May 20, 2010

A SHORT, LONG JOURNEY NORTH 11: July 7, 1946 to July 8, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and what's below is the result! To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom!

Every time they heard a car coming, Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill jumped in the ditch.

After about the fifteenth time, Freddie said, “Can we go back home, now?”

Tommy didn’t respond, trudging along the asphalt road with the sun creeping up on being right overhead.

After another two cars, Tommy crawled wearily up the side of the ditch.

Freddie lay there, staring up at the sky. Tommy said, “Come on, we gotta keep going.”

“I don’t want to go to Duluth any more,” Freddie said.

From the top of the ditch, Tommy looked down and said, “What?”

Freddie looked up at Tommy, even though he was still on his back and he was laying feet first in the ditch. They were looking at each other upside down. Freddie said, “I don’t want…”

“I heard you the first time, stupid!”

“Then why’d you say ‘what?’ like you didn’t hear me?”

“I heard you just fine. I just couldn’t believe you don’t want to go to Duluth.”

“What’s in Duluth that you’re so all fired up to get to?”

Tommy didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned his back on Freddie in the ditch. Scowling fiercely, Freddie rolled to his belly and climbed out like he was a soldier in the trenches of France during World War I. His dad had fought in WWI when he was a really young. He talked about it a lot when he was drunk. Never when he was sober. Freddie got to his feet and went around Tommy and said, “What’s in…”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Well? What’s there?”

“Nothin’,” Tommy said and started walking toward Aitkin, which was still nearly forty miles north.

Freddie ran after him, passed his and stopped in front of him. He said, “Then why are we walking a million miles?”

“It’s only about two hundred,” said Tommy, walking around Freddie.

Freddie caught up with him and grabbed his shirt, yanking and pulling him around. “Why are we walking two hundred miles to Duluth?”

“To keep your dad from killing you.” Tommy tried to pull free of Freddie, who wouldn’t let him go.

“I can live with my dad. I been doin’ it for fourteen years.”

“Yeah, well…” Tommy stopped. He couldn’t think of anything else to say so he looked at the ground.

“So what gives?” Freddie said. “It’s not like I’m gonna turn around and go back home, I just wanna know why we’re goin’ to Duluth.”

Tommy stared at his feet a long time before he finally said, “You ever wonder why Ma married Dad?”


“Ma’s like, young, you know? Dad – he’s like older than your grandpa.”

Freddie looked startled. “What? Grandpa’s seventy-one!”

Tommy nodded. “Dad’s seventy-eight.”

Freddie cussed and Tommy punched him in the shoulder. “Shut up.”

Freddie said, “How old’s your ma?”

“You don’t ask a lady her age.”

“I ain’t asking her, I’m asking you. How old’s you ma?”

Tommy was quiet for a long time before he finally said, “She’s thirty-nine.”


Tommy slugged Freddie harder then said, “They met in Duluth. I wanna know how and why.”

“How you gonna find that out?” Freddie asked.

Tommy shrugged. “I ain’t figured that out yet.” He shrugged again. “I figured you can help me figure it out.”

Freddie let go of Tommy, bobbing his head a little bit and walked past his best friend then kept going. Tommy didn’t move. Freddie stopped, looked over his should and said, “You gonna lay down in a ditch and take a nap or you gonna walk with me to Duluth?”

Tommy grunted and hurried after Freddie.

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