May 6, 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.

Mr. Fairlaine stayed awake the rest of the time and came to a stop just outside of the city of Duluth.

Tommy Hastings’ eyes bugged out as he said, “Is that the ocean?”

Freddie Merrill, Charlie Fairlaine busted out laughing. Mr. Fairlaine muttered, “Idiot.” He floored the accelerator. “Ain’t you ever seen Lake Superior boy?”

Tommy cringed from the tone of the man’s voice. Tommy managed to say, “No, Sir,” after Charlie shot him a dirty look.

Charlie laughed and said, “Lake’s so big, you gotta watch out for sharks!”

“I ain’t stupid. Shark’s live in the ocean.”

“You sure about that,” Charlie asked, arching an eyebrow.

Tommy kept a sulky silence until Mr. Fairlaine ground the gears of the tanker and they started down the long highway that led to the lake far below.

All three boys made noises of amazement when the massive aerial lift bridge started to rise up. “It looks like it was made from an Erector Set™!” Freddie exclaimed.

A long, giant ore boat, red rusty, massive and riding very low in the water. Mr. Fairlaine growled, “Not a swimming lake, boys. Colder than…” he snapped his jaw shut. They’d reached the outskirts of the city by then and passed the lift bridge.

“Everything’s so huge,” Freddie said.

“Not feelin’ carsick anymore?” Charlie asked, digging his elbow into Freddie’s ribs.

Freddie looked startled and said, “Not at all.”

The older boy said, “Sick is all in your head.”

Scowling, Freddie went back to staring at the ore boat as they passed it and came to the train station. A locomotive and coal tender faced south with four passenger cars and a long line of boxcars dumped clouds of steam into the morning air. “Were do you think that’s going?”

“Probably Hinckley then to St. Paul, Texas, New York and Los Angeles,” said Mr. Fairlaine as he turned the tanker left, ground the gears and headed uphill.

“Where are we going?” Freddie exclaimed, turning to keep his eyes on the train.

“Sit yourself still, boy! We’re going to the dairy – where else?” Tommy hunkered down. Mr. Fairlaine obviously hated him. The less he said the better. But he hadn’t even told Freddie the notion he’d got into his head somewhere around Milaca. It was something he’d thought about once or twice at home, ‘cause Mom had said she had family up in Duluth – but never said who when he asked.

Finally, he said softly, “I’ve got kin up here. Cousins for sure. I think.”

Mr. Fairlaine glared down at him. Charlie spoke up, “What? Don’t your Ma know who your relatives are?”

He shrugged. “She doesn’t say when I ask. I just know they’re up here somewhere.”

“Why don’t you ask your grandma and grandpa?”

“Don’t have any that I know of.”

“Everybody’s got grandparents,” Mr. Fairlaine said.

Tommy shrugged. “I never saw them.”

Freddie leaned forward, looking past Charlie and said, “That’s what we came up here for? To find your family?”

Tommy shrugged but shook his head, “Not really. I didn’t think about it until later – the night we…” he’d been about to say ‘The night we met the witch, the mobsters and the farmer’, but a quick glance at Mr. Fairlaine made him say, “…slept on the beach at Mille Lacs.”

They rode in silence the rest of the way up the hill then Mr. Fairlaine turned the tanker into a wide gravel lot. Two huge metal towers with the words LAND-O-LAKES stood to one side. Three other tank trucks sat parked to one side while another sat in front of one of the towers. Mr. Fairlaine stopped the truck, looked around the lot then got out, dropping down to the ground.

Freddie couldn’t get the door open, so Charlie had to reach across and let them both out. Mr. Fairlaine looked up at Tommy and said, “You gonna get out or just sit there like an idiot?”

“Getting out, Sir,” Tommy said and slid across the seat, which was slippery and damp from sweat. He pitched forward and Mr. Fairlaine caught him, quickly letting go when Tommy was steady.

“You’d best get going,” he said and turned his back on them, calling, “Let’s get going, Charlie! No time to dawdle!” He strode across the gravel lot, heading for a large shed. The older boy hurried after his father.

Freddie, standing next to the truck, shouted, “Where are we supposed to go?”

Mr. Fairlaine stopped, turned and called back, “Lots of your socialist friends down on North Shore Drive.” He turned away, grabbed Charlie by the sleeve and left the boys standing in the gravel lot.


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