March 19, 2015

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #70: July 29, 1946 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.

“I know. I’m trying to make us laugh,” said Tommy Hastings.

“Why?” asked Freddie Merrill.

Dripping wet and still shin-deep in smelly water and mud, Tommy looked up at the road and said, “‘cause I think the Socialists are still after us.”

“They can’t be! We left ‘em behind and wrecked their truck!”

“I’d guess not. That was them in another truck.”

“What do they want from us?” Freddie cried out.

"Not what they want from you, Freddie. It’s what they want from me. That want the picture. The one Ma has sitting in the cabinet in the kitchen. And the worse thing is that she don’t know that they want it. So when they get there, they’re gonna blast her away with machine guns and blow away Dad and June and Earl and then go in and take it anyway! So this will all be a gigantic waste of time and it’ll all be my fault ‘cause I wanted to go swimming at Lake Minnetonka!” Then he sat back down in the water and suddenly started to cry.

Freddie stared down at him, eyes wide. He stared for a long time; so long that he could feel the sun burning down on his head through his thin blonde hair. Finally, he managed to say, “Ain’t your fault what your Ma and Pa did when they was young. Plus, neither one is stupid. And those Finnish Communists ain’t stupid, neither! They ain’t gonna go down there, shoot up your folks and you sister and her boyfriend – he was in the Navy! – and figure that they’ll get away with it! So it ain’t your fault, and ain’t nobody gonna get  killed over a portrait, and the worse thing they’ll do is break into your house and try and steal the stupid thing. So we gotta get goin’ so we can beat ‘em down there and set it up so’s we can jump ‘em when they get there,” he paused, gulped air, and kept on, “Hey! We can let know Lars know and he can do a stakeout! They’ll get those Commie for sure!”

Tommy looked up at Freddie with bleary eyes. He stared at him for a long time before he finally climbed to his feet and said, “Damn straight, buddy! We gotta get down there before they do!” He scrambled up the side of the ditch, wiped a little bit of the mud from his face, and started off down the road. Freddie stood, staring after him. Tommy turned and called out, “You don’t think I can take on them Socialists by myself, do ya? I need my best friend with me to do, so come on!”

Freddie scrambled after him and pretty soon, they were walking down the road side-by-side, sometimes stepping back to let a car roar past; sometimes sitting in the shade of a gnarly tree growing alongside the road. The sun rose to noon then started its long, lazy summer slide to set. Suddenly Freddie said, “I’m itchy.” They walked in silence. He said, “I’m itchy in my privates.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” said Tommy. “But now that you mention it...” They kept trudging until Tommy said, “I don’t remember seeing any lakes.” He paused, adding, “I sure wish we could go into Minnetonka now.”

“There’s no other lakes…”

Tommy busted out laughing.


“We’re almost to Mille Lacs! It’s one of the biggest lakes in the state!”
Once they came across a roadside not far past the Creamery turn off. It even had a faucet and they were able to wash off the worst of the mud, then kept on. When they saw a little sign that said Malmo, they started to run.

When they saw the first glimmer of sunlight on water, they were off the road, through another ditch, and had started to peel off their clothes. The shore was rocky – but by then, they dove together and the cold water just ender the surface brought them both up laughing, screaming, and clean after days hiking on the road and swimming in muddy ditches.
It also brought a small group of men watching them from across the road…

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