(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Lake Minnetonka or rode in a 1938 Ford pickup, but you neve know! I plan on interviewing Dad for more details as time goes on...Enjoy.)
Freddie Merrill glared at Tommy Hastings and finally said, “You sure we ain’t gonna get lost? Real sure?” They were standing in front of the tailgate of Leo Hartkopf’s pick up.
Tommy laughed nervously. “How can we get lost walking from the beach here to Leo’s pick up? He’ll probably even drop us off on the other side of Loring Park if we ask nice."
Freddie looked through the back window of the truck at the older boy. He was busy ogling girls lying on the beach. Freddie took a deep breath then said, “All right. I’ll go.”
Tommy vaulted onto the bed of the pickup, scurried forward and slapped the roof. He leaned around the cab and shouted in Leo’s open window, “Let’s go!”
The truck roared noisily to life and Leo ground the gears backing out. A few moments later, they were on the road. Leo would honk at girls in sun dresses and bathing suits and all three boys would wave wildly, Tommy and Freddie standing, pressed against the cab and hanging on for dear life.
In the announced ten minutes, they were on the south shore of the gigantic Lake Minnetonka. Even in the hot sun, they could feel the cool breezes whipping in off the vast body of water. Below them, Leo slowed suddenly, throwing Freddie and Tommy forward. Both boys let out loud whoops! of joy. Leo drove to a parking spot and pulled in. He jumped from the pickup and looked up at them and said, “Have a good time, boys?”
“Great!” Tommy shouted. They vaulted the sides of the truck bed and landed on the ground.
“Let’s go meet the gang,” Leo said, waving them along.
A huge swimming area, close to shore and layered with light gold sand stretched for hundreds of feet. Four white docks stuck out into the blue waters and hundreds of men, women and children played. Dozens of girls in wet bathing suits sunned themselves or sat under broad umbrellas. A volleyball game was going on a ways up shore, with mostly boys on the court and girls cheering and jumping around. Freddie grabbed Tommy’s shirt and said, “Let’s go there!”
Tommy said, “Leo! Can we go watch volleyball?”
Smiling, he met up with two boys his own age who had four girls tagging along behind them. He waved, “Knock yourselves out!”
Freddie sprinted and called over his shoulder, “First one there gets to dunk the last one there five times!” Tommy surged after him, but Freddie had always been faster – it came from keeping out of his dad’s drunken reach.
By the time the last sliver of the sun cast long shadows on Greenwood Beach, twenty boys, girls and teens were ringed around a blazing fire. The great pile of driftwood roared, sending fountains of sparks into the cooling night air to shower down on screaming and laughing kids. Tommy was trying to convince a dark-haired young lady to sit beside him – close beside him – on his now very dirty towel. “I can’t sit there,” she said, giggling. But she didn’t hesitate much when her girlfriends pushed her from behind and she ended up close enough for Tommy to snag her hand and pull her down beside him.
A few feet away, Freddie glowered, planted on a log, his skin flaming red and agonizing. Two girls sat with their backs to him, one brushing the other’s hair, both of them shooting darts at him with their eyes. He surged to his feet and said, “We gotta go. Come on, Tommy.”
“We don’t have to…” Tommy began then looked up at Freddie’s face. He scrambled to his feet muttering apologies to the girl and hurried after Freddie as he stalked off for the parking lot.
When he caught up, he said, “What’s wrong, buddy? What’d I do…”
“It wasn’t you. I’m just tired. And sunburned. And those girls were getting’ on my nerves.”
Tommy laughed, “Girls always get on your nerves…” Freddie shot him a dark look as they reached the parking lot. It was cold now away from the fire.
Freddie stopped suddenly. “Where’s the pickup?”
The parking lot was practically empty. Of the few cars there, none were pickups. Tommy stared, mouth open. He said, “He said he’d tell us when he left!”
“When did he say that?” Freddie asked. He scanned the parking lot five times, his head sweeping back and forth, back and forth. “Where is he?” he exclaimed, his voice cracking.
“Hey, don’t worry. I’m sure he just went away for a little while. He’ll be back…”
Freddie whirled and ran into the parking lot, shouting, “Leon! Leon! Where are you?”
Tommy chased him down, but when Freddie took a swing at him, Tommy ran at him and tackled him in the grass along the edge of the lot. Freddie was crying by the time they hit the ground, covering his head and rolling back and forth, moaning, “He’s gonna beat me! He’s gonna beat me!”
Tommy pinned him, but it was like Freddie didn’t even notice the knee in his chest, bawling louder and harder. Finally Tommy grabbed the front of his shirt, dragged him to his feet and got him walking. From Minnetonka, he could see the faint glow of the massed lights of Minneapolis in the sky and with the wailing Freddie by his side, he started off along the asphalt strip of Highway 7, knowing that even though they weren’t lost, he might lose Freddie to his drunken father’s rage when they got home.
If they ever got there.