(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
“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
Freddie Merrill trudging alongside Tommy hadn’t said a word since leaving the
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
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
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
“Huh?” Tommy exclaimed.
“I been to
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?”
image from: http://www.windegoparksociety.org/images/largeamphitheater02.gif