1968 - A Very Bad Year
© Copyright 2021 by James Quinn
My name is Jim, and I want to tell you about a very bad year for my family. I am the youngest of seven children. Five boys, and two girls. I was seven years old. Let’s not forget our busy loving parents, trying their best to keep our little boat from sinking. In nineteen sixty-eight we lived in southwest Minneapolis. Southwest is upper middle class paradise to raise your kids.
We were ten housed from Pershing Park. Next to the park is the Southwest Indians football field.
it is known as the Southwest Lakes football field. In the far corner
right next the football field sits a Northern States Power
transformer. NSP for short. When you stand just by the storm fence
that surrounds this hulking power plant, you can hear it humming, and
feel the ground vibrating.
February of nineteen sixty eight. My oldest sister Kathy announced
her engagement. They had planned a nice party to celebrate the
announcement. The day of the party my Father was working. He was
supervisor for the local gas utility company known as Minnegasco.
While working to repair a gas valve on a large apartment complex, the
valve caught fire. My father reached through the flames to turn off
the valve. His action no doubt stopped an explosion that could have
killed many of the residents. Unfortunately my father sustained third
degree burns on his left hand, all the way to his elbow. He was
rushed to General Hospital in Minneapolis. Needless to say the
engagement party was postponed.
Later that day we all squeezed into our family station wagon, and headed down to the hospital.
One of the things Doctors use for burn victims is a product called silver nitrate. Silver nitrate hardens quickly to create an artificial black scab. The purpose of this scab is to prevent infection. So my father had this hideous looking black cast from his elbow to the tips of his fingers. I guess my reaction was pretty scary because my Dad tried to reassure me he wasn’t in pain. He did this by banging his arm on the dinner tray in front of him! It sounded like a hammer hitting a rock! My Father eventually came home, and had a complete recovery.
In June of that same year my sister Kathy was set to get married at Incarnation Catholic Church. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Everyone was so excited. The three little boys had these great burgundy blazers we were going to wear for pictures. It was about three hours before we were planning to head to the church. You can only imagine the chaos of the day. On a simple day it’s almost impossible to keep track of seven kids.
Well on this day my brother Richwander off to the park. Rich was eleven at the time. In nineteen sixty eight eleven year old boys took the bus alone, and went to the park all by themselves.
Rich met up with a buddy, who had a brand new kite. They decided to fly the kite on the football field. As I said it was a beautiful day, and the park was full of kids playing baseball.
The kite took off easily. The boys took turns flying the kite. At some point the kite got away from the boys. The kite ended up crashing into the NSP transformer. Being a brand new kite the boys were reluctant to just give up. They walked around the fenced area. They found an area with three strands
Of barbed wire. They found that if one boy pulled the wire, the other boy could squeeze through. So that is exactly what they did. Rich was able to squeeze through easily. He headed off to find the kite. I have been told that high voltage wires have something of a magnetic pull to them. We will never know exactly what happened. Somehow Rich came into contact with one of these wires.
People in the park heard the screams, and came running. The boy who’s kite Rich was trying to recover ran home. One of the kids in the park came running up the alley that ran behind our houses.
The kid was shouting, and banging on our back door. The kid was yelling Richie Quinn got burned he was hurt real bad. I can still remember my Mothers scream. We ran out the back door, and down the alley. My Dad had the presence of mind to go out the front door, and take the car. By the time we all reached the accident area there were dozens of people watching. One of our neighbors Mr. Ford was a Minneapolis firefighter. He had used a huge bolt cutter to cut through the chain designed to keep the public out! I was too small and couldn’t see anything. The ambulance came and took Rich away, with my parents trailing behind them.
to say my sister Kathy’s wedding was postponed! My brother John
was sent to Incarnation Church. He stood on the steps letting all the
guests know that the wedding had been canceled.
next few days were a complete blur. We didn’t know if Rich
would live, or die. We had no idea how extensive his injuries were.
brother Bill who is about eighteen months older than me was passed
from friends house, too friends house. I don’t know for sure
how long it was before we actually got to see our Mom, and Dad again.
