August 13, 2010


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.

It was dark.

Tommy Hastings whispered, “I never seen anything so dark in all my life.”

“Darker than when Dad locked me in the closet under the stairs for a week,” said Freddie Merrill.

The boys ran side-by-side down the dark, asphalt road along the southern shore of Lake Mille Lacs.

“Y’ think we lost ‘em?” Freddie said, panting.

“Don’t know. Maybe. Farmer can’t shoot this far anyways,” said Tommy past panting breaths. He slowed down.

“Witch can’t run at all.”

“Didn’t see the mobsters,” said Tommy, stopping.

“Only ones I was scared of,” said Freddie, bending over as he put his hands on his knees.

The boys stood in the road for a long time, wheezing like old men. A cool breeze blew in from the lake, shaking the leaves on the trees and sighing through the needles on the pine surrounding them. Not a sliver of moonlight reached them under the dense cover of the trees. Tommy took a deep breath and said, “I don’t think they’re coming after us.”

“Why’d they say they’d see us in Duluth?”

Tommy shrugged in the darkness and said, “Trying to scare us?”

Freddie snorted. “They did a good job.”

“You scared?”


There was a long pause. “Me, too.”

“You were?”

Tommy nodded, realized Freddie couldn’t have seen it and said, “We gotta keep moving. There’s no saying if they just let us go or if they just wanted to give us a head start so they can chase us faster.”

“You think they’d do that?” Freddie asked as he started walking.

“Don’t know what witches, mobsters and commies would do.”

They walked a long time before Freddie said, “Why’d they want to do anything to us? We ain’t never hurt them.”

“We know they’re mobsters and witches and…”

“…and an old farmer? What do they got to do with each other?”

“Like you said, they’re Communists.”

“I never said that,” said Tommy. “Your cousin said that in Anoka.”

Neither one spoke until Freddie said, “That’s right. What does she know?”

“Nothing,” said Tommy.

They kept walking, passing a couple farms lit with single lights in their windows. Freddie said, “You think they’re gonna be getting up soon to do the milking?”


“Dad told me farmers gotta milk their cows really, really early.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m hungry and a glass of milk sounds good right about now.”

Other lights appeared ahead of them as they walked until they came out of the trees and saw a big white sign that read, “THE CITY OF BAYVIEW WELCOMES YOU!”

They reached the edge of town – a strip of asphalt lined with stores that were all closed. In the middle of town was a marquee, still lit up. On the marquee were the words: CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH starring Wild Bill Elliot Robert Blake Alice Fleming

The buzz of the electric lights was almost deafening in the still night.

“Never saw this one,” said Freddie.

“You never seen any movie,” said Tommy.

There was a long pause, then Freddie hung his head and started walking again as he said, “Probably never will, neither.”

Tommy hurried to catch up with him and said, “Sure you will! When we get to Duluth, we’ll go to a movie!”

“I don’t got no money.”

Another silence fell between them as they kept walking, eventually leaving the bright lights of Bayview behind them. Tommy sighed and said, “Me, neither.” They walked. Tommy said, “Maybe we could sneak into one. Duluth’s a big city. No one’s gonna be watching two kids.”

They hit a curve in the road and the lights of Bayview disappeared. Freddie took a deep breath and finally said, “Yeah. Maybe. Anything can happen in Duluth, right? It’s a big city. Not so big as Minneapolis, but pretty big. And you got family there, too, don’t you?”

Tommy’s eyes went wide. He was glad Freddie couldn’t see him when he replied, “I do got family there. We’ll see them.” He was glad ‘cause when Freddie could see him, he knew exactly when he was lying…


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