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REAL PEOPLE: Cap guns, bowling balls and pet crows
OXFORD HILLS – Ninety-five-year-old George Herrick Sr. currently lives in a retirement home in Auburn, but has felt, and always will feel, that Oxford is his home.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born in Oxford on November 7, 1915, and was I was delivered at home.
I have almost always lived in Oxford.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have four brothers besides myself. There are just two of us left.
There was Arthur, myself, Lloyd, Chester and Oram who passed away when he was five.
The only brother living now is Lloyd and he will be 93.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: Back then of course, everyone was poor.
It wasn't a farmhouse, it was a regular house, but we did have a few pigs and hens. We raised them to eat. The house was near the Oxford Station on the road to East Oxford.
We didn’t have indoor plumbing, and had an outhouse that was outside and in the winter, we would have to shovel snow to get to it. We used Sears and Roebuck catalogs for tissue paper.
We had one of the old cook stoves, and my mother was a terrific cook. She made the most wonderful custard pies. She made raised breads that would melt in your mouth. She used to go to Mechanic Falls and get these fancy bags that the grain came in, and would sew shirts for us. Back then, she even had to wash clothes by hand with a scrub board.
We didn't have baseball teams like little league, so we just would pick up a team and play. We walked to Oxford Plains and would play ball there. It was usually the girls against the boys. It was just a huge field at the time. We took burlap bags filled with dirt for the bases and we did have bats and balls.
We also played horseshoes, tennis and, when I got into high school, I played baseball and basketball all four years.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My dad was a section foreman at the Grand Truck Railroad at Oxford Station.
Mom did everything else. She worked the shoe shops doing fancy stitching in Norway. She was a textile-plant spooler and worked at the corn shop as a husker. Plus she did everything else at home.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a baseball player. I always followed the Yankees and I would listen to them on the radio. This was before Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.
Q: Was it exciting listening?
A: Yes! I would always be right on the edge of the seat. My brothers weren't as interested, but I was. The announcers' voices told the story with the tone of their voices, and you had to imagine the rest. You could just see Joe DiMaggio or Bill Dickey hitting all those home runs and it was just so exciting.
Q: What was it like to see on TV after?
A: I couldn’t believe it, it was snowy, but wow, was it exciting. There weren’t more than one or two games a week, but it was great to see it on TV, snow and all.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: There was a lady named Mrs. Scribner and she lived in Welchville. On the Fourth of July we decided to raise a little Cain. We had cap guns, and two of us stood on both sides of her door and tapped on it. When she answered the door we shot them off. She was so scared that we thought she was having a heart attack, That scared us half to death and we never, ever did that again.
Another time, we grabbed someone’s hay wagon and hauled it all the way to the top of Pigeon Hill. It was 2 a.m. and we were going to leave it in front of the ice-cream parlor, but a state trooper came by! He asked us what we were up to and he made us take it back.
We would go crow hunting and mom didn’t like that.
Actually one time, I had a pet crow. We saw him and he crawled under a bridge and we got a stick to get him out. We winged him and took him home. After that he never left the yard and he followed me everywhere and would squawk. My mother didn’t like it when I brought Pete into the house because he would steal the silverware because it was so shiny. I gave him a piece of donut one time and it was too dry and stuck in his throat and he died.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to the Pratt School house in East Oxford and the Welchville school house. Imogene Staples was my teacher.
It was a one-room schoolhouse and there was first through fourth grade downstairs and fifth through eighth grade upstairs. There were probably 30 to 35 students in my class.
I went to Oxford High School and I graduated in 1934. We had nine students in our class. I am now the last one surviving, so I guess I’ll be the only one at the reunion.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I had a paper route with the Sun Journal. I would take my dog, Sandy with me and he knew every house we had to stop at and my route was all the way from the Oxford plains in East Oxford, to Pigeon Hill on Route 26 and Meadowbrook on Route 121.
Sandy was a shepherd, and he had a harness and I had skis with a box on the front that held the papers. I got 2 cents a copy.
