For 35 years, Mike Fitzgibbons had never
missed a day driving off at 4 a.m. to buy the newspaper at his local
convenience store. Snow, sleet, hail or rain couldn't stop him. There was only
one paper being published in St. Louis at the time but Mike was addicted to
newspapers. He had spent his early years reading four papers a day in Chicago -
two in the morning and two in the evening. He worked for one of them and
enjoyed every minute of it. However, an opportunity to earn more money as an
editor for a defense contractor required his large family's relocation to St.
Louis. Mike needed more money to feed a wife and seven children.
"Words are words," Mike said at the time.
"Being paid more money to arrange words for someone else seems like the right
thing to do."
Writing and editing were the two things in
life Mike could do well enough to draw a salary. It broke his heart to retire
many years later at the age of 68 but it seemed like the best thing to do. His
doctor had told him he might have early Alzheimer's disease and that he should
prepare for the future since the disease would only grow worse. Mike never told
his wife or any of the children about the problem. His wife was the excitable
type, and all of the children had grown up and moved away, many of them back to
Chicago where all of them had been born. Each of them had acquired a college
degree or two and had found a good job. Most of them were married. Mike and his
wife now had 12 grandchildren and were looking forward to more.
"You can never have too many heirs," he told
his wife one time. "Whatever we leave, it will give them something to argue
about after we're gone. They won't forget us."
After the doctor had mentioned the strong
possibility that he had Alzheimer's disease, Mike decided to have the daily
paper delivered to the house instead of driving to the store every morning to
buy one. And on most days that seemed like a good decision. But not on the
infrequent days when the deliveryman soared by Mike's house without tossing a
paper on the lawn.
The first time it happened Mike called the
circulation department and received a credit on his bill. He did the same thing
the second time, managing to keep his temper under control. But the third time
occurred on the morning after the Super Bowl. For Mike this was the last straw.
Three times he told the kind old lady in the circulation department to tell the
driver Mike was from Chicago originally and in that fine city errors of this
magnitude did not go unanswered. A credit on Mike's bill, while necessary,
would not suffice.
When his wife Dolly got up, he asked her, "How
the hell can I check the stats on the game without my newspaper?" She was only
half awake. Mike was a very early riser and Dolly, according to Mike, was a
A kind woman, Dolly had always tried to be
helpful throughout the many years of their marriage, so Mike understood why she
eventually suggested he drive to the QuikTrip and buy a paper. Then he could
read about the game and check the stats, she said.
"That's not the point, Dolly," Mike said. "I
have a verbal contract with that paper for delivery and they are not keeping
their side of the bargain. A credit on my bill is not adequate recompense."
Mike loved the sound of that last sentence as it rolled off his tongue. He
always loved the sound of words whether they were floating in the air alone or
jailed in a sentence or paragraph.
What made matters worse, Mike told Dolly, is
that without his newspaper he would have no way to check on the obituaries of
the day. The obituaries were Mike's favorite part of the paper. Back in his old
ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, the obituaries were known as the Irishman's
Back then, many retired Irish immigrants would
spend the day reviewing the obituaries in the city's four different newspapers.
Finding a good obituary primed them for conversation at the local tap after
supper. The tap was run by the legendary Rosie McCarthy, a humongous widow who
did not suffer any nonsense in her establishment. But she did offer free
hard-boiled eggs to customers who ordered at least three foaming steins of
Guinness. Eggs were cheap in those days. It was rumored that Rosie had to buy
10 dozen eggs a week just to keep her customers happy.
"Rosie knows how to hard boil an egg, Dolly,"
Mike had told his wife many times over the years. And his wife always wondered
what secret Rosie could possibly have when it came to boiling eggs.
One reason the obituaries were of such great
interest in Mike's old neighborhood involved the retirees wanting to see if any
of their old bosses had finally died. Some of those bosses had been nasty men,
so petulant and abrasive they'd have given even a good worker a rash. There was
also the possibility that over in Ireland, the Irish Republican Army might
finally blow up a bridge with the Queen of England on it. The IRA had been
trying to do that for years. Many bridges had been blown to smithereens but not
one of them had "Herself" on it.
"The IRA keeps blowing up bridges, Dolly,"
Mike would remind his wife. "You would think one of these times they'd get it
right. They know what she looks like."
In addition to reading four newspapers a day
as a young man, Mike had had other hobbies during his long and tumultuous life.
He had bred rare Australian finches for decades and had won prizes with them at
bird shows. However, after his last son had graduated from college and moved
away, Mike sold more than 200 finches and 40 cages because he no longer had a
son available to clean the cages. Five sons had earned allowances over the
years cleaning the cages at least once a week. All of them ended up hating
anything with wings. One son had even bought a BB gun and would sit out in the
yard all day while Mike was at work. That boy was a pretty good shot. No one
knows how many woodpeckers and chickadees he managed to pick off.
