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 clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.
Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill kept walking as the sun passed high noon. Freddie’s initial stride had faded to plodding and he moaned, saying, “Can’t we take a break soon?”
Tommy slugged his best friend, noticing for the first time that either he was imagining it or Freddie’s upper arm was bigger than he remembered. Freddie half-heartedly shoved him back. Tommy thought that push was a heckuva lot harder than it had ever been. He said, “I think your muscles are bigger.”
“Your muscles. I think they’re bigger. You kinda look like Earl.”
The weary look on his face vanished as he said, “Really?”
“Yeah. That’s what I think.”
“Wow,” he said, turning back to look at Thunder Bay. He made a muscle and Tommy rolled his eyes. What was he thinking telling Freddie something stupid like that? Freddie said, “Do you think we should go back and see if Edwina needs to be rescued?” He squinted into the distance then pointed, saying, “Who’s that?”
Tommy spun around, squinted and shouted, “It’s them!”
The boys sprinted back into the woods as the truck roared down the road toward them. With a shriek of brakes – or the Witch of Anoka – the truck stopped and five people dribbled out of the truck as if they were old men. They didn’t act like that very long, especially when the one who’d nearly strangled Freddie – Ilmari – pointed after them and shouted directions to the others. Scrambling up the slope into the woods, they called out after the boys in Finnish, “Pysähdy missä olet!”
The boys ran as low to the ground as they could, but they’d been born and raised in the Cities. The only time they ran through forest was when they ran through the tree break in Loring Park and played hide-and-seek around Lake Calhoun. Canadian wilderness was something else entirely.
Heavy underbrush gave no clear view through the trees, and the uncounted white pines cast a thick shade on the ground. Where it was darkest, the brush was thinnest and at first they avoided the open spaces. Once they’d run into enough saplings, they started moving through the thinner brush. Massive boulders jutted from the rocky ground as well. Tommy nearly broke his ankle once, going down on one knee. He stayed down until Freddie yanked him to his feet again and they limped in a circle around a rock pile until they found a place they could slip in.
They crouched near an immense glacial boulder, panting. Tommy whispered, “What if they catch us?”
Freddie stared at him then said, “Now you’re sounding like me.”
Tommy stared back and finally said, “Yep.” More shouts from the woods toward the road made both of them hunch down. “Maybe we head back to the road.”
“The Anoka Witch can cast a spell on us then!”
“She’s not a witch,” Tommy spat.
“How do you know? How many witches you seen?”
More shouts closed their mouths. Tommy whispered, “Now we can’t run. We gotta stay here.”
It was past noon and hot, but both of them hunkered down as heavy tramping came toward them then passed them by. Freddie whispered back, “We can just stay here until the sun goes down.”
“Then what?” said Tommy.
“We’ll start walking back to Duluth,” said Freddie.
“That’s like a million miles! We drove and drove and drove – like for month or something.” Tommy snorted, “I guess it was five days – but still. How can we walk that far?” Beside him, Freddie shivered. “Don’t worry. We’ll hitchhike again.”
“What if these guys catch us on the road again?”
“You think they’re gonna drive up and down...” One of the Finns shouted nearby and both boys crouched lower to the ground, leaning together and closing their eyes. Tommy opened his but couldn’t see anyone. Even so, he could hear someone push their way through the brush somewhere near the pile of rocks.
There was a long silence when suddenly a man lurched into the clear around the rocks, pointed at them and shouted, “They’re here! They’re here!”
Tommy and Freddie launched themselves from their hiding place, charging the Finn, Ilmari...