They were literally living at the hospital.
Meanwhile my brother Rich was going through multiple surgeries. When they finally got him stable, he had third degree burns over sixty percent of his body. He lost the thumb and three of his fingers on his right hand. His injuries are far too many to list.
a few weeks I was actually able to go to the hospital, and visit him.
I don’t remember a lot about that visit. Rich was covered in
white gauze bandages. He looked like he was being a mummy for
halloween. He was in an enormous bed, and looked so small. He had a
tube coming out of his throat called a tracheotomy. This allowed Rich
to breath. It made a horrible rasping noise, and scared the hell out
of me. Rich was awake, but couldn’t really move. Somehow he was
able to see me, and could tell I was scared. He squeezed my hand, and
told me not to be scared.
Rich would spend many months in the hospital having surgeries, and physical therapy. They also used silver nitrate on Rich. Any contact would permanently turn our clothing black. So we had clothing we would only wear to the hospital.
For me the visits could be quite fun. You never knew who would show up to visit with kids.
I met great players for the Minnesota Twins like Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.
Vikings players came too. I met all of the Purple People Eaters. Alan
Page, Carl Eller, and Jim Marshall. Laying in the hospital day after
day is extremely hard, and boring. These visits meant the world to
the children trapped in the hospital.
Once Rich finally came home he needed constant care. We needed to change his bandages. I have a memory of Rich sitting by our open oven. As we removed old bandages Rich would be extremely cold. My mother would hole the bandages in the oven to warm them up, then wrap them around his body. Rich’s entire torso was covered in scar tissue, and skin grafts. Many of the muscles in his shoulders had been removed. He lost both knee caps. As Rich got older many of these injuries would cause serious pain. I know several times when he bumped his knee. Without his protective knee cap this would cause severe pain, and send him sprawling on the floor in agony.
The problem with scar tissue, and skin grafts is they don’t stretch and expand. So as Rich grew older, and his internal organs grew his stomach, and rib cage could not expand to make room.
Unfortunately very little planning was made to accommodate Rich’s many future medical needs.
Equally unfortunate is the fact that very little was done to help Rich deal with the psychological impact that burn victims deal with every day.
The stigma of burn scars is really awful.
I remember one time we were in an arcade game room at a hotel. A young boy asked Rich what happened to his thumb? Rich said he got injured and he lost his thumb. The boy asked if his thumb would grow back? Rich was very nice to the kid. He told him no, it won’t grow back. The boy ran away. A few minutes later the boy returned with his father. Clearly the boy had been crying, and the father was very upset. The father confronted Rich, and asked him why he told his son his thumb wouldn’t grow back. Rich got pretty angry.
Rich rarely got outwardly angry. He shouted at the guy. “Do you think my thumb is going to grow back?” Rich put his injured hand up in his face.
about my fingers, do you think they will grow back too?” The
man turned, and left quickly.
Fast forward twenty years to nineteen eighty eight.
Another particularly brutal year for the Quinn family.
My parents had retired, and moved to Anacortes Washington. My father was diagnosed with Multiple myeloma, a particularly fast growing, and deadly form of cancer. Rich and I flew out to Washington, and put all of their belongings in a huge truck.
I put my parents on a plane bound for Minneapolis.
It took Rich, and me three days to drive that truck home. Rich and I were really close. We could not have been more complete opposites, but we got along very well.
At this point Rich was thirty one years old. He was an alcoholic, and relied heavily on marijuana to mask his pain, and depression.
In that same year I got engaged, and was planning our wedding in nineteen eighty nine.
I was torn between asking my Dad, or Rich to be my best man. I worshiped my father. Being the last boy I was able to spend countless hours with him.
With his coaching I was in our basement lifting weights, four days a week, trying to become as strong as I could for football. He and I took a trip to Canton Ohio, to visit the football Hall of fame.
My Father’s cancer moved very quickly, and he passed away in June of nineteen eighty eight.
