Freezers and Fires

My sister Susie sent me a short note the other day to let me know that Tom Noonan was dead.  He was 71.  From her perch in Green Bay, Susie sends me the local news from time to time as well as the information about the people we knew while growing up who have passed on to the great beyond.  The news about Tom though was unusual.  At first, my mind drew a blank and I didn’t even remember who he was.  Then, slowly and with a sigh, I realized I knew quite a bit about him.

In our teenage years, dad had a rule about working, which was that his kids could and should work but said employment had to be within walking distance from our house.   The eldest, Kiki, got the first job at Hardee’s (, then Susie did and then I did.  We took orders and flipped burgers in our brown-and-orange uniforms and more importantly, stayed within a four-block radius of home. During my tenure at Hardee’s, I was quickly promoted from order-taker to burger-cooker and that is when I ran squarely in to Tom Noonan.

Tom was the owner-operator of the Monroe Street franchise where we worked.  It was ironic that we worked at a greasy fast food place with an even greasier owner. As far as we saw, Tom didn’t work much, smoked cigarettes like a fiend and more than certainly was having a torrid affair with his wife’s sister, who also worked at Hardee’s.  It was scum all around.

And so it should not have been a surprise that day when I went into the stainless steel meat cooler to grab some frozen patties and I felt those greasy arms grab me from behind.  I shrieked and dropped the hamburger patties to the floor.  “What the…..?” came my stunned response as I recoiled to the far end of the freezer room.  He laughed and exhaled a puff of cold air.  “Yeah, we couldn’t have done it in here or we would have melted the patties,” he said as he walked out of the cooler.  Enraged and embarrassed, I grabbed my time card, punched out and briskly walked the four blocks home. 

When dad came home from work that night I told him the story.  “And you won’t be going back to work at Hardee’s again,” he said calmly.  Tom’s fate was sealed. 

Later that night, dad pulled out his electric typewriter and typed off the first of many missives to the President of Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc., complaining about Tom Noonan in general and being sure to make mention of time when there was garbage outside the facility or a light was missing from the bright orange Hardee’s marquee sign.  The letters didn’t stop until Tom either found employment elsewhere or was told to seek other employ.  Dad’s letter-writing campaign lasted about two years but I imagine he would have continued for 10 or more if that’s what it would have required to get results.

What’s interesting to me in thinking about Tom Noonan’s death is how dad went to bat for me.  In all the years he lived, dad never once talked about my burn accident or injury.  Yet I always knew he was on my side.  When I think about resolution, I’ve come to understand that people do the best they can.  With people we love, we accept what they are able to give us.  In my case, I wish he would have been more forthcoming during life because it would have helped me decode my own mysteries.

What do you think?

On the topic of Tom Noonan, my sense is he died of lung cancer although the obituary didn’t give a cause of death.  There was a picture accompanying the obit and Tom looked greasy as ever.


  1. Love your Dad! He made sure Tom was obliterated and you knew how much your Dad loved you….he was on your team. Actions speak louder than words.

    xo Sheila


  2. Wow – this was a rare look into your childhood days Anne. I found it fascinating to hear the support your received and the lessons you obviously learned about how to “get it done.” He taught you a lot using this strategy. Obvioulsy he was not a man of many words but a man who loved his children deeply and stood behind them fully. You embrace these qualities not only with your family but in your working world as well. Woulda – coulda – shoulda shouts out. If only you had beeen able to communicate with him about your “Anne on Fire” questions how differently things may have turned out. However I love you just the way you are.


    1. Merry — you are right in that my dad had his own strategy and it makes me think that we can learn strategies from so many people. Direct confrontation versus subtle undermining — each may have their place!


  3. Annie, when I saw this I had to read further as I must have known Tom Noonan too. I remember the story so vividly now! What a creep.


    1. I am sure you did know him — you were one of my top visitors at Hardee’s! Thinking about it makes me laugh about the strange people who came in and out of that restaurant. As for Tom Noonan, I remember he opened a non-alcoholic teen club over by Premontre after he left Hardee’s. Yuck.


  4. I couldn’t resist… had to check out the obituary ( It said he died unexpectedly… maybe he had a heart attack. Sorry to here of his terrible behavior toward you. My first boss was Jim Fry at Dunton Court Cleaners in Arlington Heights. I was 14 when I got this job, and after me, all my sisters worked there. We loved Jim Fry – he was a good friend to my whole family. The day I read his obituary I dropped everything and ran to my boss and told her I had to leave work. I arrived at the service just in time to hear the eulogies. Funny thing, he was having an affair with Annette (the presser Shirley’s sister). They did marry – we loved her too. His first wife was a battle ax!


  5. There was a lot said in this post. Your dad didn’t cause a big scene, he worked behind the scenes, chipping away at the problem. I imagine he was quite angry, what father wouldn’t be? Such strength of character. I take it he was a man of few words. There was probably a lot of wisdom bottled up inside of him. All the more reason for us to journal our thoughts.


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