April 26, 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.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill stared up at the woman truck driver. Her forearms were bigger than Freddie’s bicep and HER bicep was thicker than Tommy’s thigh.

Both boys stared at her until she started to close the door. Tommy shouted, “Can we ride with you up to Canada?”

Freddie shouted at the same time, “Are you a Socialist?”

“I was a WAC on Guam during the War, kiddo!”

Both boys stepped back, eyes bulging. She scowled down at them both then burst out laughing. She slid across the seat, opened the door all the way and gestured them up into the cab. “I needed a good laugh today and you gave me one. Come on up. I’m goin’ all the way to Port Arthur, Ontario. You can ride as far as you want or until your butts get sore.” She frowned again and wagged her finger at them, “But no whining! I hated it when my little brothers and sisters whined, I hated it when the college students whined and I really hated it when the sailors whined – especially after Pearl Harbor. So no whining!”

Both boys nodded eagerly and she gestured them up into the cab. The climbed and settled themselves and she came around the other side, jumped up and ground the gears until they caught and the truck groaned forward.

It was real day by now and she said, “My name’s Edwina Olds, lieutenant, retired; you can call me Ed.”

Freddie said suddenly, “Oh, I could never call a woman ‘Ed’. That’s my granddad’s name.”

Tommy said, “My name’s Thomas Hastings, fourteen...er...” he stopped, suddenly surprised and then said, “I guess I’m fifteen today, Ma’am…er…should I call you Lieutenant?”

Edwina laughed again, “You, young man,” she leaned forward to look at Freddie, who was leaning back like he was afraid she’s knock his block off, “may call me Edwina, if it means so much to you.” She snorted like a man and added, “Please my mother to no end, if someone actually called me my Christian name. How old are you, son?”

Freddie smiled hugely and said, “I’m Freddie and I’m still fourteen. I don’t turn ‘til August.”

She nodded, sat back and shifted through another three gears as the truck gained speed. Off to their right, Lake Superior rolled by, monstrous ocean-going ore carriers looking like child’s toys on the immense body of water. After a while, they passed a town called French River, though neither of them could see an actual town anywhere and they assumed that the muddy creek that flashed under the bridge was the River. “Don’t look like much of a river,” Freddie said.

“Where you boys from then that you ain’t impressed by the mighty French?”

“We’re from Minneapolis,” said Tommy.

She laughed, “Third longest river in the world, the Mississippi is. I’d never seen nothin’ but Duluth ‘til I joined up after Pearl Harbor. Then all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the Pacific. Makes Superior look like a mud puddle.”

They drove in silence for a long time. Freddie fell asleep against Tommy’s shoulder. But Tommy couldn’t exactly fall asleep on Ed’s shoulder. He kept blinking as he watched the signs roll by: Palmers, Knife River, Larsmont. When the sign for Two Harbors came up, Edwina said, “We’ll take a break there. Maybe get some food.” She glanced at Tommy, “You boys did bring money for food, didn’t you?”

Tommy’s eyes got big again as he shook his head. “We didn’t think about having to buy food.”

She shook her head then said, “I guess I can spring for a breakfast, but you boys’ll have to do some work for me.”

“Like what?” Tommy asked warily.

“I got a body hidden under some logs that I need...delivered…”

Image: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/pub/jan99/1940p5.GIF

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