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.
…if she’d happened along just then.
As it was, Tommy Hastings was snoring – he’d have cried out, “I don’t snore! Old guys snore!” – but he was no matter what.
Freddie Merrill’s head rose up and down and by the time the sun finally rose, he was curled in a ball, ear pressed on Tommy’s belly. It was probably the rumbling of his best friend’s stomach that woke him up. He say up, rubbed his eyes and said, “Jeez, I’m starving!”
Tommy sat up as well, though he grimaced. He’d stayed on his back the whole night. He said, “You’re hungry? I’m hungrier!” They both climbed to their feet, bewildered for a moment, then startled when a roar and grind thuttered through the heavy brush. The sky was dimly lit with almost-sunrise, but they could still hardly see anything. Only the steady drone of semi-trailer engines upshifting and downshifting gave any indication of where the road between Thunder Bay and the Pigeon River border crossing. Freddie started walking but Tommy said, “What if they’re waiting for us?”
“Why would they be waiting for us? We slept all night,” Freddie said. “Besides, we knocked out two of them – the Witch of Anoka and the guy who tried to strangle me.”
Tommy stared at him then said, “I think your brain must have gotten bigger, too.”
Tommy grinned and said, “Forget it. We have to hike to the road – it sounds awfully close.” They spent the next hour scrambling through the woods, dropping to the ground at the sound of any branch falling, any big bird squawking, or any truck backfiring on the highway.
By the time they could see the road through the trees, Freddie was panting. “I gotta sit down! I’m gonna die if I don’t!”
“You ain’t gonna die! The road’s right there. We gotta hitch a ride pretty quick.”
“Haven’t you been listening? There were lots of trucks when we started. There’s a lot less now.”
Freddie blinked at Tommy, his mouth hanging open. His stomach gurgled loudly. Tommy’s did at the same time. Both boys busted out laughing, falling over, rolling on the ground until they finally lay, looking up into the sky and panting. They rolled over on their stomachs and stared down at the road. In the distance was the growl of a semi coming south from Thunder Bay. “We better go now.” Tommy said. Freddie nodded and jumped to his feet, charging downhill. “Wait for me!”
They reached the road in time to see the black cloud of diesel smoke appear, followed by the rest of the truck. Sticking out their thumbs, they faced the oncoming vehicle. At first, it didn’t appear to have noticed them, roaring along steadily.
Then they heard the painful scream of airbrakes seeing applied. As the truck rolled closer, Freddie squinted until he saw the face of the man driving, “I was hopin’ for.”
He looks kind of familiar. Like I seen him somewhere.”
“Like where?” Tommy asked, throwing a wide eyed look at Freddie. “Not the mansion...”
The truck stopped, engine rumbling. A few seconds later, the door opened. A man with heavy eyebrows and dark eyes and a scruffy faced leaded out and said, “What you boys doing here?”
Freddie blurted, “Are you Finnish?”
The man’s scowl deepened and he said, “Not sure, you know someone named Ed – served in the Navy in the South Pacific.”
Tommy opened his mouth to reply. Freddie punched him in the kidneys, but it didn’t stop him from saying, “Yeah. She’s a friend of ours. What about her?”
The scowl vanished and the man said, “She’s my girlfriend. Told me to keep an eye out for you. Give you a lift to Duluth?”