January 17, 2013

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #45: July 19, 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.

They drove in silence for a few miles before Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.), said, “So what’d you boys do to raise the ire of such a scummy-looking passel of bullies?”

Both Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill started to talk at the same time.

Freddie said, “We were just hitchhiking and minding our own business...”

Tommy said, “It’s all my fault! If I hadn’t come up here tryin’ to find out...”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Ed exclaimed. She upshifted the truck as they sped along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Only a little traffic passed them as they roared along. It was getting on toward early evening and Ed had promised they’d stop and eat before moving on. “I’m hearing two mighty different stories, boys! Freddie’s saying that nothing’s your fault, it’s all people picking on you. Tommy’s saying that it’s ALL his fault and you boys brought this on yourself.”

Tommy and Freddie blinked like deer in headlights, Freddie leaning forward to look past his friend. Tommy said, “Well...”

Ed snorted. It was a very unladylike sound; like she’d learned it from sailors on Iwo Jima. She had. As she said, “You boys are gonna have to get your stories straight,” she pulled a cigarette pack from her pocket, popped one out by slapping the top against the side of her hand. She offered the boys the pack. Both of them leaned hastily away, remembering a certain city cop tugging on their ears. Ed glanced at them and nodded, “Smart move, boys. Smoking’s a nasty habit and I’m probably giving myself lung cancer or something.” She glared, “So don’t you smoke ‘til you’re good and old enough.” Wide-eyed, both boys nodded as they passed a highway sign that read, “Grand Marais 55 miles”. Ed continued, “Now, get your story together, pick one of you to tell it and let’s get on with it.”

Freddie’s elbow in Tommy’s side made him wince, but he got the message. He started from Lake Calhoun and stopped when she picked them up just outside of Duluth. They drove maybe twenty miles, and the mid-summer sun had finally started its long slide to the horizon when she leaned forward and said, “Your Finnish Socialists and their witch lady are following us.”

Tommy tried to lean over Freddie who elbowed him. They scuffled briefly, Ed laughing the whole time. Red-faced from blushing, Tommy leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest and growled, “What’s so funny?”

“You boys are funny!”

“We ain’t funny,” Freddie said, sulking as much as Tommy. “There’s witches and communists after us and we’re scared!”

Tommy snorted and said, “I ain’t scared.”

“You are, too!” said Freddie, shoving Tommy. He slammed into Ed, who rolled toward the door, holding the wheel and turning the truck. Tommy and Freddie shouted like they did once when they rode on the roller coaster at the Excelsior Amusement Park – Earl said they screamed like little girls.

Ed cursed as she brought the juddering truck back under control. Slamming the brakes on, she brought them to a screaming stop. The truck carrying the Socialists roared past them, the men laughing. Muttering darkly, she put the truck back in gear again and soon, the logs in the back were shaking against their chains again. By the time they were up to speed, Freddie said, “Sorry...”

“Sorry for what, kiddo? You think a bump from a couple half-pints could make me drive this rig off the road if I didn’t want it to?” She reached down and shifted into a higher gear still and cried out, “No way! This is what I was hoping for!” In front of the semi loaded with logs, was the much, much smaller truck with the Socialists and the witch. Ed said, "I ever tell you boys I drove a tank for a few hours on Guam? Never got over how much fun that was!"

Ed was closing the gap between them fast – and not one of them seemed to notice...

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