November 26, 2009


(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 and back. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Anoka’s amphitheater, but you never know! I plan to interview Dad for more details as time goes on. To read earlier SHORT LONG posts, click on the link right. # 1 is on the bottom as you scroll down. Enjoy!)

“We’re never gonna get home,” Tommy Hastings said wearily as the two fourteen-year-old boys hiking the shoulder of US Highway 7. It was dark this far out of Minneapolis; so dark they could barely see their feet.

Freddie Merrill trudging alongside Tommy hadn’t said a word since leaving the Lake Minnetonka parking lot. He hadn’t wiped away the trickle of blood from his nose, either. Just before they’d gone out from under the last street light in Excelsior, Tommy had caught a glimpse of the dribble of blood snaking down his best friend’s upper lip and chin, as if Freddie’s face had a black crack in it. The other boy said suddenly, “Good.”

Tommy glanced at him but didn’t say anything. They kept walking.

Five hours later, the clock in the Municipal Building struck four as the boys reached the north shore of Lake Calhoun. Another fifteen minutes found them at the corner of Hennepin and West 15th. Tommy stopped. Freddie kept walking. His foot pads sounded flat against the cold concrete of the sidewalk.

“You sound like you’re on death row,” Tommy said into the silent, cold air.

Freddie stopped and turned around, his back to the streetlight on the corner. His face was in shadow as he said, “What do you think is gonna happen when I get home? ‘s Mom gonna throw her arms around me and thank God I’m home?” He paused, passed his hand over the stubbly heinie – it’s what they called a “crew cut” on the men still coming back from the war – and said, “I’m dead meat and no mistake.” He turned back and kept going.

“Stay at my house tonight,” Tommy said suddenly. He knew he’d catch it from his dad when they all woke up tomorrow…later on today. But he knew that his dad wasn’t going to beat him to a bloody pulp – his dad was almost 80 for cripe’s sake. He could talk his way out of it, ‘specially if he played the ‘Freddie’s-dad’s-a-drunk-card’. Dad despised the Prohibition of the ‘20s while he and Mom lived in Duluth, but he didn’t hold with men beating boys, either.

Eddie turned his head but kept walking, “What good’ll that do? He’ll just beat me tomorrow then. Or the next day. Whenever he’s sober enough to stand and hit.”

“We’ll go for a month. He can hardly remember what happened last week. In four weeks he’ll have forgot us going to Minnetonka and have something else to be mad about.”

This time Freddie stopped. He didn’t turn around for a long time and when he did, he walked all the way back. He rubbed his hand across his face, stopping at the dried blood. He licked his thumb and worked at cleaning it, almost like a cat would clean its face. When he spoke, he said, “I couldn’t leave Mom.”

“She can take care of herself. She’s working outside most of the time now, anyway.” Freddie nodded slowly, finished cleaning his face and stood with his face shadowed, facing Tommy. He didn’t say “yes”, but he wasn’t refusing, either. Tommy pressed on, “I got some cousins up there or something. Mom’s kin. We could find somewhere to stay.”

Softly, almost in a whisper, Freddie asked, “How’d we get there?”

“Steal a car,” Tommy said without thinking. When Freddie opened his mouth and raised his hands to refuse, Tommy laughed and said, “I’m kidding!” Freddie’s hands went down slowly and Tommy said seriously, “We hitchhike. There’s lotsa people traveling now that the war’s over. People going all over. It should be easy to find a ride.”

“Dad says hitchhiker’s are bums.”

He almost said a cuss word, but Freddie’d really put up a fuss if he did that. His dad would smack him every time he said the “d” word or the “b” word. The “f” word would earn him a black eye and other bruises. “Nah. Not since the war was over. Lots of soldiers hitchhike around.”

Freddie didn’t say anything at first. Finally he said, “We go to Anoka, first then.”

“Huh?” Tommy exclaimed.

“I been to Anoka on the train. Mom and me and Dad went a couple times. My aunt and six cousins are there.”

Tommy agreed instantly, saying, “We’ll sleep at my house, leave at noon and get out there before fireworks.”

Freddie nodded slowly. “OK. What can happen between now and midnight?”

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Swed said...

really appreciated this one. I have only begun reading these short stories, but hope to get a chance to read more. hope this story will continue in some form or another at some point later.
cheers, matt

GuyStewart said...

I'll be continuing this all the way to the end mixing some things my dad REALLY did with some motivation from my imaginations. It's been fun asking dad about this time in his life. I do short-shorts in this story about once a month or so. You can read the rest of them from the beginning by clicking on A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, then scrolling to the bottom of the column and starting with that story...

PS -- it's really good to hear from you from the other side of the world!