964, my sophomore year at Hayward High School. They were from Chicken Delight. Actually I had been bringing home money much earlier than 1964. I began earning money while I was in 4th grade at the ripe old age of 10.

I had an Oakland Tribune paper route. I lived at one end of Highland Blvd in Hayward. Highland Blvd. started at Mission Blvd (or at the bottom of the hill to the locals) and ran up past my house up to Highland School about 50 yards from my house. Highland School was my alma mater K-6.

My paper route began a few houses down from my home on Highland Blvd and ended up about a mile farther on down the road. I didn’t use a bicycle on my route I preferred to walk. It was easier for me to make sure that my papers were always porched. I thought it was a sin to leave a paper on the lawn or in someone’s petunias.

Sunday deliveries were the best. I hated to get up early on Sunday mornings to do my route so I decided on another plan of action. An old green bobtail truck with chains hanging down the back of the truck, replacing the roll up door, would drop off the Sunday papers at about 2 A.M. Sunday morning. I wouldn’t go to bed Saturday night. I would wait for the truck to come. The Sunday papers were huge and were accompanied by inserts (ads) which I would have to manually insert into the main paper. Along with the rest of the ads each Sunday Tribune weighed about 3 pounds. It would take about 30 minutes to place the inserts in all the papers and to count the stack to make sure all my papers were there.

The papers were too big to be carried in the normal heavy cloth paper bags we all used, so my father, who was a welder-machinist, made a two wheel cart out of steel that stood about four feet high that was shaped like a tall lean triangle. It was narrow at the top and at the bottom was a metal plate the unfolded papers could rest on. I would start my route about 2:45 A.M. in the morning. When I got to each house I would carefully grab a Tribune and walk up the door. I would gently lay the paper face up facing the door so when my customer opened their door they could look down and the first thing they would see would be the Sunday morning Tribune headlines.

I would get back from my rout about 4-4:30 in the morning, and I would make a breakfast of hot chocolate and toast. I would read the Tribune (and the Chronicle) and go to bed about 5 A.M. I loved the stillness and solitude of the early morning hours and the quiet of those Sunday mornings was something that even as a young boy I could truly appreciate.

The Tribune didn’t send you a pay check. They did send you a monthly bill based on how many papers you were sent. You, as the paper boy, had the job of going to your customers once a month, usually at night to “collect” what your customers owed you. After collecting from all of your customers you would have your parents write a check to the Tribune and the money that was left over was yours. Making sure I put all the papers on my customers porch insured that I did receive my fair share of tips when I made my monthly collections which of course added to my earnings. It was a good business practice.
In 6th grade I realized that my paper route wasn’t providing me enough cash to live my lifestyle. There were baseball and football cards to purchase, weekly movies to go to at the Hayward or Ritz Theaters on Mission Blvd. in downtown Hayward and I also needed to add to my collection the latest 45 releases from Bobby Darin or the 4 Seasons. As I would do my daily route I would notice lawns that didn’t seem to get mowed regularly. I would pay these people a visit and hire myself out to take care of their lawns. This worked out for a while but it still didn’t provide enough capital.

I started asking some of my other customers if they needed any yard work done. I was surprised at how many people said yes. Come Saturday I would don my work gloves, put on an old pair of cutoff Levis, tie a bright red handkerchief (borrowed from my dads top dresser drawer in my parents bedroom) around my neck, lace my tennies up tight, grab my hoe, rake and shovel and march on down to the work site.

As I surveyed what had to be done I would look at the morning sky, smile and begin working. Mostly it would be weed pulling, raking, more weed pulling, more raking etc. Sweat would cascade down my face, trickle lazily around my neck onto my dirt covered tee shirt. I enjoyed working alone amid the dirt, weeds, and dust.

At the end of the day my employer would take out their check book and carefully write out my check. They would then hand me the check and I would stare down at the name written on the check, BROOKS JUDD, in big bold blue letters. It stood out like a neon light. I would then look lovingly at the amount. Wow! I was rich! I would carefully fold the check and gently place it in my Woolworths wallet. I thanked my employer and headed home as the sun slowly began to disappear into the shimmering San Francisco Bay. I was earning my keep and I was only 12 years old.

I told you that so I could tell you this. When I was in 8th grade, 1962 for those of you who are counting, I began my working relationship with my next door neighbor, Frances Tingley or more commonly known as Auntie Frances. She was a mad hatter Sicilian, a financial wizard, who had the energy of three tsunamis. She had purchased one of the very first Chicken Delight restaurants that were built in the Bay Area. She bought the store as an investment and a way for her three sons Steve, Frank and George to earn money.

Steve was three years older than me, Frank was two years older than me, and the musical prodigy George, the youngest, was two years younger than me. Auntie Frances was a dyed in the wool Roman Catholic and she felt it was her duty and calling to have one of her sons enter into the priest hood. She took this very seriously. But it wasn’t in the cards.

Steve was a track star, who loved women, Frank spent most of his time reading, and George spent all his time mastering the violin, piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar etc. There was no time for her sons to become priests. Auntie Frances set her fiery brown Sicilian eyes on her next best bet, me.

More to come…….
Posted:  7/13/2008

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