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.