June 11, 2010

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 12: July 7, 1946 – 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 this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom. (BTW - I'm late because FINAL, Final grades were due yesterday at 5:00 pm, as we checking out of my classroom followed closely by graduation...)

Long after the farm and the gangsters; long, long after the witch in Anoka and longer still after being abandoned at Lake Minnetonka; Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill walked beneath a burning, dry sun.

“This is what the Sahara Desert would feel like,” said Freddie.

“There’s no trees in the Sahara,” said Tommy.

“There is, too!”

“No there ain’t.”

“There’s palm trees,” snapped Freddie as he stomped alongside Tommy.

There was a long silence. “Oh, I guess.”

Freddie said, “I’m dyin’ of thirst.”

“You ain’t dyin’,” said Tommy.

“How come you didn’t bring water?”

Tommy shook his head and finally said, “I figured we’d drink out of like, rivers and lakes and stuff.”

Freddie looked around them and said, “I don’t see no rivers or lakes or stuff.”

“Shut up.”

The sound of an engine in the distance made both boys stop. They looked back up and back down and finally saw an old pickup truck heading toward them from the south. “What if it’s the mobsters?”

Tommy squinted, “I don’t think mobsters drive pick up trucks.”

Freddie grunted then said, “Maybe it’s Leo Hartkopf.”


“The guy who left us at Minnetonka. Maybe he felt guilty and he came up to get us.”

Tommy looked at his friend and shook his head. Instead of hitting him, he faced the truck and stuck out his thumb. “Stick out your thumb,” he said.

They waited, squinting in the hot summer sun as the truck thundered toward them, its muffler obviously dead a long time ago. The truck slowed down. Pretty soon, they could see the face of an old, old man peering over the dashboard – but under the top of the steering wheel. The truck stopped, but the old man left the engine running. In a surprisingly loud voice, he shouted, “You boys need a ride?” He leaned forward then and the muzzle of a shotgun came up, though it was pointing at the roof of the cab and forward. It was clear he wanted them to see it.

Tommy swallowed hard then nodded and said, “Sure do, Sir.”

“I’m goin’ to Milaca with a load of early corn in back. Hop in, make yourself to home – but don’t bruise the ears,” he said then looked away, lowering the shotgun and fixing his eyes on the road again. Tommy got the impression he’d hit the accelerator the moment they got into the bed of the truck.

“Let’s go,” he said to Freddie. “Stand right behind the cab and hang on as soon as we get in. You first.”

Freddie frowned but got in. Tommy waited until he was in before swinging himself in. Sure enough, the instant his feet left the ground, the old man hit the accelerator and they thundered off down the highway. Freddie screamed. Tommy struggled to get a grip on the roof of the cab and not step on the ears of corn piled in the pickup’s bed behind them. The old man laid on the gas until they were roaring along the road, ankle deep in corn, the sun still blazing down on them and bugs pinging against their fingers and faces.

Freddie shouted, “Can we sit down?”

“No! The old man’ll shoot us both if we hurt his corn!”

Freddie looked back. The mound of corn was half as tall as they were and shifted constantly as the truck hit bumps. Once a dozen ears flew out – and Freddie nearly with them – when the old man hit a pothole. They roared on, the boys standing, eyes closed against the wind and bugs as the sun continued to creep across the sky.

He finally slowed down as they came to a T in the road. Ahead of them was a lake bigger than any lake either of them had seen before. Freddie said, “Is that Lake Superior?”

Tommy could only shake his head. He shouted back, “We ain’t in Duluth yet.”

The truck rolled to a stop and the old man stuck his head out of the truck and shouted, “You boys gotta get off here!” The snout of the shotgun lifted just a bit from the inside of the truck.

Freddie and Tommy scrambled out of the bed on the opposite side and a moment later, the truck roared away, leaving them staring at the lake. Tommy said in awe, “I ain’t never seen so much water in my whole life.”

“Me neither,” said Freddie said. He added a moment later, “What is it? A ocean or a lake?”

As they stood in the hot sun – though it had finally started to drop toward setting – Tommy whispered, “Gotta be a lake. But it’s the biggest dang lake I ever seen…”

image: http://minnesotahistory.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/ml-shore-web.jpg

No comments: