St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was a sun washed morning in West Oakland. The bell rang at ten minutes
before ten announcing worship was fixin’ to begin. The Church was an old wooden
building with a new coat of white paint on the corner of 89th and Telegraph with a steeple
pointing to heaven. Pastor Franklin greeted the member of the congregation as they
walked up the stairs to the vestibule. He had a broad smile and said, “Mornin’, welcome
to the Lord’s House.” The congregation consisted of ladies, children, and gentlemen
suitors. Most of the men folk didn’t have the gumption to leave a comfortable bed and
some were nursing a hangover. Young men courting a lady attended. At ten the organist
began to play “Rock of Ages.” The choir began to sing.
“Good morning brothers and sisters of Trinity Baptist Church. Join in and sing.
The Holy Ghost is a coming to fill your hearts. Praise God,” said Pastor Franklin.
“Praise God,” the congregation replied.
Ida and her mother Sarah attended each Sunday. The congregation and Pastor
Franklin respected Ida. because she was a college graduate, an independent black lady,
and helped those who couldn’t read or write. She was a blessing to the community.
Service consisted of readings from the Bible, singing hymns, and Pastor Franklin’s Sunday
morning come to Jesus sermon. He was appalled at the lack of men attending church,
and lectured about the backsliders who waited for others to carry their load, referring to
civil rights. Black men had to stand and be part of the movement. If they didn’t care about
the future of Blacks, then who would?
Service ended with the choir singing “Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.” Ida
waited for Pastor Franklin. He thanked each member and invited all to fellowship at the
end of the service. Ida approached him and asked if he knew a family who would qualify
to be foster parents for the three children in her custody. He said he would make inquiries.
Ida thanked Pastor Franklin and joined the congregation gathering in the meeting
hall. Sunday mornings consisted of church service followed by fellowship with the
congregation. It lasted two hours. Pastor Franklin had a fish fry at noon and all were
welcomed. The meal consisted of greens, cornbread, and fried fillets of batter-dipped
fish Lemonade was served. Ida and Sarah helped serve each Sunday. Pastor Franklin
made the rounds every Thursday and Friday to grocery stores to collect fish, vegetables,
and broken cookies for the Sunday meal. Many of the congregation donated their time
and money to the church. The church was their second family. Ida was serving cornbread
and cookies to the kids. She remembered what Hillard and Brown spoke about. Freedom,
if not now, then when? Pastor Franklin spoke about the black crusade for freedom. The
black mindset was changing to militant. Before black they were colored. Before colored
they were Negroes, and before that they were slaves. Was it a lack of will to fight back.
Years of frustration under the heel of the white man was a heavy load to carry. Ida
believed that education would make the difference. It would be her generation that would
step up and fight for civil rights.
It was Jim’s eighteenth birthday and Lupe cooked French toast and fried Mexican
sausage for breakfast. Scraps came by because he smelled the sausage, and pranced
around Lupe. Scraps had learned to discerning time with regard to breakfast and dinner.
Jim teased Lupe that soon Scrapes would start reading the Sunday paper instead of taking
of taking a dump on it. Scraps paid his dues and caught his fair share of mice.
After breakfast they went to church. On the way home from mass Jim told Lupe
about Suarez joining the team. Lupe said that his ex-girlfriend was dating a guy from
Riordan and wanted to meet Suarez. Jim told her that after the next game he would
introduce her to Suarez. They walked to Mission Street and Jim introduced Lupe to Tic
Tock's nineteen cent hamburgers burgers. A shakes was nineteen cents, and fries were
eleven cents. They dined for buck with change. Then they walked to Woolworth’s and
bought a bag of roasted peanuts for thirty cents. Every now and then there is a craving
that only that special something can satisfy. Lupe asked Jim if they could go back to
Woolworth’s and get a frozen banana. Bulls-eye. That hit the spot. Were that spot is
located is a mystery, but the frozen banana knew were the spot was. They walked to
Dolores Park and sat at their favorite bench. Jim faced Lupe and said, ”Now that I’m
eighteen, I have to sign up for the Selective Service.”
