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 and Freddie Merrill woke up to the thundering rumble of a truck roaring past them. It didn’t have a muffler. It didn’t have a top over the back and was full of men.
Neither one moved as it disappeared over the horizon. Finally Freddie whispered, “They’re going to the Cities.”
“Duh,” said Tommy, standing. “Let’s go.” He started walking, the sun glaring full in his face. He stopped. “The sun’s goin’ down.”
Freddie stepped up beside him and said, “Duh.”
“How can we get back home before them?”
“We can’t,” said Freddie.
Tommy spun to face him then shoved him backwards. Freddie didn’t do anything to protect himself. He just fell backward and rolled a little down into the ditch. He stayed there. Tommy slid down and shouted, “Get up! We have to go!”
Freddie rolled over, squinting into the sun. “Go where?”
“To save my ma!”
Freddie shrugged, then said, “Unless you can fly ‘faster than a speeding bullet’, you ain’t gonna catch up with the Communists.”
Tommy screamed, “They’re Socialists!”
Freddie shrugged again. “We don’t got no truck. We don’t got no car. We don’t got nobody but us and our feet.”
Tommy glared down at him. He clenched his teeth tight. He jaw trembled. He turned bright red. He glared some more. The trembling passed. He took a deep breath. “I got a thumb.” He stared down at Freddie for a long time then said, “And so do you.” He held out his hand. The other boy didn’t move for a long time. Tommy held rock solid.
Finally Freddie grinned and held out his hand. Tommy pulled him to his feet as Freddie said, “Now you’re talkin’.” They climbed out of the ditch and headed south, thumbs stuck out, facing the way they walked. The sun slid a little farther down in the sky.
It slid farther.
Shadows started to crawl across the road and the monster heat that made the other side of the silent road shimmer fell away. Soaked in sweat, Tommy and Freddie trudged in silence, fair hair plastered to their foreheads. “I think I got heat stroke.” Freddie said suddenly.
“You don’t have heat stroke,” said Tommy.
“How do you know? Last time I looked, you weren’t a doctor.”
“Last time I looked, you weren’t layin’ on the road, you weren’t boiling hot...”
“I am, too!”
“Not the weather, stupid, YOU! Earl said they got heat stroke in the South Pacific all the time.”
“How come he told you that?”
They trudged in silence until Tommy finally said, “‘Cause I told him I had heat stroke to see if I could get outta school”
Freddie barked a laugh just as a cool breeze dribbled from the north, along the road and slid up their backs. Both boys sighed and trudged a few more feet until they stopped.
The breeze carried the deep-throated rumble of the diesel engine of a big rig.