After Mike sold his birds, he took the
considerable proceeds and plowed all of the money into rare coins. For the next
ten years he collected many rare coins but when he retired he figured he may as
well sell them because none of his children had any numismatic interest. Not
only that, none of them would have known the value of the coins if Mike died.
Some of them were very valuable - the 1943 Irish Florin, for example, in Extra
Fine condition would have brought more than $15,000 at the right auction. Mike
loved that coin and kept it, along with all the others, in a big safe in the
basement. Guarding the safe was a large if somewhat addled and ancient
bloodhound. Mike had bought the dog from a fellow bird breeder when it was a
pup. The bloodhound wasn't toothless but he may as well have been. He wouldn't
bite anyone no matter how menacing a robber might be.
"I love that dog, Dolly," Mike would tell his
wife every time she suggested that euthanasia might be the best thing. "That
dog, Dolly, is as Catholic as we are and Catholics don't abort or euthanize
anything," Mike said.
When Mike finally sold all of his coins, he
had a great deal of money that he viewed as disposable income. Dolly, however,
viewed it as an insurance policy in case Mike died first. Mike had a couple of
pensions but he had never made Dolly a co-beneficiary. In fact he convinced her
to sign waivers so the payout to him would be larger. Dolly didn't want to do
it but signing was easier than reasoning with Mike. His temper seldom surfaced
but when it did, things weren't good for weeks around the house.
"I get mad once in awhile, Dolly, but I always
apologize," Mike would remind her.
Mike finally decided to put the coin money
into guns - big guns - although he had never shot a gun in his life. He refused
to go hunting because he saw no sense in killing animals when meat was
available at the butcher store. The kids used to joke that maybe deer and
pheasant were Catholic, too.
Some of the guns Mike bought were the kind you
would see in action movies. Mike always liked action movies. The more the gore,
the happier Mike was. But he had to go to action movies alone because his wife
hated gore but she liked musicals. No musicals for Mike, although he would
always dig into his pocket to give her the money for admission, complaining
occasionally that the cost of seeing musicals kept going up.
"I don't want to spend good money to see a
bunch of people in costumes and wigs singing songs together when Frank Sinatra,
all by himself, sings better than any of them." Sinatra had a good voice, the
kids thought, and it probably didn't hurt that he was Catholic. One of them
once suggested to Mike that it might be nice if they played a recording of
Sinatra's "Moonlight in Vermont" at church. Mike didn't agree or disagree
because he thought some sacrilege might be involved.
Mike remembered his gun collection on the day
the deliveryman had failed to throw his newspaper on the lawn. He decided that
the next morning he would sit out on his front porch at 3 a.m. with a big mug
of coffee and the biggest rifle he owned. When the delivery van drove down his
street, he planned to walk out to the curb, rifle in hand, to make sure he got
his paper and to advise the driver of the inconvenience his mistake of the
previous day had caused.
"There's no way this guy's a Catholic," Mike
said to himself. "Three times now he has skipped my house with my paper."
The next morning things went exactly as
planned - at the start. Mike was out on his porch with his rifle and coffee at
3 a.m. when the van came rolling down the street. Mike got up and strolled down
the walk toward the van, his rifle resting like a child in his arms. Mike
couldn't have known, however, that the van driver had been robbed several times
over the years and that he carried a pistol in case someone decide to rob him
again. When he saw Mike coming toward him down the middle of the street
carrying a rifle, the driver decided to take no chances. He rolled down the
window and put a bullet in Mike's forehead.
One shot, dead center, was all it took, and
Mike, still a big strapping man, fell like a tree.
The next day the story about the death of Mike
Fitzgibbons made the front page of his beloved paper and Mike himself was
listed in the obituary section. The obit advised that friends of the family
could come to the wake at Eagan's Funeral Home on Friday. It also pointed out
that a Solemn High Funeral Mass would be said for Mike on Saturday at St.
Aloysius Church, where Mike had been a faithful member and stalwart usher for
Two days after the funeral, a neighbor was
shoveling snow for Mike's widow. He happened to look up and saw the missing
newspaper stuck in the branch of one of Mike's Weeping Willow trees. Mike had
an interest in Weeping Willows and had planted a number of them over the years,
too many - some of the neighbors thought - for the size of his property. This
was the first time a newspaper had gotten stuck in one of the trees, his wife
said. And it would be the last time because she had canceled the subscription
to the paper the day Mike died. Like her husband, Dolly was a woman of
principle and she thought canceling the paper was the least she could do in his
memory. She had never read the damn thing anyway.