He knew baseball. He could hold a conversation with any adult and usually win an argument when discussing America’s game, especially when it involved the Chicago Cubs. Brian loved the Cubs and their shortstop, turned first baseman, Ernie Banks, or as Brian would call him, Ewnie. Brian had trouble pronouncing his “R”s and as such, called me Gawy Moowe.
Adults loved to talk to Brian and the older kids loved to be around him. Wherever Brian was, a robust and mature analysis of baseball was happening and Brian, age eight, was holding court. Brian was almost four years my younger, but when it came to discussing baseball, I looked to Brian as an elder.
Brian was the youngest boy of the Fredericksen clan. He was a year older than his sister Nancy and a year younger than his brother Jeff and quite a bit younger than his older siblings Cindy and Roger. We lived in the same small neighborhood, Hillcrest Subdivision in Kankakee, Illinois. Our parents were all WWII veterans. Both Brian’s dad and my dad, served in the Navy. We were baby boomers, growing up in a neighborhood that was wall-to-wall kids. We ran around Hillcrest through the back yards, giving not a thought to danger, kidnapping, child molesters or serial killers. Hillcrest was our world and we felt safe. I can still remember short and skinny Brian, with his buzzed haircut, no shirt or shoes, running through the yard with a smile that could light up a darkened gymnasium.
We played baseball on a makeshift field directly between my home and Mark Twain Grade School. There was a slight ridge that we called the hump roughly 250 feet from home plate. It was created by years of plowing and was the unofficial marker of where the plowing stopped and school property began. “Over the hump” was a home run and quite a wallop for a twelve year old boy. We all aimed for that spot but rarely hit it.
Brian was small for his age and almost four years our younger, so we did not let him play ball with us. In truth, he didn’t want to. He would instead stand behind the old chicken wire backstop with the bottom of a broken bat in his hands, pretending it was a microphone, giving us play by play analysis of our game. Knowing Brian was watching made us play better. Brian knew baseball.
March 18, 1966 was warmer than normal for an Illinois spring. A bunch of us were playing football between the yards next to Illinois Route 17, which bordered our neighborhood. I was called home early as we were packing the car to leave for Sesser, Illinois, my dad’s hometown. The next day was my dad’s fortieth birthday and he wanted to celebrate with friends.
As we finished packing the family station wagon, a light blue 1964 Chevrolet, we could hear a siren in the distance. A moment or two later, there was another, and then another. A minute or so later, Mrs. MacIntosh, Ron’s mom, a neighbor, came running into our yard and said, “Is Gary here?” I stuck my head out of the back of the wagon and she put her hand over her heart and said, “thank God.” My mom asked her why … and Mrs. MacIntosh responded, “A boy has been hit by a car on the highway. Ron is at home, Gary is here and I am frightened to find out who it is.” A few moments later, Mr. MacIntosh walked into the yard and put his arm around his wife and whispered into her ear that it was Brian Fredericksen that was struck. “No!” she yelled. “Is he okay?” Mr. MacIntosh shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I drove down to the corner but they won’t let anyone near.”
We waited about an hour but heard nothing more. We left for our five hour drive to Sesser not knowing. As we drove we were tuned into WKAN AM radio, 1320, where we heard the news.
“An eight-year-old boy was struck by a car this afternoon on Illinois Route 17 and Hillcrest Subdivision. The name of the child is being withheld pending notification of relatives, but he was pronnounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.”
Last night, Arlene and I were at a Christmas party and ran into Nancy Fredericksen, Brian’s sister. I am guessing it is the first time I’ve seen Nancy in thirty years. Time has been good to her. She looked fantastic. I met her son and husband. Nancy and I spoke of the neighborhood and old-times and then I mentioned Brian. She smiled as we reminisced about Brian and his baseball knowledge and love of the Chicago Cubs. I shared with her that I tried to find Brian’s grave years ago but was unsuccessful. “It’s in the section with the big cross,” she said.
I was called away by another friend and did not talk to Nancy again, but for the rest of the night and into this morning, all I could think about was Brian.
It is 2011, so I “Googled” Brian’s name and found nothing, which I found surprising. You can usually find anyone or anything on the web. I became a little emotional when Arlene asked me what was on my mind. She listened to me for an hour as a reminisced about Brian, the neighborhood and the day he died. I did not expect to spend my Saturday mourning the loss of a friend, over forty years after his death.
Arlene sent me to the store with a grocery list and while at Jewel, I happened across a blue Christmas ornament with the Cubs logo. Again, I thought of Brian, so I bought two. After paying for the groceries, I turned the car towards Memorial Gardens Cemetery to see if I could find him.
I entered the cemetery and followed the road to the area surrounding the cross that Nancy described. I got out of the car with one of the ornaments in hand and began walking the rows of flat markers, searching for my childhood friend, with not much luck. I was alone, so after about thirty to forty minutes, I began talking aloud to Brian. As I walked, I spoke of the Cubs new management and ownership. I told him I didn’t think it would make much difference, as the Cubs … well … they’re the Cubs. It occurred to me that the team Brian loved suffered one of the worst collapses in baseball history at the end of the 1969 season and realized that maybe he did not know, so told Brian about the famous 1969 Cubs. I shared with him that Old #10, Ron Santo was finally in the Hall-of-Fame, but then I had the overwhelming feeling that Brian was laughing at me. He already knew all of this and in fact got to meet Ron Santo, following his recent death. I stopped and laughed aloud thinking about what was going on in my head. I looked down at the gound and was surprised to see him. I paused for a moment and said …
I was standing next to is leaf-covered resting place. I reached down and cleaned off his marker so it was clearly exposed.
I talked with Brian for a while, then pulled out the Christmas ornament. I attached it to the small chain that was attached to the flower vase on his head stone. I continued talking. I told him of my wife and kids and my new grandson Caleb. I told him of the grandson we are expecting soon named Noah. I told him that I ran into his sister Nancy and that she still looks a lot like him. I rambled on and on. After a while, I was running out of small talk and so decided to head for home, but not without telling him how much I missed him and that I think of him often. I told him I bought a matching Cubs ornament for my tree and I would always think of him when I see it. Finally, I promised to stop by more often and talk baseball with him. I snapped a picture of his head stone, then walked away.
Why am I telling you about Brian Fredericksen? I guess for two reasons. First of all, I have found this day personally therapeutic. But more importantly, when I Googled Brian’s name earlier, I found no mention of my friend at all, anywhere. We cannot allow that truth to stand. By posting this on my blog, Brian will now be part of the world-wide-web and if he is ever Googled again, Brian will be there.
For the record (and for Google), my friend is Brian D. Fredericksen of Kankakee, Illinois. Brian was born October 17, 1957 and died tragically, too young, after being struck by a car, while Brian was chasing a ball onto the highway, March 18, 1966. He was only eight years old. Brian is still loved and remembered by his family and many friends. He was truly a wonderful young man. Please … never forget, Brian Fredericksen.
When I push this button, this blog will be posted, so get ready … Welcome to the Internet, Brian!
I miss you.