November 25, 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.

Tommy Hastings curled around his hand and moaned. A second later, he went limp.

Freddie Merrill screamed, “He’s dead!”

Charlie, who was almost eighteen rolled his eyes and hopped up on the flatbed truck and put his hand on Tommy’s chest, looked up at Freddie and said, “He’s not dead. He’s just out cold.” He frowned. “But I think he busted his hand.

“What?” Freddie exclaimed. He looked down at Tommy and then back to Charlie and shouted, “This is all your fault!” He lunged at Charlie, but the other boy was not only older, but quicker. He sidestepped, tripping Freddie, but snagging the back of his pants and holding him up instead of letting him fall face-first into the heavy, full milk cans. Hauling the younger boy back, Charlie said, “We’ll take him to my uncle.”

“What? He the sheriff?” Freddie said, “You gonna get us arrested?”

Charlie frowned. “No, Uncle Chris is a doctor in McGregor.”

“Where’s that?”

“Forty miles from here.”

“What?” Freddie exclaimed. “How we gonna get there? What if Tommy dies before we get there? What am I gonna tell his dad?” He paused and his eyes got big as saucers. His voice a hoarse whisper, he said, “What am I gonna tell my dad?”

Charlie snorted and jumped from the truck. “You stay here with your buddy. We gotta stop in Glen to unload the milk then we’ll go see my uncle.”

“How long’s that gonna take?”

The truck roared to life again. Charlie stood up and shouted over the rumble, “First we gotta drop the milk off. That’ll go faster if you help.” Freddie nodded slowly, kneeling down beside Tommy. Charlie added, “Give it a half hour.” He dropped into the truck and this time when it started, Freddie noticed how smooth the older boy was in his driving the rest of the way.

Uncle Chris was a kindly old man who had a surgery in his house and muttered while he looked Tommy’s hand over. “If I had an x-ray machine, I could take a picture…stupid machines! I’ve been practicing medicine for forty years and I’ve never needed an x-ray machine before this!” His hands were strong and he held Tommy’s hand firmly, but he didn’t let the boy get away with grunts. “No, you have to tell me if this really hurts. Don’t be a fool like your old man and pretend it doesn’t. If you’ve really broken something and it doesn’t heal right, you’ll be a cripple by the age of eighteen and need a major amputation – probably from the neck down – by the time you’re twenty!”

In the corner, Charlie grinned.

Tommy’s eyes bugged out and Freddie near fainted away, but Tommy cooperated after that, wincing and “ouching” appropriately through the rest of the exam.

Finally Uncle Chris stepped back, held his chin with his left hand and his left elbow with his right hand. He hummed, scowled then said, “It’s not broken as far as I can tell.” Tommy looked at him like he wasn’t sure whether he should cheer or protest.

Charlie cheered then bit his lower lip when his uncle cast him a wicked mean look.

“It hurts worse than anything that’s ever happened to me!” Tommy finally said.

Uncle Chris nodded. “You bruised it – all the way down to and including the bone. How’d it happen?”

Charlie, Tommy and Freddie shot wild looks all around until Uncle Christ snorted. “I see how it is.” He looked at Charlie, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with Charlie’s driving too fast. If it did, I’d have to talk to my brother again and I can guarantee he wouldn’t be very happy to hear something like this from me.”

Freddie exclaimed, “He didn’t do anything, Doctor Chris! Please don’t tell his dad!”

Two young men and one old man stared at Freddie, who flushed scarlet. Uncle Chris nodded slowly then picked up a wide roll of gauze and slowly wrapped Tommy’s hand then hung the hand in a sling, saying, “You can’t use it for at least a week.”

“A week!” all three boys exclaimed at once.

Uncle Chris nodded slowly. “If you do, it might actually break a bone – and then all the things I predicted might easily happen.” He fixed each boy with a dark gaze, one after another. “I think you two should stay with Charlie and my brother while Tommy’s hand heals.”

“A week?” Tommy said in a small voice.

“A whole week?” said Charlie in an even smaller voice.

“A week,” Uncle Chris said and added, “As long as you don’t want to become a cripple?” Tommy shook his head fast. Charlie did the same as did Freddie. “You can tell my brother you’re traveling to see family in Duluth.”

Tommy blinked in surprise then nodded.


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