“Every eighteen year old male has to sign up with the Selective Service and in a
few months I’ll be taking a physical. Then I’ll get classified and anyone who is classified
1A is eligible for military service. Guys in college are 1Y, and guys like Suarez are 4F.
Anyone having a 1A status has about six months before getting drafted into the Army.
I shouldn’t have a problem because I’m going to college. If things get worse in Vietnam,
I’ll join the Navy. That’s safer than the jungle and the booby traps.”
“I don’t want you to go.”
“If I continue in college, get a masters, and we get married, I don’t think we have to
“I hope not. I know that they don’t take guys with kids.”
“When we get married, we’ll have a family. I don’t think we have to worry.”
Jim and Lupe spent the afternoon at the park watching kids flying their blue, red,
and yellow kites with long white tails that dodged and weaved in the sky. A man with a red
wagon pulled by a tan pony sold peanuts, candy, and pink popcorn. Lupe liked the pink
popcorn. The kids liked petting the pony. A lazy day in the park enjoyed by all. Shadows
from the trees were edging towards Jim and Lupe sitting on the bench. It was late
afternoon, and time to walk back to Lupe’s apartment. They arrived before five o’clock and
sat at the kitchen table. Jim looked at the clock and said, ”Any minute.” Scraps started
scratching the porch door. It was officially five o‘clock and Lupe opened the porch door
and a wooly ball fell at Lupe’s feet. “How’s my boy?” asked Lupe. Scraps pranced and
rubbed against Lupe’s legs for dinner. Jim sat and watched Lupe rub Scraps’ tummy while
Scraps did a back stroke and floated to kitty heaven each time. Jim was admiring Lupe
and he was sure that she was the lady that he would grow old with.
For Jim’s birthday Joe, Mary, Lupe, Rosa, and he went to his favorite place for
dinner, Dot and Al’s on Castro Street. Al always served Jim a big plate of veal cutlets
with corn, hot biscuits with honey, and mashed potatoes covered with brown gravy. Lupe
hadn’t eaten veal before and ordered the cutlets. Joe had the blue plate special: pot
roast. Mary and Rosa had fillet of sole. Al gave Jim a big slice of apple pie with two
scoops of vanilla ice cream. Lupe helped Jim finish the ice cream. Jim was uneasy all
night because the previous year everyone in the restaurant sang “Happy Birthday Day” to
him. He told Joe he would go only if Joe promised that no one would sing during dinner.
Joe kept his word, and as Jim and Lupe got up and started walking to the door, everyone
in the restaurant stood and sang “Happy Birthday Day” to Jim. Al sang the loudest and
Jim got embarrassed. Lupe hugged Jim. Joe said,” I kept my promise. We waited until
dinner was finished.”
Al walked over to Jim and said, “Happy Birthday Day.” He put his chef’s hat on
Jim and put his arm around him. Dot said, ”Smile.” The flash momentarily blinded a
bewildered looking Jim. It was a night to remember.
“Is that you, child?”
“How’s my girl?”
“Fine, mama.” Ida closed the front door and put her briefcase down. She hung her
coat in the closet.
“Guess who came by to pay us a visit just when I was making an apple pie?”
“Pastor Franklin. He walks in and says, ‘That sure smells might fine, Miss Sarah.
Is that apple pie I smell?’ and I say, sure enough. Sit a spell while it cools. He tells about
this family, the Johnsons. He wants you to meet them after service in the meeting hall.”
“I hope they qualify as foster parents. I‘ve been praying extra lately. I feel so sorry
for those kids, mama.”
“Child, you doing the best you can. Ain’t there no other place for them children?”
“They’re in the guest area in the back away from the others, mama.”
“Well let me finish up with what I was telling about. Pastor Franklin said the
Johnsons were good folks from East Texas. I think Brownsville. Well he said that they
never had kids and they’re in their early forties. Lester works for the railroad and Elsie
works at the paper factory. .Elsie’s mama lives with them and she can mind the kids after
school ‘till Elsie get home. They’re God fearing folks.”
