St. Peter was retired last night around 6:15 PM. The reason why he was replaced as the keeper of the pearly gates is that a four-foot eleven- inch giant from Dallas, Texas arrived in heaven. Ann Todora showed up with her authoritarian walk. She is the perfect substitute for him because she has the qualities needed for the job. Ann is kind, gentle, fair, and fierce all at the same time.
Ann was small in size, but huge in stature. She can give you one look, and have you sized up. If she liked, you then you will be allowed to pass through the gates and go to heaven. If she really likes you might receive one of her famous cakes as well. If she did not like you, well, you know where you will go!
To say that there was something special about Ann Todora is an understatement. If you had the pleasure of knowing her then you may recall your brush with greatness. I am sure everyone who knew her has a story or two that they could tell about Ann Todora.
She had a strength about her that was uncommon and magnetic at the same time. It did not matter who you were she treated you the same. “Well, who are you?” she would say. Rich or poor she was not impressed with your station in life. It was your character and attitude that impressed her and not your position. She loved people and made everyone feel welcome in her presence.
She could be intimidating to a person she just met. You might not know where you stand because her greeting was rough and then she turned away because she was busy. You might think she was angry with you and you might be saying to yourself, “Did I do something wrong?” Her next words to you were probably, “Do you want a sandwich? Mustard or Mayonnaise?” This was just Ann being Ann!
You did not know it, but you just became part of the family. Count yourself lucky because it was a privilege. She accepted you and the bond created was permanent.
I cannot remember a time in my life when the family did not want to know her opinion about a topic that affected all of us. She was the matriarch of the family and this is a time for all of us to regroup. Our loss is huge. It will take us time. It was common to say, “What did Ann say about it?” Her approval was important.
Ann was born on St. Patrick’s Day, but her luck did not come because she was born on an Irish holiday. It was hard work and a lot of prayer that brought her success. She worked day and night to earn a living.
My Aunt Ann and her husband, Frank, started a business with virtually nothing. They bought a store on Greenville Ave. in Dallas in the early 1960’s and started selling sandwiches to the locals in the area. I am sure the sandwiches were simple. Two pieces of bread and a hot link with mustard was one of the standards they offered. They had no idea their sandwiches and store would become Dallas legends.
Parkit Market has become a landmark in Dallas. It is not just for the sandwiches or keg beer they sell. It is because in a complex world this place offers a little bit of sanity. The store is a place where you can meet the owners and feel you are part of the family. It is an atmosphere that Ann and Frank created a long time ago and remains today.
Frank and Ann raised their seven children partially on the corner of University and Greenville in Dallas. All of them contributed to the business and the public knew them well. Times have changed and their store and other businesses have adapted to an evolving society. This could not have happened without the foresight and leadership of Ann. There is no doubt about her commitment and drive were an essential part of the family’s success.
Ann joins her husband, Frank, her son, Chris, her parents, and her sisters in heaven. I am sure there was a crowd of other family members and acquaintances there to greet her when she arrived. If you pause a moment you might hear the joy of the family in heaven as they are reunited. I am sure she went straight to the kitchen and put on her apron while the others were laughing and having a good time.
It must be like the good old days that we knew. There is a lot of laughing and joking going on up there. My Aunt Josephine is sitting on my grandfather’s lap with a big smile and giggling. The stories being told, and the off-color jokes are told over and over again!
Ann is not resting. She has to many things to do. Ann never stopped when she was alive and there is no reason to think she is idle today.
We knew this day would come when we would all gather to say goodbye to her. My mother preceded her just over a year ago and she was sitting in the audience while I stood here eulogizing her. She listened to my talk and must have thought she would soon join her. It was not something any of us talked about, but we knew the reality that was near us. It was more than a whisper among us. Our greatest fear is now a reality.
My mother and my Aunt Ann talked every day and I am sure they are glad to be together again along with their sister, Josephine. The three of them were best friends and I am sure their reunion was joyous. My mother may have nudged her when it came time for her to pass. I can hear her now saying “Ann, Ann, it is time to go!”
If you knew my mother and her sister, it may have been in a much louder voice! She probably said, “What do you mean, Go? I am not ready.” My mother was her biggest fan and listen to her advice religiously. Ann and her sister were pretty tight!
It was that you did not hear them when they spoke. It was the intimidation factor that made their statements urgent! Ann spoke with great authority and when she wanted your attention you knew it. “Did you hear me?” Yes, I did. I am still shaking.
Memories of Ann
Children loved my Aunt Ann. She was always willing to babysit and help in a pinch. The problem was that when it was time to go home, the children wanted to stay. It might have been the cookies or the number of things to do at her house. The kids did not mind her tough demeanor that could scare the roughest adult.
The kids were always wild at Ann’s. It did not bother her. She let them do pretty much what they wanted to do. Yes, she would yell at them when necessary. It did not bother them. They just took everything in stride.
It was the parents that were a little sad when picking up their kids because there was usually a fight when it was time to go home. Parents wondered what it was that she did that made them so defiant about leaving her. The children knew something intangible that cannot be duplicated.
You might think twice about leaving your kids with Ann. They might not want to go home. It was just too much fun being at Aunt Ann’s or Gigi to some.
Ann did not like people to know her age. She kept her age a mysterious to many but sooner or later it was known. It was difficult for her to accept aging, but time started to wear on her. She remained graceful through it all.
