All through 2021, I told you about working with The Fellas on their memoir. It’s been a blast. And now it’s time to officially introduce John Bruhn and Jim Julison to you. Why now? Well, their book is out there, ready to meet the world. I’m as proud as a midwife must be, handing a newborn to new fathers. Click the link below to order the Kindle copy or the soft cover print edition.
Growing North is a memoir of their adventures traveling together right after graduation from high school. No credit cards, no cell phones, not even FM radio, traveling in a Jeep they refurbished. I wish every Millennial would read this book. Two boys with one foot in adulthood, depending on each other, their combined ingenuity, the good will of mankind, and a little luck. Of course, Boomers will love it too, because we can surely look back and remember those days. Actually, now that I think about it, my kids, Generation X, will love it too. My boys traveled to Ireland together without much more than Jim and John.
I had so much fun getting to know these life-long friends. I learned a lot about what makes friendships work. A big part of that is honoring each other’s differences and recognizing what’s needed at the moment.
So, just like in the Newlywed Game, I asked them each the same questions. Let’s see how their answers compare.
How old are you?
That’s an easy question. They are both 64. John pointed out that he’ll be 65 in a couple of months.
Where do you live?
John lives in a northwest suburb of Chicago. Jim lives in a far northwest suburb of Chicago. (Note: When I moved to Chicagoland, I lived near where they both grew up. Now I love not to far from Jim. I actually got to know Jim through his wife Deb. I interviewed Deb a few years ago when I worked as a journalist for a local paper.)
What’s the secret to your lasting friendship?
John: I tried to define it in a lot of different ways. I have friends that I haven’t talked to in 5 years and we can pick up and talk without missing a beat. If Jim ever asks for help or to do something with him, I’ll be there without thinking twice. It’s reciprocal. Jim was right there with passing of my wife, Deb. I never felt the pressure of asking for help. He just knew exactly when to be there, without expecting anything in return. Some friends don’t know how to deal with the grief I’m experiencing. Jim knows how to be there for me.
We don’t need constant contact. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we have similar interests. We both even married women with the same name Deborah Lynn and they became good friends from the moment they met. Jim’s friend sold a 26′ sloop to me. The name of the boat was The Deborah Lynn.
Jim: John and I developed a bond early on. We’re both pretty easy-going and kind of accept each other differences.
So what was it like to write with each other?
John: Jim has an incredible memory for details. He could remember where we were and what road we were on. I could stitch in relevant facts. We complement each other back and forth. Once got things in line chronologically, it became a lot of fun. We’ve told stories about the trip in groups. People thought what we did was nuts; really not believing it couldn’t really happen. We got a lot of encouraged them to write our adventures down. We tried to go back and visit some of the places in the book. It just wasn’t the same. But, we could put our memories down on paper.
Jim: We’d get together and start talking about our life. It turned out we remembered things a lot differently. Talking brought back more memories. If we disagreed about the details and I didn’t think it was important to the story, we went with John’s memory. If I thought it was important, I stood my ground.
How did you get started?
John: We had a little catalyst. Jim’s Debbie kept telling him to write things down. In 1995 I got in a bad car accident. I was in a wheelchair for a while and the doctors told me I needed to get a new line of work. Still getting my feet under me, Jim asked me if he could help with drywalling. We started writing down our experiences and recording our conversations. Sometimes we ended with drinking, so the recordings helped. We pulled out old things: pictures, papers, survival kits. Time went by, our kids growing up and we forgot about it for a while. A couple of years ago, we picked it up again. Getting pretty close to not making it, but Deb acted as a catalyst.
Jim: I was going through an old photo album, maybe back in 1992, anyway, that’s the way John remembers. It dawned on me that we need to record what happened. If nothing else, to have a great story for the kids and to remember things going forward. I went to his house and had drinks, we decided we gotta write these stories down. We started talking about all the different things that happened. He started digging around and he found the old trip maps, which really helped us remember things.
