August 21, 2015

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #75: July 30, 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.

Tommy Hastings was still staring at Freddie Merrill as the other boy nodded, not looking up from the place where Nils Wangenstein struggled to breathe. He was kneeling as Freddie patted his back then lifted the other boy’s arm, put it over his shoulders and stood. The two of them walked slowly past Tommy. He watched as they went into the cabin then followed after them.

Nil’s mom was on the phone. She said abruptly, “If you wait ‘til morning, they’ll be gone.” She listened, made a disgusted face then said, “Keeping your back side safe’s always what you were good at, Walter.” She hung the phone up hard, muttering, “That’ll give the gossips something to do tomorrow.” She looked over at the boys, “Go to bed. Walter’ll be out to pick you boys up at daybreak, so you’d best be ready to go.” She stomped across the kitchen, into another room and slammed the door.

Nils said, “Walter always makes her crazy.”

Tommy and Freddie nodded. Freddie said, “My dad drives me mom crazy, too.” The boys drifted into the bed room and when Nils turned out the light, dropped into the bed. All three of them were snoring a few minutes later.

They were woken up by pounding on the door. “Let’s go, boys! Breakfast in five minutes, then Walter’ll be here at five thirty!”

Somehow, they’d ended up in a heap, tangled arms, legs, and torsos. Rolling out of bed, they each ran to the bathroom, used it, and ran out. Sixty seconds later, they were in the kitchen. Three plates stacked with flapjacks, bacon, and sausages steamed on the table. “Eat fast, ‘cause when Walter gets here, you’ll be flying out like bats outta you know where.”

By the time they were done stuffing their faces, a sheriff’s squad car had pulled up. A large, red-faced man rolled out. Looking up at the brightening sky, shading the sun, he shouted, “Let’s go! Day’s gettin’ on!”

The boys scrambled to their feet, but Nils’ mother waved them down. “I’ll take care of our sheriff.” Wiping on her apron, she headed out the door. Tommy and Freddie stared. Nils grabbed the shoulders of their shirts and pulled them to their feet and backward to the room. When they were there, he said, “Get your stuff packed and get going.”

“What?” said Freddie.

“Mom and Walter’s gonna talk forever. If you don’t get on the road early, them crazies from Duluth is gonna catch you.” The boys nodded. “Just keep the clothes. Ma won’t mind. I got too much stuff anyway.” He looked at Freddie, nodded, then slugged Tommy in the shoulder. “Get goin’.”

Tommy started out the door. Freddie stayed a minute longer, slugged Nils in the shoulder then said, “Who knows. Maybe I’ll come back up next summer.”

Nils nodded, then said, “Hurry up. I’ll tell Ma you left. She’ll be OK with that.” He walked out of the room.

Freddie said, “Too bad he doesn’t living in the city.”

“He’d have been one of us.”

“Yep,” said Freddie. “Let’s go before the Communists wake up.”

“They’re Socialists.”

“Same thing,” said Freddie. The boys walked through the house. “She cooks good, too.”

“Better than my sister,” said Tommy.

Freddie laughed and said, “That’s not hard to do.” Tommy slugged him, feeling better. They slipped out the back door. “Which way do you suppose the road is?”

Tommy stopped. Freddie stopped beside him. The sun was up, slanting through a grove of widely spaced pine trees from their left. “That’s east,” Tommy said.


“So we go straight, keeping the sun on our left.” He started walking. Soon they reached a blacktop road going east-west. He turned and they walked into the sun until they reach a wider blacktop.
Freddie shaded his eyes, looked left, then right, “Sign says it’s fifty-six.” There were no cars. “Middle of the week, ain’t gonna be no one going nowhere.

“Sounds right.” He started walking. “We wait until someone that don’t speak Finnish stops to give us a ride.”

“Right.” They’d walked a mile or so when Freddie added, “Sorta gonna miss Nils.”

They kept walking on the silent road as the summer sun climbed slowly into the sky.

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