Monday, August 6, 2012
My mom and I disagree about how old we were when my brother Mark and I embarked upon our first long distance hitchhiking excursion. She says I was about 13; I’m sure I was no older than 11 and our dad thought that was about right. My brother was 20 months younger than me.
At any rate, we had talked our parents into letting us stay a few days longer at our ‘rich’ cousin’s lake house near Crookston, MN – about 300 miles from our house in the Twin Cities. How were we going to get home? We were going to hitchhike.
On the fine July day back in the early ‘60’s when we started our journey, Uncle Jack dropped us off at an unremarkable intersection in the Red River Valley – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t any traffic, and Mark and I got into a discussion of who was the better hitchhiker. I was older and had hitchhiked home from school way more times than brother Mark, but Mark was adamant that he was better at getting rides. Being extremely competitive in everything we did, we ended up making this into a contest - a long distance race; the first one home would be the better hitchhiker, the winner of the race – no bones about it! We flipped a coin and Mark won. I slipped off into the cornfield to await my turn on the old, potholed, ribbon of highway.
The first vehicle to come by was an old, beat up pick-up truck which stopped and picked up Mark. Bad ride, I thought to myself; that old guy isn’t going to go very far. I jumped out of the cornfield and waited for my ride. The next car was a guy going about 30 miles down the road and I grinned and waved to Mark in the old pick-up when we passed him along the way. I was sure I was going to win.
My second ride took a little longer to get, and while I was waiting, Mark passed me by in the front seat of some car with a lady driving. Shoot, I wondered how far she was going to take my brother! We played ‘leap frog’ 3 or 4 times like this, each time waving to the other brother with a big grin, each of us gloating big time when we were in the lead. This was a great race! The day was warm, the sky was blue and all was well with the world.
Finally, some distance north of Little Falls, I picked up a ride with 2 guys in a new Plymouth who said they were going all the way to the Twin Cities. These guys were really surprised that a little kid like me was hitchhiking all the way from ‘Up North’. I told them all about my cousins and how I talked my dad into letting me make the trip – not saying anything about my mom who didn’t like the idea at all, or my brother Mark, who I knew was in front of me somewhere. After quite a conversation, they offered to go out of their way and drop me off at an intersection only about a mile from our house. Way cool; I was going to win. There was no way Mark could catch up now!
Unfortunately, on our way through Little Falls, I saw my brother a few blocks ahead, hitchhiking near a stop light. The two guys saw him too, “Look at that”, the driver said. “Another little kid hitchhiking. Let’s pick him up.” I was horrified! “No, don’t pick him up”, I stammered. “There isn’t any room back here for another person”, and I stretched both arms as wide as I could reach across the huge back seat. The two guys gave me a puzzled look, eyeing the skinny little kid with a crew cut in the back seat of the huge Plymouth, and said, of course there was plenty of room.
Extreme frustration set in and I realized that Mark and I hadn’t thought of the possibility of both of us getting a ride in the same car all the way home. When Mark got in the car, I immediately explained to him that this was actually ‘my ride’; that I got into the car first, so I must be the winner. “Na-ahhh”, Mark said. “The first one home wins the race, and we aren’t home yet” he said. Sometime during this sophisticated discussion, the two guys looked more closely at us and realized that we were brothers. When we explained that we were in a hitchhiking race they had a hard time believing us. But, there we were; how else could they explain how two little kids were hitchhiking alone through Minnesota?
Mark and I had to make a revision to the rules: The first one of us to actually touch the front door of our house would win. Nope, not the first one in the yard; the first one to touch the door. OK, so this was going to end up being a footrace.
After a long ride, the Plymouth finally pulled to the shoulder of Hwy. 65 at Mississippi Street in our hometown of Fridley. We were both so keyed-up and jumpy we could hardly stand it. Before the car was completely stopped, both the back doors of the Plymouth flew open and we both blew out of the car at a dead run, each of us carrying our dirty clothes and a swimming suit in brown paper sacks. We lived a mile away from the intersection and we were both great runners with lots of races behind us. But this one was different – our biggest race ever.
We were neck and neck, running as fast as our young legs could carry us. My legs were burning and my lungs were bursting, but I couldn’t let my little brother beat me. I pushed even harder, dredging up every last bit of strength I could muster. Mark was doing the same. Our young heart’s pumping harder than they had ever pumped before. Sweat kept running into our eyes, blurring our vision and burning as we wiped it off with already wet forearms. Block after block we ran through total exhaustion; can you picture this?
At last we rounded the final corner into the neighborhood, and I could see our house. I had an idea of dropping my paper bag as soon as we got to our yard to lighten the load, certain that this would help me win. Mark had the same idea and dropped his bag too. As we raced up the gently sloping yard, I thought my legs would give out, but we both kept running as fast as we could.
My last idea was that I wouldn’t actually climb up the front steps; I would jump across the steps to get just a half second advantage and touch the front door before Mark. My timing was perfect, and at the base of the steps, I jumped as hard and long as I could, reached my arm out, and touched the door with just the tips of my fingers. At that exact moment of glory, I looked to my right and Mark had done the same thing. We both had touched the door at the exact, same, moment! Unbelievable; the race had begun hours before, hundreds miles away, and had ended in an exact tie! We were both kinda scraped up from our skid across the concrete steps and completely out of breath, but as we laid there we started to giggle – and the giggles turned into laughs, and the laughs kept up until our sides hurt.
That is the last footrace I remember having with my brother Mark, who was killed a few short years later.
There is nothing else like brothers growing up together. Sometimes ‘partners in crime’ when something goes wrong, they are ferocious competitors when the opportunity arises. But, brothers are first of all best friends, discovering their world together with all of its wonder and adventure, developing passion’s and camaraderie’s that will be shared through a lifetime. I’m so glad my brothers and I shared those years together so long ago. I would not be the person I am today without them.
President of Mickman Brothers (with brother Chris!)
Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser
Posted by Mickman Brothers Inc. at 2:01 PM