McKenzie’s Field—Ole Ole Olson Free
By Casey Gauntt
“I can’t see a thing!” Buddy gasped in a loud whisper. “They’re catching up,” I threw back over my shoulder. It was pitch dark, no moon, and we were running as though our lives depended on it. We heard the yells of about thirty guys closing in from all directions and caught the rays of their flashlights dancing off the houses and trees to the sides and in front of us. Bushes clawed at our bare legs and limbs lashed at our faces. “There they are!” one of the pursuers cried, now only a few yards behind us. As I screamed “Run, Buddy, r___!” something slammed into my throat. My feet left the ground rising rapidly above my head in front of me and, after what seemed like several seconds, ‘Bam!’ my back was slammed into the ground. The blood thirsty hoard quickly massed over me and their flashlights pored into my face. “We got you! We got you!” One of them had the good sense to ask “Are you OK?” I couldn’t talk. Moments later I heard Buddy shout from a block away “Ole Ole Olson, free free free!!” He had made it. Once again.
Buddy Wheaton was one of the best Kick The Can players I’ve ever known. As the entire army of the already captured kids fanned out to run down the last two of us, Buddy rushed into McKenzie’s Field and kicked the unguarded can. Game over. I got up slowly. I was dripping with sweat and my neck hurt like crazy. I realized I’d run full speed into the laundry line behind Marcia Skoglund’s house and was, literally, “clothes-lined.”
Dave Olson was one of the kids from our neighborhood. His father’s name was Ole, and I always assumed the cry “Ole Ole Olson” was named after him. I recently looked it up and some etymologists argue it’s a derivative of “oly oly oxen free” or, possibly, the German “alle, alle auch sind frei” (everyone, everyone is also free). I prefer my explanation.
I was eleven years old. Itasca was a very small, quiet town surrounded by farms and linked to Chicago twenty miles to the east by the Milwaukee Railroad. We got three stations on our black and white T.V., there was no F.M. radio and the number for our newly installed rotary phone was 898.
The McKenzies lived across the street from us on Greenview Rd. and had a large backyard where we staged our games. It was widely believed that Mrs. McKenzie, Rose, was a sister of Alfonse “Al” Capone. Their son Doug used to mow our half acre of lawn until he cut off four of his toes with his sit down power mower. After that my brother and I were sentenced to cutting the lawn with a dull push-by-hand contraption.
Back then, Irving Park Road was the main highway through town . There were no stop lights or stop signs and traffic blew by fast. Late one afternoon that summer I was headed across town to Washington Park for a little league game. I got to Irving Park, dismounted my bike, began to walk cross the road and—have you had one of those moments where something happened you couldn’t explain but knew, deeply, it was big? The next thing I remember, I was on the other side of the road facing the traffic and everything was moving in slow motion. A red and white station wagon was only a few yards past the point where I was standing and holding my bike. Its blaring horn was an arrow of sound shot through both of my eardrums. The driver’s bare, hairy arm was thrust outside his window, his fist shaking violently as he screamed back at me “You wanna get yourself killed?!”
I never saw that station wagon— or any cars for that matter—when I started to cross Irving Park Road. And, for the life of me, I don’t know how I made it across the road without getting hit by it. When things returned to normal speed, I got back on my bike, rode a short ways and began shaking and sobbing. I got off, sat down on a sidewalk and cried for a long time. ‘What just happened?’ I kept asking myself. Over and over.
One winter night in 1966 after a fresh, heavy snowfall, Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen, a year ahead of Buddy and me in school, went for a ride on a toboggan towed by a car driven by another boy over by Washington Park. Rodney had asked Buddy to join them and as Buddy was waiting in his driveway to be picked up, his mother stuck her head out of the door. “Buddy, you have a phone call.” Buddy said he’d call back whoever it was after the outing with Rodney. His mom persisted, “It’s Kathy,” Buddy’s girlfriend. He came inside and took the call. Kathy Wentzel, who had been sick and missed several days of school, asked Buddy if he would bring his biology textbook over to her house so she could catch up on some homework. Buddy said “Sure,” and when Rodney and Gary swung by a few minutes later, Buddy was backing out the driveway and told them he couldn’t go with them.
Ole, Ole Olson, Free
McKenzie’s Field is dedicated to the memory of Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen (1949-1966) and Ryan William Wheaton (1981-2012). Please consider making a donation in memory of Ryan Wheaton to Outward Bound, P.O. Box 62161, Baltimore MD 21264