In the summer, I got 50 cents a day picking beans, hoeing corn and taking care of the horses. I did a lot of haying too.
I also worked for Ed Thayer getting gravel and loading it by hand and throwing it on 26 in the winter.
Q: When and how did you meet your spouse?
A: We went to high school together and Bernice was behind me a few years. She played for the Shaw’s orchestra and she played the trumpet beautifully.
They would have a big crowd down there in Naples and I could sit there and watch her all night.
I was working at the Robinson Mill at the time and I didn’t have a car, so I had walked to her place, which was a little over a mile. I would go every night and I didn’t ever get home before one in the morning because I just never wanted to leave her.
We were married a year later in 1939. She passed away a few years ago. We had been married 71 years.
We lived with her folks for a short time, and then built a house in Oxford on Mill Street. I actually used a pick and shovel to dig the foundation and I hand-dug the well. The mill slacked up, and I was going to get laid off. I took an exam in Rumford for census taking and passed. I had part of South Paris.
I then put my name in at the Cowan Mill in Lewiston and worked there for five years. I had heard the owner was going to sell the mill, so I put my name back in Oxford and went back to work there.
Q: What did you do there?
A: There was a big vat in the dye house with long poles and they put the wool in the vat with the dye and we would take these long poles and turn the wool.
I also worked taking these four-foot tall baskets with wool to the weave room. And I had to carry them up a set of spiral staircases. I got paid $13.90 a week.
Later I went on to fix the machines.
Between the two mills I put in 45 years, and I retired at 67.
Q: Did you have children?
A: Yes. We had four; Bernice, George Jr., Sheila and Sherida.
Bernice lives in Auburn, George lives in Greene, Sheila lives in Auburn and Sherry just moved from Minot to Georgia.
I have 15 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. I have three families with five generations.
Q: Did you ever go in the service?
A: Yes. I was in the army, but was only in for one year. I had gotten six orders for overseas, but I was older, the war was almost over and I had so many points they sent me home. I came home in 1946.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: Not anyone famous, but people are always getting me mixed up with Jack Quinn.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: I guess so! We used to mine old bottles, and then we went mining for gems. We would travel all over to do that. I got quartz and a pile of Herkimer diamonds in New York. We went to all kinds of mines there. One time we had to take a tablecloth and lay it out, we split it down the middle and each kept half of the Herkimer.
I remember digging in this huge hole and got out with two cups full. Someone else went in right after me and, dug on the side of the wall and got baskets full of Herkimer.
I also got a beautiful piece of Amethyst once and had Perham cut it down. My wife wore it and now my daughter has it.
In 1958 we drove to Key West for our anniversary and stayed for two weeks. When I retired, we lived there for a while until my wife got Alzheimer’s. The doctors suggested that we pack up and go home closer to our children.
I’ve been to Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Vegas and Lake George too.
Q: Did you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I loved collecting minerals and bottles. I have also collected a lot of shells and I love to do crafts with them. I have doll heads and I use the shells to make their feet. I also like to make paperweights, and I sometimes put sharks teeth in them.
I have been bowling now for 30 years and I have quite a few trophies and plaques. Even when I was 84, I was bowling five days a week and on Saturday night. I had a 187 average. In fact, one time I won the championship and I got to choose a trip and we went to Vegas.
I am a 32-degree mason and a member at Kora Temple and past commander of the Legion Post in Oxford. I was also involved with the Music Boosters in Oxford Hills.
I was the first cub master in Oxford, and I did that for 15 years.
Q: Any regrets?
A: No, not really, but I guess I wish I had gone further in school. My high school teacher, Miss Perkins wanted me to go to college because I did so well in my business classes. There was no way I was going, I wanted nothing more than to marry Bernice and start a family, so I got the job at the mill.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: It would be Bernice; 71 years, boy! We always planned on beating my parents, who were married for 72 years, but we fell a year short. I would like to tell her I still love her and I miss her so. Our kids just worshipped their mother.