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.
Freddie Merrill leaned against the door, leaning back as far as he could, his eyes widening as big as was possible.
Tommy Hastings said, “A body?”
‘Edwina Olds, lieutenant, Women’s Army Corps, retired’ said, “ I don’t stutter, do I?” She turned from her driving and leaned toward the boys. “You don’t think I st…st…st…utter, do I?”
Even Tommy’s eyes grew large and Freddie started sliding up the door. But the window was up, keeping out the cool wind blowing off Lake Superior. Tommy said, “What…what kind of a body?”
Edwina laughed. It wasn’t the nice laugh she’d done before. She said, “What kind of bodies do you think there are that I would hide on a logging truck?”
Freddie exclaimed, “‘Bodies?’”
“Did I say plural?” She laughed again, shifting the truck into a higher gear as they started rolling down a hill toward Two Harbors, their next port of call. “Slip of the tongue, I’d say then. I only have one body back there.” They drove on in silence until they reached the outskirts of Two Harbors. From the top of the hill leading into town, they’d seen the massive, steel Dock Number Six – as they pulled into town, it was invisible to them until they crossed over Poplar Street. Then suddenly they could see the Docks; massive and like bridges that led to nowhere, these led to the giant ore boats that waited, sucking up the iron pellets poured into them from the railcars coming from the mines.
“Yup. Got a problem with that?”
Neither boy could speak. Edwina turned her attention to the road as they lumbered into town. Just past Poplar, she turned away from the lake. The truck came to a halt and three or four cars laid on their horns. By now the sun had been up for hours and the city was alive with a few cars, but mostly people walking, a few biking and plenty of others swaggering around – lots of young men dressed in casual clothes but sporting navy hats or army hats, boots sticking out from under simple men’s pants.
She bullied the truck uphill and then headed out of town a bit. In Tommy’s ear, Freddie whispered, “Think she knows the witches and Commies and mobsters from before?”
“I hope not,” Tommy breathed out of the corner of his mouth, hoping Edwina didn’t hear him over the grinding, groaning shriek of the truck’s gear box.
Edwina cast him a look, and Tommy thought it looked downright evil. Like the one the Witch of Anoka had cast on them to think she was playing fine music in the amphitheater. That seemed like a thousand years ago!
The truck reached the top of a long hill, then turned again, rode three blocks then squealed to a halt. They stopped in front of a church. She turned off the truck and looked at the boys, saying, “Time to work for your ride or stay here in Two Harbors until you can get a ride home.”
Tommy could feel Freddie shaking against his back where he’d pushed himself to get away from Edwina. His friend blurted, “We ain’t gonna help you bury somebody a mobster killed or a…a…Communist killed…”
Tommy added – he couldn’t let Freddie look like an idiot even though Edwina was probably going to get mad at the very least. As she slid out of the truck, she said, “Suit yourselves, boys, but my uncle weren’t no Commie. I’d’a knowed it.” She slammed the door behind her and called, “But I can’t take you to Canada. That was the deal.”
Freddie whispered, “Did she say her uncle?”
“I’m pretty sure so.”
Freddie reached up and pulled the handle. They were leaning so hard against the door that Freddie yelped and would have fallen all the way down if Tommy hadn’t caught him. As it was, they tumbled out of the truck in time to see a preacher man come out of the church, walk up to Edwina and give her a big hug. They heard her say, “I brought a couple of hitchhikers with me to help unload the coffin, but it appears that they’re going to bail out on me.”
Tommy felt his face blaze red in embarrassment. He was pretty sure Freddie’s freckles were bright as chicken pox as he and his friend scrambled to the back of the lumber truck to help unload the coffin.
Edwina beamed at them as the four of them lowered the box carefully to the ground, then situated themselves to carry it, under the preacher man’s direction, into the church.
The boys took the lighter feet; Edwina and the preacher man at the front. Edwina turned, smiled at them and said to the preacher man, “I have a confession to make.”
“I’m a Lutheran pastor, not a priest.”
“Nevertheless,” said Edwina, “I confess that I intentionally misled the boys into thinking there was a body in the back of the truck.”
“There was,” said the preacher man, tossing a look over her shoulder at Freddie and Tommy. “But if you’re feeling like your old self, I can only imagine that you’ve made the boys imagine that you’re some sort of murderess.”
They laughed as Tommy and Freddie blushed furiously behind them. “That was mean…” Tommy muttered. Just as he did, Edwina turned back and winked at Tommy. The preacher man turned back and winked at Freddie as they carried the coffin into the church.