April 9, 2011


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 things I've always wondered about 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, Freddie Merrill, both fourteen and Charlie Fairlaine, seventeen with his father – “Well,” Tommy thought, “he’s a lot younger than my dad.” – were squashed thigh-to-thigh in the cab of the milk truck.

Tommy shot a glance sideways. The man was still scowling. He’d been scowling ever since they left Fairlaine’s Creamery in Glen, forty miles ago. He hadn’t said a word, since. Freddie hung his head out the window of the truck, taking deep breaths.

Charlie, on Tommy’s right, kept a stony gaze forward.

As they passed a sign that read, “Cromwell”, Mr. Fairlaine said, “Won’t be long now, we can dump the boys and sell the milk.” He glanced at Tommy then at Charlie. His son didn’t move. Mr. Fairlaine had given him a hard cuff after they’d gotten going, catching Tommy’s ear with an elbow when he’d turned away.

They’d been talking about nothing in particular and hadn’t been driving long when Charlie had suddenly said, “Tommy’s uncle is Herbert Towne.” Mr. Fairlaine had swung and belted Charlie hard in the face. The older boy hadn’t been able to move far enough because of Freddie and had caught the full force of the slap.

No one had said a word since then. After a long time on the back roads, they turned north, the sun streaming into the truck full past Freddie’s face. Houses and a water tower finally showed they were back into civilization. The tower read “Cromwell”. They rode into town, passing houses, a church and a school, reaching the main street in a short time.

Mr. Fairlaine let the milk truck roll to a stop at a stop sign letting on to a busier road. Cursing under his breath, he pulled on to the road. It was smoother, had painted stripes and once they were out of Cromwell, there was a wide gravel strip on both sides. Right after they turned on to it, Tommy saw a shield-shaped sign that read “210”.

They sped up, the tires starting to hum. Soon Tommy found himself getting sleepy. Freddie was already slumped on the door, his head on his right arm. Charlie though, hadn’t moved and sat staring straight ahead, eyes wide open, blinking occasionally, even though the sun was bright and was creeping overhead. They came up on a sign that read the names of four towns Corona, Iverson, Carlton and – the bottom one was Duluth. Forty miles.

Tommy took a deep breath. He could live for forty more miles. He glanced at the speedometer – Mr. Fairlaine had the truck up to almost sixty. He did the math in his head – they were going a mile a minute. They’d be in Duluth in forty minutes.

They passed through the tiny town of Corona without slowing down.

The milk truck drifted slowly toward the gravel edge.

Tommy looked out of the corner of his eye at Mr. Fairlaine – his eyes were closed! For a second, he thought of grabbing the wheel – be he didn’t know how to drive anything this big! Should he scream? No – he wasn’t a girl! Should he elbow Mr. Fairlaine? Right – did he want to live to join the Air Force?

He sneezed.

Mr. Fairlaine woke up, jerked the wheel back on to the road and gunned the engine as they roared past Iverson. He suddenly looked down at Tommy and said, “I shoulda just let all of us die.”

image: http://wpcontent.answcdn.com/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cc/Alaska_Highway_Mile_1337_(Looking_Eastbound).jpg/200px-Alaska_Highway_Mile_1337_(Looking_Eastbound).jpg

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