Michael Fitzpatrick was the first kid I met in Van Hook and the last one I saw before we left. Right away he told me he did not like being called Fitz. I didn’t but many of the boys and even some adults called him Fitz. Michael was as skinny as me but a little taller and he could whistle a tune with his pointer and little fingers. He was in my classroom for three grades at the only school in Van Hook. We were in the boxing club and explored the lignite cave together.
We wore blue denim bibs; mine were mail order or hand-me-downs from my shirt-tail cousins the Ranum boys. Michael always wore striped Oshkosh bib overalls for school and play. Oshkosh was the premium brand. No one wore overalls or jeans to church – we had to wear slacks or corduroy pants. Michael and his family went to the Catholic church so I never saw him in dress clothing because we went to the Lutheran church.
I wasn’t sure Michael’s father existed until I learned that he owned the tavern where we turned in collected beer bottles. Michael’s mother was thin like Michael and always wore flour sack dresses like the women in the movie The Grapes of Wrath. Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s most used expression was, “Michael, if you don’t listen to me (do what I tell you) (don’t do that) (stop cursing) (etc.) I’m going to send you to Boys’ Town.”
Michael was always looking for some kind of adventure and trying to convince someone to share mischief with him. Michael was the kid who had firecrackers before the others. He even had cherry bombs we used to launch number ten cans into the air. When he would tell me he had better get home, or had better do his chores, or something else he ended with, “or sheee’s gonna send me to Boys’ Town.”
I always wondered if she was going to send him on a train or take him there herself. We all knew about Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Town because of the movie with Mickey Rooney. I don’t think I ever saw it, but I read the signs outside the theater.
The theater in Van Hook had movies only on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. A kid could see the Saturday matinée for a dime and a nickel would buy a large bag of popcorn.
There was talk among the men at the boxing club matches about one movie that our mothers would not let us go see. It was The Outlaw with Jane Russell. Knowing that it was on the prohibited list, Michael plotted a way to sneak into the theater. We pooled our money and gave it to Keith Ranum because he was older. The plan was for him to buy his ticket with our money and open the back door to let us in. Keith either got caught or changed his mind once he got inside. We waited by the back exit listening until long after the news and selected short subjects were shown. We gave up. He never did tell us about the movie and why we should not have seen it.
Ron Grendahl and Stan Rust were in school with Michael and me. Stan lived on a farm so he wasn’t a playmate during the summer. Michael plotted tricks on teachers but Ron and I didn’t go along with him. I don’t remember if Stan went along or not. Not having an accomplice didn’t seem to bother Michael; he did mischief on his own.
Ron was also in my Sunday school class. He was probably the best fed kid I knew but he wasn’t fat. Ron supplied the bat and baseball and sometimes gloves when we went to the school grounds to play ball. He was catching when I got beaned by Dale Babcock. Ron’s dad owned the grocery where Mother had a ‘tab’. One day Mother drove our 1939 Mercury into the front window of the store. I didn’t know it had happened until Ron told Michael and Michael ran to our house and told me. We ran across town to see. The car was on the street so all we saw was the gaping hole where the big window and door had been.
I last saw Michael Fitzpatrick at the back of his father’s tavern day before we left Van Hook in 1949 when I turned in bottles I had collected. I’ve always wondered what happened to Michael.