01 April, 2012

James Cleo Herrick

James Cleo at 2 years
My dad was born in North Dakota in the badlands at the home of his grandparents March 12, 1918. It was so cold that his mother, Lula Belle, put him in the oven to keep him warm. Sounds a bit strange to me, but that's the story. His parents were Lula Belle McMillan and James Henry Herrick, my grandparents. Grandpa Herrick was considered a very well off man, and my grandmother probably married him for that reason. What was the sign of a wealthy man in North Dakota?  He had real towels, not towels made of flour bags. Grandpa was 12 years older than Grandma.  And then the horror happened. My grandfather had all his money in a bank in Redwing, Minnesota. During the depression the bank went bankrupt, and Grandpa lost every penny.

Dad was the second child after his sister Midge, short for Margaret. He had rickets which apparently stunted his growth to some degree.

The four of them decided that North Dakota badlands was not the place to raise children, so they moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where Grandpa's relatives were located.

They bought a barn, which grandpa changed into a house, when he wasn't working at the paper mill. Six years later, Duane, called Duke, was born. He and my father were as unlike as black and white. Cleo had black hair and black eyes, Duane was blond and blue eyed.

My grandfather was something of a collector, collecting old cars, bikes, scooters and many other things, which he piled up in his front and back yard. My father was terribly embarrassed, which never bothered my grandfather. Lula cut my dad's hair, so it looked horrible all the time. All these things made my father insecure. But stupid he wasn't. He graduated high school at 16.

Lula Belle  had great ambitions for her children, at least her sons. She wanted Cleo to go to Eau Claire Teachers College and become a teacher. But he had different ideas. He wanted to become a cowboy.  So his mother compromised sending him out to her brother's ranch for the summer.

Of course, being a cowboy wasn't the romance he had thought. Yes, he wore a gun, yes he rode a horse. But riding the range to check fences for days on end, cleaning out the horse barn, sowing and harvesting hay did not appeal to him at all. He was quite happy to return to college life. 

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