“I know who you’re taking about Mama. They sit in the back in church and help
clean up after Sunday lunch. Mama, I think my prayers are answered.”
“I hope so child.”
Ida walked into the kitchen to get a glass of ice tea. She noticed that half of the
apple pie was gone. Pastor Franklin liked Sarah’s baking. Sweet potato pie was his
favorite. “Say, mama, can you bake a sweet potato pie for Pastor Franklin for Sunday
church service. I sure do appreciate what he’s one.”
“Sure enough, child.”
Ida opened the porch screen door and walked out to the old sofa on the shady side
of the porch. She sat, removed her shoes, and relaxed. The cool breeze from the bay
was soothing. Ida closed her eyes and drifted away from West Oakland to her fantasy
paradise in the South Pacific.
Friday St. Nick’s played Poly High School, one of the weaker teams, and won
11-2. Coach Meyer let Duke pitch five innings to get the win, and Mendez finished the
game. Woody played all of the game because Bobby’s foot was still sore from last weeks
injury. Woody got his first hit and the players no longer called him whoosh. After the game
Jim introduced Lupe to Suarez.
“Hi, my name is Gilberto, but you can call me Gil.”
“Hi, Gil, I’m Lupe. I went to all of the games last year and saw you play second
base. You were good.”
“He still is, Angel,” said Jim
“Thanks. I remember seeing you last year at the games. Jim’s a lucky guy.”
“Thanks, Gil,” said Jim.
“Well, hello. Are you Spanish?”
“Si, just south of the border,” said Woody.
“The guy gets his first hit, and now can speak Spanish. You’re amazing, Woody,”
Woody smiled and he and Suarez left Jim and Lupe.
“You guys call each other by your last names, but Augie and Duke?” said Lupe.
“I never thought about it. Maybe because they’re leaders.”
“How about Woody?”
“He’s not an Outlaw. He’s one of the guys on the team.”
“What’s the difference?”
“He wasn’t there the day it began. He just started on the team.”
“I guess you have to earn it.”
“Yeah, Angel. It takes time to earn respect and trust. A player thinks about the
team, not himself, and each player pays the price of sacrifice to be a champion. I love you,
and I respect Augie. It’s a bond, a promise I made to you and guys like Augie. I gave you
my heart and I gave the team my soul.”
Lupe hugged Jim and they walked to the bus stop to catch the 37 Corbett. It was
daylight savings time and the sun gave an extra hour of light. Jim and Lupe arrived at
her apartment just as the sun set.
St. Nick’s was undefeated. They had beat Saint Ignatius. If they beat them again,
then they would have swept S.I. in all three sports. St. Nick’s had won the first half of the
baseball season. Ten down six to go. If they won the next four games, they would win the
“There’s a letter from Santa Clara on your bed,” said Mary. She hoped it was good
news. Jim was excited but nervous. He walked into the bedroom. It was a white
envelope with a mission printed in red ink alongside the return address. Jim sat by the bed
and held the letter for a couple of minutes. He was nervous. Inside of the envelope was
either good news or disappointment. If it wasn’t meant to be then so be it. He opened the
envelope and the first word he saw was “Congratulations!” Jim’s heart began to pound. It
continued to say the he was accepted and needed to reply by the end of May to reserve a
seat for the freshman year at University of Santa Clara, September, 1964. Jim called Lupe
and told her the goods news. She was happy for him. Then Jim walked into the kitchen
with the letter and showed it to his mother. “I’m proud of you, son.”
Joe opened the refrigerator and offered Jim a beer. “Congratulations, son.” They
sat at the kitchen table and Joe read the letter. “ You’re the first one in the family to go to
college. When will you find out about the scholarship from the Son’s of Italy?”
“In a couple of weeks, dad. I guess it’s okay to have a beer once in a while.”
“Sure. Now that you’re going to college you’ll have more responsibilities,”
Jim and Joe sat for a while and savored the moment. Jim called Lupe again and
they talked for a half an hour about their future. When Jim went to bed he said, ”Thank
More next week...