Losing my father was incredibly tough, but at least we had a chance to say our goodbyes. We both came away knowing just how much we loved, respected and admired each other.
My brother Rich got engaged that year as well. He seemed so happy, and we talked about being each other's best man. Rich owned a twenty unit apartment building. We both lived there, but in separate apartments. I am not sure, but at some point in late November, or early December Rich’s fiance called off the wedding. I never found out why.
On the early evening of December fifth I came home, and let myself into my apartment. I turned on the lights, and found one of my dining room chairs had smashed through my glass coffee table.
Since Rich was the only other person with a key to my apartment. I charged up the stairs to his apartment. I banged on the door, but got no response. I tried the door, and it was unlocked. I went into his apartment, and immediately sensed something was wrong. I went into Rich’s bedroom, and found that he had shot himself in the head. He was dead, and I don’t remember some of what happened after that. I called 911. I called the rest of my family. It turned out that my Mom had gone to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre that evening.
someone finally got in contact with my Mom, she told me she knew
right away that something was wrong with Rich.
My life went into some kind of tail spin. I have no doubt that if it were not for my wife Jeanie I probably wouldn’t be here today.
I was so angry, and racked with guilt. How could I be his closest friend, and not know that he was suicidal? Why didn’t I do more to help him?
anger followed me for many years.
I believe that my brother Rich has visited me twice since his death. Both times he was in my car. Both times I was on Excelsior Boulevard taking a right to enter highway 100 north. Both times Tom Petty and the heartbreakers were playing on the radio. I seldom listen to the radio. When I say he visited me I don’t mean that I saw him. It was more of a sensation, and a smell. The smell was a odd mixture garlic,alcohol Tanquray Gin, marijuana, and a little BO. Not an unpleasant smell, it was just his smell. I don’t recall what Tom Petty song was playing the first time he came. On the second visit the song was “You don’t know how it feels”
There are a couple of key lines in that song.
“But let me get to the point, let’s roll another joint."
Over the years Rich had asked me to learn how to roll a joint. I don’t smoke pot, so I always refused.
The song goes on to say
“You don’t know how it feels.”
“You don’t know how it feels to be me!”
Over the years I have probably heard that song thirty times. But this time it hit me so hard I had to pull off the highway. I was balling my head off, because it finally hit me that I had no idea how it felt to be Rich, or anyone else for that matter.
I had been judging Rich, and had no clue how hard every day was for him. Not just the physical pain.
Obviously Rich had an immense pain threshold.
Every day trying to mask his insecurity, knowing people looked at him strangely. I realized then, and there that Rich had his reasons, and if that stupid gun wasn’t laying around he would probably be here today. Who was I to sit in judgement.
stopped being angry. I was able to see this sweet generous loving
brother that he was. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted.
At that time my sister Maureen was a dance instructor for Arthur Murray.
She choreographed a beautiful dance to the song “In the living years” by Mike and the Mechanics. The song is about a young man who never can see eye to eye with his father. The song tells us you need to let people know how you feel when they are alive.
It is a very touching song of regret for not having reconnected with his father. So whenever I hear that song I think immediately of my Dad, and Rich.
In nineteen ninety five my wife Jeanie was pregnant with twins. On September fifth my wife was rushed into a full operating theatre. When giving birth to twins you have a set of nurses for the mother. Separate set of nurses for each twin.
Suffice it to say this was a very crowded room. The delivery of our daughter Katie went very smoothly, says the guy who doesn’t have a clue. Danny on the other hand was making things difficult. He was coming out breech. That is to say he was trying to come out feet first. The doctor tried for several minutes to get him turned around. Eventually the doctor gave up and allowed Danny to come out feet first. Both babies, and Mother were doing great, so I was holding Katie, and Jeanie was holding Danny. The show was over, and most of the staff had left the room. Previously there had not been any music playing. Just then the music came on and it was Mike and the Mechanics “In the living years” I burst into tears, and held my little girl tight.
My Dad, and my brother were in the room. I’m sure of it.