April 12, 2013

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #48: July 19, 1946 - July 20,1946

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, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

Freddie Merrill cried out, “Whaddya mean ‘kill you and your friend’?”

Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) sighed, ground another gear and said, “Just what I mean, son. One of the three of us has a connection with our socialists friends following us. It ain’t me...”

“It sure as hell ain’t me!” Freddie said. “We didn’t do nothin’ to nobody!” His words fell unremarked into the cooling night air. “One of you two say something!”

Edwina looked across Freddie at Tommy Hastings. The boy appeared to have leaned into the door in an effort to hide from her and his best friend. She said, “Seems to be the only one could have any connect to these crazy Socialists is you, son.”

“But I never did nothin’ to them,” Tommy said faintly – though he might have shouted it over the roar of the logging truck’s engine.

“I signed on to take a pair of youngsters up north on a trip into Canada. I didn’t sign on to fight a political battle. Much as I enjoyed givin’ the Japs a black eye after Pearl Harbor, I never much cared for politics. That’s one science ain’t never gonna bring no good thing to no woman, man, girl, or boy. Avoiding grief or causing grief is the only thing politics does and it’s my considered opinion that politicians are the only people what enjoys doing it. As to fighting Socialists – that’s best left to people in their own country.”

“Like the Socialists who are following me?” Tommy asked bleakly.

The truck roared on into the night. Tommy leaned forward to see if the Socialists were still following them in the side mirror of the rig. He’d breathe easier for a moment, then catch his breath when the yellow glow of the headlights appeared around a curve or from behind a tree.

“Would you quit doing that!” Freddie finally shouted, slugging Tommy in the shoulder.

Ed piped up, “For once I agree with your friend. Every time you do that, it makes my heart pound.”

“Well, what are we gonna do?” Tommy exclaimed. “Every time I see the headlights, they’re closer!”

“It’s your imagination, kid.”

“It is not!”

“Is so,” Freddie said, leaning on Tommy. They went back and forth for three minutes until Ed barked with a military snap and told the both of them to shut up. It was the strongest language she’d used with them and both boys fell back against the seat, panting. They drove on until a faint light to the right. Ed downshifted.

“What are we doing?” Tommy asked, twisting around in his seat to look at Ed and look into the side mirror. She shifted down three more times, Tommy’s question getting higher and higher pitched each time. When Ed tapped the brakes and the light on the right grew brighter, Ed laid on the rig’s horn in a weird, syncopated pattern. “Where are we going?” Tommy screamed.

A sign loomed into the headlights that read, “Naniboujou”

Tommy shouted, “What’s that?”

“Quiet down, boy! Sit and keep your mouth shut or I’ll shut if for you with my fist!” She paused, then added, “Naniboujou is a wild spirit and a werewolf.”

Tommy shut up, sat still and leaned against Freddie, who felt his best friend shaking against his shoulder. He didn’t think it was from the cold, because the cab was hot from the truck heater. “Is she gonna give me to the Socialists?” he said and though he couldn’t see him, Freddie knew Tommy was on the verge of tears. Ed rolled down her window and as she did, he rolled to a near halt. Through the window came a rig horn’s mournful response to her pattern. The truck stopped just as another set of headlights came bouncing along behind them.
Tommy took one last look in the side mirror and said, “Sorry, everybody.”

“Nothing to be sorry about, son. Just wait here and I’ll see them Socialists get taken care of.” Ahead of them, it seemed like the light of a millions suns exploded all at once from the forest.

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