What was your biggest challenge?
John: Accuracy. We put the miles together, put them on the map to verify the speed of the vehicle and mileage. It was a lot of fun, too; especially researching the history of Randhurst shopping center. We researched the stores where we bought our camping gear. We went on Google Earth to “fly” into Lake Louise. That sparked a memory of what it was like back when we took our trip. We used Mapquest for accuracy. Jim was not so enthusiastic about that level of detail. Still, the research sparked Jim’s memory and opened the door for more words.
When we both talked, we had a hard time keeping on track with what we were writing. At one point we didn’t know whose “voice” we were using, his or mine. Our wives were good partners.
I read a lot to Deb. I wish she could have seen the final print. Still, she was happy with where we were at when she passed on in November.
Jim: I tend to write the way I talk. When I went back and read it, it didn’t make as much sense. The biggest challenge was getting my point across. I kept finding more pieces to the memory that needed to be inserted. We didn’t write it from beginning to end; we had to put it together like a puzzle. There’s so much in verbal story-telling that is in the expressions, gestures, etc. that don’t come out on the page.
What part of writing your story was the most fun?
John: By far, I had the most fun getting together with Jim and reliving the memories. We didn’t accomplish some of the things we set out to do. Reliving it over the past 45 years has been amazing. I have no other friends with our level of connection.
Jim: I had a lot of fun going back and forth, talking through our stories. He would trigger one of my memories and me one of his. We Laughed, enjoying the details of the characters we met along the way.
Jim’s more detail-oriented in his memories. He remembered things in a more humorous way than I did. Our writing styles developed and our skills progressed. Our writing languished for several years without much progress. Deb is very excited about us finishing this. When we first told her they were writing a book, she was a little bit angry. Our kids were just getting into high school. She had her hands full with kids, I was traveling a lot, and she didn’t have time to do anything. She was working full time too. But, she’s the one who suggested I contact Adela, remembering the article Adela wrote about her retirement.
My burning questions as I read your adventures: Would you want your kids/grandkids to set out like you did?
Jim: Our parents saw something in us that comforted them enough to let us do it. The news did not travel as fast as it does now, especially about bad things that happen in even the smallest town. Today, that breeds more caution. We did not have a guard up to protect ourselves because of our naivety. If I had my kids back then, I wouldn’t be as cautious as I am now. When you don’t have anyone else to rely on, you have to rely on yourself and who you’re with, a trusted friend, Jim.
John: My son did do something similar about 8 years ago. He was in his mid-twenties. He and a buddy got in a pickup truck and headed to Oregon. He still lives there. He was in construction in 2008 and he couldn’t find work, so he said the heck with it, threw back packs in the back of a truck and headed west. Yes, I would encourage it. It was a great experience.
Times are a little different now. Comparatively, we hear about all these bad people, but percentage is probably the same. The way people communicate these days doesn’t seem very good sometimes. With all these devices we’re not very good at real communication. It’s a little worrisome.
How can someone else do the same thing?
John: Pick something you love to write about. You’ll be tested every step of the way. Remember what you want to write and jot things down. Suddenly, you will have a hundred scraps of paper. You have to see the endgame. Jim fueled us to keep going. Be prepared for the long run. Get it right. There are no takebacks. I had a lot of frustrating points. Sometimes I could tell what frame of mind I was in based on what was written. The biggest thing was it was a lot of fun reminiscing and getting together with Jim.
Jim: It’s a lot of fun, and it takes a lot of effort. It’s challenging. I just encourage people to write.
I understand you are planning another book already. What will it be about?
Jim: I’m writing a fictional book about a guy who is in the military AirForce in Asia near the end of the Vietnam war. It’s coming along pretty well. I’m finding that I’m having the same trouble with the pieces. They’re not coming to me in order.
John: I’m writing about stuff that pisses me off. The working title is, “I can’t fix stupid, but maybe you can.” I went through withdrawal after not writing for a while. It’s a it theaputic for me to write.