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.
A flatbed truck stopped on the side of the road had been full of men, staring at them and trying to wave them down. Steam poured from the front of the truck as Arnie Volz, truck driver and boyfriend of Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) hit the brakes of the logging truck they’d gotten into while they were trying to hitch hike from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Finns poured out of the truck that had pulled over to the side of the road, pointing up when they saw the boys.
Freddie Merrill and Tommy Hastings screamed, “Don’t stop! Don’t stop!”
Tommy cried, “That’s Ilmari!”
“What did you say?” Arnie asked.
“Go! Go! Those men want to kill us!”
Arnie floored the accelerator and chugged past the men. Unfortunately the semi didn’t accelerate very fast. Even so, the back was loaded with barkless logs headed for Minneapolis and there wasn’t really any place for them to latch on to the cab. One of the Finns climbed on to the running board. The window was open and he shouted, “Annamme sinulle mitään kuva!”
“What’s he talking about?” Freddie screamed.
Arnie reached under his seat and pulled out a gun, and stiff-arming Freddie and Tommy, pointed it in the man’s face.
The Finn fell off the truck and as they picked up speed, they left the men behind them. Arnie grunted and put the gun back and said, “All right, boys. Maybe you’d better start explaining what just happened.” He paused. “From the beginning, because that man just shouted, ‘We’ll give you anything for the picture!’”
Freddie glanced at Tommy who couldn’t escape the hard look of the truck driver – looking right at him. He was as scary as Ed had been when she got mad at them. So he started at the very beginning, even though Freddie elbowed him when he told Arnie that they both lived in Minneapolis near Loring Park.
Arnie’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Is Lars still there?”
Freddie turned around, looking up at Arnie’s bristly chin and deep wrinkles, and said, “Yeah, he caught Tommy smoking in the bushes.”
Tommy slugged him in the back, “You were doing the same thing!”
“Only cause you dared me!”
“No I didn’t! You brought the cigarettes from your dad!”
“Did not – you got ‘em from Earl!”
Arnie tapped on the brakes and the rig slowed down as he said, “Should I just take you back to your Finnish friends? I’ve established that you know Lars and I’m pretty sure Lars knows you...” His tone of voice told them to try and deny it, but both boys blushed to their tips of their ears. “I thought as much. So...”
Tommy took up the story, Freddie interrupting whenever there was a detail they disagreed on. They didn’t talk slowly, but they didn’t tell the story from beginning to end, either. It wasn’t long before they reached the customs station at Pigeon River. The sun had just set as they slowed and pulled up between the facing log cabins that were all there was of the international border between the US and Canada. The two countries were allies and shared the same continent with Mexico – though Canada was the biggest of the three and was the only country ever to have invaded Washington, DC and set fire to the Capitol Building.
“About five hours to Duluth, now boys. Where do you want me to drop you off?”
“I thought you were going home!” Freddie exclaimed.
Arnie laughed, “I am – but this ain’t my truck and I only go home once every three months. I gotta take the train just like everyone else.”“Don’t you have a car?” asked Tommy. “My sister’s boyfriend’s got a keen one.”
Arnie snorted, “I make a good living, boys, but cars is for the rich. I wanna get me one, but for the time being, the trains and the trolleys are good enough for me.”
“How are we supposed to get home now?” Freddie cried.
“Same way’s you got here – hitchhike.”
“What if we meet Bonnie & Clyde and the Finnish mobsters and the witch and all of them again?”
“I think your mobster friends are stuck with a broken down truck about a hundred fifty miles back. The others are with them, most likely.”
“Why do they want us, Arnie? What’s in the picture that they want it so bad as to chase all over creation?”
Arnie scowled then said, “Only thing I can think of, boys, is that the picture shows not just your mom, but the two men shaking hands are not supposed to be friendly to each other.”
Freddie said, “You mean like one’s a socialist and ones a Communist?”
Arnie’s eyebrows went up as he said, “That’s EXACTLY what I mean, son. Exactly.”