January 6, 2011

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 21: JULY 10, 1946 – JULY 12, 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.

Both Freddie Merrill and Tommy Hastings stared at the older boy, Charlie. He laughed, “What? You ain’t never heard cussin’ before?”

“My dad says it’s only city boys cuss – farm boys are too well-behaved,” blurted Freddie.

Charlie laughed again, then turned back to work, spraying down the milk tanks with warm water which raised a fog when it hit the colder tanks. He added, “Best get to work and don’t say nothin’ about no Herbert Towne*.”

“Why not?” Tommy said, indignant. “He’s my uncle!”

Charlie shot a glance over his shoulder, “Yeah? Well I wouldn’t go bragging about that to too many people. Herbert Towne was one of the best known socialists in Duluth – and you know as well as I do that socialism is a darn sight closer to Communism than most Americans should be comfortable with!”

“What?” Tommy and Freddie exclaimed.

Charlie frowned and looked back at them, saying, “Herbert Towne is a famous socialist – and Dad lost an uncle, a brother and a sister fighting the Jerrys and Japs, so he ain’t much disposed to be harboring Communist sympathizers!”

The boys looked at each other then Tommy said, “Are you gonna kill us?”

Charlie glared at them long and hard, then grunted and turned back to washing the milk tanks. “I don’t reckon so.” He looked over his shoulder and added, “As long as I can get a couple days help from you here on the farm, I’ll consider the fee for me keepin’ my mouth shut paid.”

Tommy and Freddie stared at the older boy’s back. Big, muscly arms poked out from the A-shirt he was wearing. Freddie whispered, “If we said ‘no’, he’ll probably beat us to a bloody pulp.”

“We can take him,” Tommy snapped, angry at the older boy’s blackmail. He lifted his arms up to get ready for a fight – and winced. Closing his eyes, he shook his head, “I forgot about my broken hand.”

Freddie whispered, “You couldn’t fight your way out of a paper bag right now.” He bent his arm and looked at the skinny arm with the bump that was a sad excuse for a bicep. “And I sure as heck can’t take him.”

Charlie said without turning around, “You better just resign yourself to helping me with chores for the next two days.” He turned around, the water spraying just beyond the tips of their shoes. “Besides, in two days we drive to Duluth – and if you guys work hard, Dad will let you ride in the back.”

“With the cans?” Tommy asked.

At the same moment, Freddie asked, “Is he as bad of a driver as you?”

Charlie scowled, sprayed them both with water then grinned. “Naw, you guys can probably sit in front with me and Dad. And he’s a worse driver than me! I usually thank the Good Lord for gettin’ me to Duluth alive; then I thank Him for getting’ me back home alive.” He pondered then added, “I suspect I spend more time praying than’s healthy for a nineteen-year-old man.” He went back to spraying the tanks.

Freddie took a deep breath and asked, “What do you want me to do, Boss?”

Tommy added, “I can help too, long as it’s something a one-armed boy can do.”

Charlie nodded, turned off the hose at the wall, looked down at them and said, “Freddie, you get to muck the barn.” Freddie cussed under his breath ‘cause even though he’d grown up in the City, Dad had talked plenty about mucking out barns when HE was a boy. Freddie suspected that if he ever told his dad about this, his dad would laugh, clap him on the shoulder, call him a fool and laugh some more.

Charlie said to Tommy, “You’re gonna shoot rats.”

Both boys exclaimed, “What?” Charlie crooked a finger at Tommy and led the way out of the barn.

Image: http://www.shootinguk.co.uk/imageBank/cache/2/224-Rat-shot-with-9mm-garde.jpg_e_ab3d1f2f65cddb1b2705ba4c508963f8.jpg

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