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 looked at Freddie Merrill and bulged his eyes. Freddie said, “Sounds good. We’ll stay. But can we be in town before sun up?”
“No problem. Ma gets up early – makes me get up early, too. To take care of the place,” said Nilson Wangenstein.
“What place?” Freddie asked.
“We run an resort – the Thousand Lakes Inn.”
Tommy and Freddie looked at each other. Tommy said, “Is there anyone staying here?”
“It’s usually pretty quiet during the week and it’s still OK here – but a resort a mile back has a crazy group of guys stayin’ there. They talk funny, but Ma says it’s Finnish.”
“They’re Finnish!” Freddie said.
“I guess. They came here first, but we didn’t have enough room for all of them.”
“How many are there?”
Nilson shrugged, “I think Ma said too many to put all of ‘em in one cabin. She thinks that stuff like that is odd.”
“Stuff like what?” Freddie asked.
"When crowds of men travel together. Wasn’t like that during the war. Hardly anyone came up here to vacation. Mostly just families without dads and the really rich.” He shrugged, “Sometimes I like it when there are other guys here, though. Ma’s great, but I don’t have no brothers and most of the other guys my age are workin’ in town or on their farms in the summer. Sometimes someone shows up like you two did, but usually it’s pretty quiet.”
They reached the house and Nilson called through the screen door before he opened it, “Ma! I met a couple other guys who was fishin’, but their boat sank so I had to rescue ‘em. Can they stay the night then hitchhike back to their cabin in the morning?”
Once they were inside, a short, strong-looking woman walked out from a room in the back, wiping her hands on a towel. She glared at Tommy and Freddie, scowled and said, “Messing about with your boat, I’ll gather. Maybe too much beer as well.” She huffed then said, “I’ll have no boys drinkin’ beer in my home, and no carousing and loud noises. I’ve got paying customers tonight, and I need for them to tell their friends Thousand Lakes is the best place to stay on Mille Lacs.” If it would have been possible, her scowl would have beaten up both boys. They looked to Nilson, who shook his head a tiny bit.
Freddie said, “We can work for our bread, Mrs. Wangenstein. We can help.”
She pursed her lips, grunted, then looked at Nilson and said, “You need more friends like these boys. Offering to help to pay for your room and board is what’s proper. Not like those other friends of yours, coming in a expecting to be waited on hand and foot.” She sniffed. “Get changed and come on into the kitchen. I can feed you and you can all sleep in Nilson’s room for the night. Giant bed used to belong to me and the husband before he left me.” She turned and left them.
Nilson grunted, staring after her. “I always thought she wanted me and my friends to stay outta her hair.”
“I thought you didn’t have friends.”
Nilson shrugged, “No real ones, just summer ones. They rent a cabin here or at one of the other resorts on our part of Mille Lacs, we run into each other fishing or swimming. But they don’t stay long. In the end, they go back home and I’m still here.” He paused for a long time, then said, “When Kjel was here, we were each other’s best friends.” He jerked his head toward a door and said, “Come on. I’ll show you my dresser and you can pick out what you need. I don’t have anything fancy, but I figure neither of you have much that’s fancy, either.”
Nilson stayed with them as they changed, then said, “We should go. Mom’s got dinner up for us almost for sure. I’ll run out and get the fish on my stringer.” He disappeared and they heard the screen door slam shut a moment later. Tommy said, “Geez, I don’t know how I’d have made it to Canada and back without a friend.”
Freddie nodded. “I’d’a died of fright by now like a hundred times if I’d had to go there alone.”
They both nodded and went back out to the room. Nilson’s mom walked out and said, “Where’s Nils?” They all turned to the door when they heard a harsh scream...