Christmas was special growing up because of Ann. The entire family gathered at her house and no one left without a present. The event took precedence over our own family because the holiday was not complete until we went to Ann’s. The food was endless, and the camaraderie created memories for a lifetime. The celebration was something that every child should experience in their young life.
Ann did not mind men having a mustache, but she did not like beards. She would let you know it by saying “you look short.” I was never sure what that meant but I knew it was not good. It was just another Ann’ism that will be unforgettable. I was always a little apprehensive visiting her when I had one of my periodic beards that I grow because I knew she would comment on it.
When Ann was in her early 90’s she made cakes for the old people that lived in the home down the street. She gave away hundreds of cakes to the church for fund raising and she sold hundreds more for the store. It was just a knack for her to figure out ways to make money for her needs and to help others.
Stories about Ann are not just told by my generation. Her siblings had numerous stories about her as a child. One of them was that her father would send her to the bank when he could not pay his note. She dutifully told the bankers about the situation and they understood.
She came to Dallas with her mother, father, and three siblings from Kansas City. Her father lost his job because he could not speak English. It did not stop him. He eked out a living because of his determination to succeed. Ann may have gotten some of her drive from him.
There was a story about her throwing a rock at another child when she was in elementary school. The parents of the other child called the police and they investigated the situation. When they saw the tiny little girl they just laughed and went on their way. It must have been a memory for them to tell their fellow officers. What were they going to do with a tiny child? Arrest her? It was just Ann seeking her form of justice and a harbinger of things to come.
The years made Ann more charming and precious to all of us. She had her expressions that we will miss. It was at the point that we waited for one of her famous remarks. They were always short, fierce, and to the point. One of them was “Gah!” You were not sure if she just told you to “go to hell” or something else. If you were around her enough you would find yourself laughing. She will be missed.
Connection with Ann
My Aunt Ann Todora was such a unique individual. She was like a second mother to her Grandchildren and her nieces and nephews. We felt she cared for us like her own children and we respected her like a mother. She was always interested in the things we did and there was comfort knowing how much she cared for us. She would tease me and let me know that she was my favorite aunt. She placed me on the spot one day when I was a youngster and wanted me to sign a school picture saying, “To my favorite Aunt.”
She wanted me to do it in front of my other aunts. Fortunately for me I had other pictures and I signed all of them to my other aunts with “to my favorite aunt.” Ann just laughed but I escaped that day saving me from the wrath of my other aunts. I think my Aunt Ann was impressed with my clever response and she called me “a dirty dog.” I just smiled. She never let me forget it and it remained a joke between us!
Modern Day Saint
They say no one is perfect but Ann did her best to do the right thing. She was devoted to St. Jude and encouraged others to be devoted to him. Ann was deeply religious, and her faith was important to her. My mother told me that Ann was the reason she went to church when she was a child. She was a motivator even in those days.
She was a patroness for her parish church and was always willing to lend a hand whenever she could. St. Jude’s chapel in downtown Dallas is a better place because of her. She donated a statue of him to the chapel. She was a faithful supporter of St. Jude’s hospital as well.
We do not think of people being Saints in today’s world. The people called saints seem so distant from us, but in their day, they had qualities like Ann. They were deeply religious people who were not perfect but had memorable traits. They were self-less, positive, and a little eccentric. They always tried to make the best of things and do good for others.
Ann was always helping someone. It was usually in private. She was known for her cakes, but no one really knows how many people she helped. I do not know her to turn any one down who was really in need. If she could help, she would. She always seemed to have few bucks to slip you. You had to accept her gifts and just let Ann be Ann. I do not know if there are any miracles that can be attributed to Ann, but her presence was a miracle to us.
The quake in the force of our lives has taken place with her passing, and now we must carry on with her memory. We will speak of her for the rest of our lives. She gave us so much. We will miss the holidays at her house and the energy she gave to all of us. The magical 98 years plus of her life are now over.
I hope someone in her family will write a book about her because you cannot capture the breath of her personality and character with just a few words. So much was memorable, and it should not be forgotten. She was a model of dignity, character, and class.
St. Peter may not lose his job completely because Ann Todora has arrived, but if he wants to take some time off, he need not worry. Ann will not miss a beat. The people she judges may not even realized what just happened. It will just be Ann being Ann and all will be well.
The little giant from Dallas, Texas will be remembered for the good she brought into our lives. There is no replacement for her, and our lives are forever changed. She has left us a guide to follow for the future if we choose to follow it, but she is a tough act to mimic. I know I will think of her in the future and say to myself, “What would Aunt Ann do?”
There is much more that can be said about Ann Todora, but it would truly take all day. I can only hit some highlights of her special life. It was truly a privilege to know her.
Aunt Ann we know you are still with us in spirit and want you to know that you were a model for all of us. You were humble, kind, and had a strong character. A bigger than life person that will forever be in our memory. Aunt Ann we love you and want you to rest in peace. Thank you for all the memories you gave us. You will always be treasured.
Finally, I want to end this eulogy with the farewell song from the Carol Burnett Show.
I am so glad we had this time together,
Just to have a laugh or sing a song.
Seems we just get started and before you know it.
Comes the time to say goodbye.
We love you! So long until we meet again.