Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rest in Peace, Papa Frank

He wasn't my first boss, in fact I had a few jobs before our paths crossed.  I had worked for my Uncle selling his corn and vegetables at a stand, I had delivered papers, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and even worked unloading trucks and bagging vegetables for the local produce wholesaler.  So I had other jobs, but I guess I will always consider my job at Papa Franks, my "first" job.  The Social Security Administration seems to agree with me when they send me my updates, because the first year they became aware of me, I worked for Frank. 

     I stalked him to get the job, I really did.  It was something of a family tradition for the Yargers to work at Papa Frank's in Canandaigua.  I think 4 of my siblings had worked for Frank prior to me, but in 1980 that was my only goal, to get hired there.   My brother would come home sometimes late at night from work and bring me a meatball sub that had been made an hour or so earlier.  The sauce had all soaked into the roll, the meatballs were tepid, and the cheese cooled, but I thought I was in heaven. I wanted to be part of that process that could produce such goodness, so I stalked the place.  I would go there after my produce job and hang out and play pinball.  Each time I would ask Frank if he needed anything done.  He let me paint one time, and shovel another, and finally since he couldn't really hire me, he let me fold the pizza boxes for a few hours each day.  After a few months of this, he had a need for someone behind the counter and I was almost old enough, so I got hired.  The lesson here Grasshopper is, if you want it, work for it.  This was my first lesson in perseverance.

     I won't canonize Frank, he was, put bluntly, an imperfect person.  He smoked cigars, he was not with his wife any longer, he infrequently went to church, he drank, he missed a few tax payments, he had a temper, and the list goes on.  For me it was easy to look beyond the faults though, because he treated me and everyone who worked there so well.  He was the most generous boss I ever had.  The first Christmas I worked there he handed me my pay envelope and there was an extra week's pay in it, in cash!  I had no expectation of a bonus, but there it was.  He was like that.  Sometimes he'd grab me and we'd go for a ride somewhere, maybe to a restaurant he knew or to look at a car he wanted to buy, but I was on the clock and he was teaching all the time.  When shopping for a car, he would tell the salesman to "sharpen his pencil once".  If Frank didn't like the price, he walked.  He would not entertain any other offers after that, you had your chance for his business and you had lost it.  The next time he came in you gave him your best price first.

      I remember having a crush on a woman that came in almost every week.  I worked in the back of the restaurant but if Frank spotted her, he's always call everyone off the register, call me up and let me ring her out.  What kind of boss would interrupt his business to let the greasy teenager in the back of the place come up and flirt with the customers? Frank would. He would let us play cards in his place after work.  He'd let me call the type of night.  He's say "Willie, do you think the balloon is going up tonight?" and I'd offer a yea or nay.  This was his colloquialism for "Are we drinking tonight"?  He lived vicariously through a lot of us, always asking about our happenings and wanting to be involved in the frivolity.  He was a fun boss.  No one there "had" to work Holidays, they "got" to work Holidays.  We would sometimes close early and Frank would fire up the stove in back and do fried smelt or pasta Aglio e olio (I still eat mine this way today).  We'd laugh and eat and drink and then "have" to go home.  I never wanted to, I was having too much fun at work.  I've heard the speech from bosses many times about their places being more of a family than a workplace, but the only time that was ever true was Papa Franks.

     My third summer there, he was going to put a hot dog cart in Kershaw Park and let me work it.  He took me to the City Council meetings to try and get the deal done, and to show me the political process, but in the end it didn't happen.  I had dreamed of watching all the bikini clad girls at the beach while working and I am not sure Frank wasn't more disappointed for me than I was for myself.  He was like that too.  One time I went into work and some girls had made me a sign that said "Willie's Wonderful Wings".  I had been promoted to the fryer early on in my Papa Frank career and got pretty good at it. Frank let me hang the sign and soon customers were calling in to order wings that way.  I learned about rewarding and recognizing achievement from Frank, even if it was as simple as a hand drawn sign. 

     I could fill pages with stories from these days, because each day was an adventure in itself.  I still keep in touch with some of my co-workers and I always stop and talk about the old days at Papa Franks when I see any one of them out.  In fact I sleep with one most nights, you see my wife worked there too.  We had talked about having a reunion some day, and I'm afraid we will, at Frank's wake.  I am sure each and every one of my Canandaigua friends have their own special stories of Papa Frank's from the other side of the counter, it was a great spot to make memories.  I wish you all could have worked for him, so you could have known him like those who did. 

     On this day I heard of my boss's passing, my wish is simple.  God, let Frank into your grace, for all he did, for all his generosity, for all he taught.  Please overlook his faults and grant him comfort eternally.  You won't regret it, he cooks great.  I'm in Hartford tonight, but I think the balloon will go up here in Frank's memory.  Rest in Peace, Papa Frank.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling your story... I know I will never forget him... afterall, the reason I am here today is because of him (my parents met there). He was a great man and I will miss seeing him around and on the pier, where he did eventually get his hot dog stand! RIP Papa Frank.

Jennifer Simmons said...

I am very sorry hear about papa frank's passing. My husband will be crushed. RIP Papa Frank!

cdyarger said...

I will always have a special place in my heart for Papa Frank. RIP Frank!

Jeanne Mangiarella Camar said...

He was our neighbor for years, my boss, and my friend forever.He was one of the greats, next ot my dad lol.
I will love and miss you... you will are and always be Papa Frank...

Love u always
Jeanne Mangiarella Camar