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
The boy – Freddie Merrill found out his name was Charlie – stopped every mile to pick up full milk cans.
After loading on two, three (and one time sixteen!), Freddie and Tommy Hastings would doze off as the truck rumbled along, Charlie grinding the gears like he’d never driven a milk truck before. Tommy’d fall asleep the fastest, so it got to be a game that as Charlie drove along, he’d watch in the rear view mirror for Tommy’s chin to sink to his chest then slam on the breaks just enough to make the younger boy bang his head into a full milk can.
After Freddie busted out laughing the fourth time it happened, Tommy stopped talking to either boy and sat with his arms crossed, sulking after every load they took on.
“Aw, c’mon,” Freddie said after they took on fifteen cans from five farms on either side of a tiny town called
“Would not” came the surly reply from behind crossed arms. Tommy had his knees up, his head down and his face covered.
“Would too,” Freddie said, laughing again. “You’re always making fun of me.”
“I am not,” Tommy said, still not looking up.
“How about the first time I smoked a fag?”
“That’s ‘cause you took too big a drag. Like you were just back from Midway or something.”
Freddie scowled. “That wasn’t why I did that.”
Tommy looked up, “How come, then?”
Freddie shrugged, looked away and said, “ ‘cause Dad said he’d kill me if he caught me smoking and I figured I might as well do it like the big guys do it if I was gonna die the next day.”
Tommy stared at him for a long time before he said, “You’re…” The truck ground to a halt at a stop sign. Charlie leaned out the window and shouted back to them, “Six more stops then we’re in Glen!”
Freddie shouted back, “What then?”
In answer, Charlie floored the accelerator and ground the gears. One of the milk can slid to the edge of the flatbed. Tommy jumped to grab it, shouting, “Hang on, Charlie!”
Charlie slammed on the brakes as Tommy got his hand on milk can’s handle. Everything slid forward. Freddie watched in horror, scrambling against the tilting bed of the truck and trying to dodge teetering milk cans. Tommy, stuck in the handle at an unnatural angle dragged him, cursing and struggling until it collided with another can. The tops of both shot off.
Freddie leaped and grabbed both and as he came down, he screamed, “Are you all right? Are you all right?”
Charlie ran around from the front of the truck shouting, “Are you all right?”
Freddie cussed him out then went to Tommy’s side. “Did it break your hand? Are you OK?”
Tommy looked at him, sank to his knees and lifting his hand, fell forward on to his face.