January 15, 2015

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #67: July 28, 1946 – July 29, 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 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.

Charlie’s Fairlaine Creamery truck roared to life, Charlie turned the headlights on and swung the truck around, charging the Finns, displaced Socialists from Duluth, and their dilapidated flatbed. Much the worse for the wear of chasing the Freddie Merrill and Tommy Hastings from Duluth to Canada and back again – all the while being harassed by the friends Tommy and Freddie had made on their journey. Trying to find out where the portrait of Tommy’s mother and two strange, well-dressed and official looking men had come from had led them to Duluth; the connection between the Finns and the portrait was one neither boy understood.

The Creamery truck fish-tailing on the loose gravel, Finns leaped to save their lives, scrambling in the darkness, now blinded by the headlights from the milk truck. As Charlie spun the steering of his truck, the Finn driving turned to head them off.

The read end of Charlie’s truck caught the front of the Finn’s truck with a tremendous BANG!

As the Finns slewed round, the door slammed into the face of the driver as he leaned out to grab it. Shouting curses, he lost hold and rolled backwards, at the same time as he tried to stand up to regain his balance.

He floored the accelerator, the truck surged forward, and before anyone could shout, scream or move, it plunged over the edge near the tower. There was silence except for a racing engine, then it, too, fell silent as the roar of metal meeting rock drowned out all other sounds in the parking lot.

Charlie had stopped only long enough to see the truck racing for the edge before he’d floored the accelerator of his own truck to send them careening downhill toward both Lake Superior and Superior Street. Tommy, Freddie, and even Charlie screamed as the truck swerved wildly when it hit the slightest hole or stone. “The brakes! The brakes!” Tommy shouted. He knew enough about Earl’s car to know that that would be the only way to stop them.

Freddie threw his arms around Tommy and buried his face in his chest.

Charlie turned off the truck’s engine and stood on the brakes. At first nothing happened. The stench of burning brake pads filled the truck cab. But the truck began to slow down. It slowed down some more. Tommy threw a terrified look over his shoulder and shouted, “The Socialists are coming! The Socialists are coming!” The truck had rolled to a wild, bumpy ride not much different than a drive through a plowed field. He popped the clutch to start the truck, slowed enough to take the corner and as soon as he had, he floored the accelerator again, leaving behind a roiling blue cloud of smoke to greet the tumbling, shouting, cursing, and fist-waving men.

The city was still quiet in the early morning hours, but as they roared along Superior Street, the raging Socialist’s cries and curses faded until the only sound was the mournful horns of the ore boats as they began their slow, ponderous journey to their next port of call.

None of the boys spoke as Charlie drove them onward until Superior Street became Grand Avenue that branched off and turned in the US 61. Freddie had released Tommy some time ago and stared out the window as the sun came up in their faces. After they were a few miles out of town, Charlie slowed down. Freddie opened the door. Charlie said, “What’cha doin’ kid?”

Freddie shrugged and climbed down, “I dunno. I just figured you’d be dumping us here so we could walk back to Minneapolis.”

Charlie laughed, “Now what kind of friend would I be if I did that?”


Charlie jerked his chin up, saying, “Get back in, kid. I stopped because I wasn’t sure if I should go back and try and make the milk delivery or not.” Tommy and Freddie’s eyes all bugged out. Charlie laughed again. “You should see yourselves!” He shook his head. “Don’t worry, the story I’ll tell Dad is WAY better than me going back and delivering the milk!”

“What story?” Tommy asked.

Charlie snorted, spit out the window and said, “The story I’m gonna tell him of me getting there to find another milk truck had crashed over the cliff.”

“You’re gonna tell your dad the truth?” Freddie exclaimed. He’d never told his own dad the truth unless it was to get someone else in trouble or to save himself from a beating.

"Sure,” laughed Charlie, “Just not all of it.” He jerked his chin up again and said, “Hurry up, let’s go! I gotta have time to come back to Duluth and make a milk run after lunch.” Freddie scrambled up the steps, back into the truck, and slammed the door tight.

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