December 8, 2011

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #32: July 15, 1946 – July 16, 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 speculation about 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.

The big woman scowled and said, “And exactly how do you know that they’re not spies.”

Bonnie stepped forward and touched the woman’s arm, “We ran into them a few days ago and gave them a ride.” She looked down at Freddie Merrill, offering him a hand up. He reached for her hand and took it and she pulled him to his feet. Then she gently pushed him toward Tommy Hastings. “They were hitchhiking up from Minneapolis and we found them all beat up and bloody on the road side.” She smiled at them and added, “I think they were fighting each other. Maybe they’re brothers?” Tommy found himself blushing furiously. She’d noticed their little tussle?

Freddie elbowed Tommy and said, “He ain’t my brother! I’m Freddie Merrill.”

Tommy straightened up and said, “Thomas Frederick Hastings.”

Freddie gave him a strange look. Tommy was pretty sure Freddie’d never heard his full name before. Dad and Mom didn’t do that “mad at the kid and use his full name thing” like Freddie’s did.

There was a yelp from farther back in the crowd and suddenly the workers parted. A woman strode out across the pebbled floor. She was old. Another woman followed her more slowly – it was the Anoka Witch!

The first woman walked up to Tommy. She stared at him then took his chin firmly in her hand and turned it first left then right. She muttered a curse, then said, “You look like him.”

“Who?” Tommy asked.

“James Hastings.” Tommy’s eyes met hers and she nodded slowly. She said, “So, James and Ruth finally did it.”

Freddie said, “Did what?”

She released Tommy and said, “Got hitched. She was top floor maid. He was a drifter the gardener hired to do heavy work around the estate. He flirted; she was just a kid. Like that for seven, maybe ten years.” The woman shook her head. “She warn’t mine, but practically. She came here when she was fourteen in ‘Ought-Four, an orphan.”

“My mom wasn’t an orphan!”

The woman shrugged, “Her mother left her a long time before Ruth Carrol ran away to Duluth – I think from what she’d say late at night when she’d been into the house wine – from somewhere in the Dakota Territory. Her daddy was a US Deputy Marshal who’d got hisself killed somewhere along the way. Life fell apart after that.” She paused, “I was kinda her mama here at Glensheen.”

“What was she doing here, then?”

“Like I said, working on the top floor. Maid,” she shrugged, “the Congdon’s called her a ‘domestic’.”

Tommy stared up at her and said, “Like I said, ‘What was she doing here, then?”

The woman frowned and her accent got so heavy Tommy could barely understand when she said, “They’re socialists, just like the rest of us.”

Tommy said, “What’s a socialist?”

Freddie cried out, “Communists! Run for your life!”

Tommy and Freddie had been friends practically since they were born. Tommy didn’t know anything about the woman standing in front of him who was saying his mom had been an orphan and her and his dad were socialists.

But he trusted Freddie with his life.

He followed Freddie along the northern spit of pebbles and then cut hard left into the darkness.

From behind them came the clear words, “If you catch ‘em, kill ‘em!”


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