January 6, 2012


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.

They ran.

They ran in the summer moonlight until they couldn’t run any more.

They ran until the smooth shoreline grew so rocky, they couldn’t move forward any more without climbing a cliff or swimming in Lake Superior. Tommy Hastings leaned forward and put his hand into the water and jerked it back, whispering, “It’s freezing cold!”

Freddie Merrill was bent over double, gasping for air. Tommy came back up to shore and put his hand on Freddie’s shoulder. The other boy lashed out with his fist, catching Tommy in the thigh.

Hopping away, Tommy exclaimed, “You gave me a charley horse, stupid!”

Freddie straightened up. The half Moon rising over Lake Superior was bright enough to light Freddie’s face as he said, “I’m going home.” He turned north: giant boulders scattered everywhere along the lake blocked his way.

He turned west: a cliff rose twenty feet into the air.

He turned south: the Glensheen Mansion was there with its socialists and wealthy people.

He turned east: Lake Superior lapped on the last of the smooth pebble beach where they stood.

Freddie said, “I’d go home if there was any way for me to go home.” He stepped toward Tommy and shouted, “I’d go home if there was any way for me to get there!”

“Shut up! They’ll hear you and come and get us! Didn’t you hear somebody shout that they should kill us?”

Freddie opened his mouth. Shut it. Sat down on the beach and put his head in his hands. If tommy didn’t know him better, he’d have said that Freddie started crying. But his best friend would never cry. He waited a few minutes, picking up rocks and throwing then into the Lake. Then he went and sat down next to Freddie and said, “I got us into this, I’ll get us out.”

Freddie nodded, his head still in his hands.

“We just have to get back up to the road and hitchhike to Canada.”

Freddie’s head came up and he looked at Tommy. “What?”

“We have to go to Canada. They don’t have socialists there.”

“They have socialists everywhere,” Freddie said.

“How do you know?”

Without looking up, Freddie said, “If they have socialists in Duluth, they’re gonna have them everywhere.”

They heard shouting down the beach toward Duluth. Freddie jumped to his feet. “What are we gonna do?”

“I thought you were going back home?” Tommy said.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere without you. What if I went home by myself? I’d have to tell everyone the Communists got you. Dad would wail on me ‘til I screamed.” He punched Tommy in the shoulder this time. It was more than a friendly punch though. There was power behind it. Power that said if Tommy didn’t get them out of this, there’d be more where that came from. Tommy was pretty sure he could take Freddie on a regular day, but right now his best friend was scared. There were more shouts from farther down the beach. In the distance, the Duluth Harbor lighthouse swung its bright light across the water.

Tommy said, “We gotta hide. Together.”

Freddie looked around, “Like, where?”

Tommy stepped toward the towering boulders of the North Shore. “In there.”

Freddie opened his mouth, shut it and nodded. Tommy started for the dark, shadowed shapes just as a loud voice shouted, “I think I see footprints.” Another voice said something in a foreign language. The first voice said, “I know it’s not sand, stupid! But you can still see footprints!” A smaller light came across the pebbly beach, swept across the indentations and then flashed up on the boulders.

There was nothing to see.

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