My love of Cadillacs goes back to those early years when I first knew Jim. He bought a black 1952 Coupe shortly after I met him. That was in about 1965, so the car was a little old, but still nicer than anything my family every drove. I learned to drive in that car and went on all the special dates (like Prom, Homecoming, Wedding) in the ’52.
1952 Cadillac on our wedding day
The trunk of the car was big enough for everything four guys took to college the first week. During college my friends and I did significant work on the car. We rebuilt the carburetor, replaced the drive shaft and repaired some rust. When I went off to college and met the special young lady who would become my wife, Jim sold the Cadillac to me for One Dollar. Unfortunately, being young ones with hotter ideas in mind, and facing more repairs than we thought we could afford, we decided to sell the Cadillac and buy a ’65 Mustang convertible. Jim was pretty sad that I sold the car, he loved that black beauty as much as I would now. The Mustang was a fun car, but let’s just say it was neither practical nor reliable.
Within a couple of months Jim showed up at our door with a blue 1953 Cadillac sedan. That was in 1972. Jim had that car for years and made several trips to visit us driving the stately old dowager. We called the car the “Blue Lady.” While Jim owned the car he made several trips to Wisconsin from Jamestown with his mother and his Aunt Sis. Jim’s Aunt Sis was a very proper woman with blue hair who loved lots of activity in her life. The ladies would ride in subdued elegance, talking and working on their handicraft projects. One of their projects was hand-made Christmas ornaments. Jim’s mother and Aunt Sis passed away many years ago, but we still have dozens of those beautiful ornaments. Continue reading
Jim starts his life story in the middle. Can you point to one incident in your life that everything else turns around? For me, it was something as simple as getting off an elevator in Sevrinson Hall in 1970. There was before, and there was after. Jim had the same kind of experience, in the back seat of a 1953 Cadillac. Jim starts his letters with the story of life’s cusp.
USS Fremont – Bridge crew – September 1953
In the fall of 1953 Jim’s life was changing. He had spent more than ten years in the Navy, first during the war against the Japanese in the South Pacific, and then on more mundane duty stat-side and cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Soon, life would change from military to civilian, years after most WWII veterans had made the move. After being born in North Dakota, he moved East as a child. Now, in 1953 he was preparing to move back to Dakota for an adult life.
Growing up in Massachusetts and spending a decade in the Navy made an indelible imprint on Jim. He never lost the genteel nature that reminded me of Boston. He always used the slang of a Navy man. North Dakota blood flowed in his veins. The next fifty or so letters show all the traits that made him a fascinating character.
In this photo of the USS Fremont bridge crew, taken just before the events in the letter below, Jim is third from the right in the front row.
Originally published 2014-10-06
The USS Fremont (APA44) docked at NOB (Naval Operations Base) Norfolk, Va. after an 8 month cruise of the Mediterranean and its seaports. After the long months and confining spaces aboard ship I was more than anxious to get off, therefore I took 30 days annual leave. There were three modes of transportation available to me … Bus, Pane and train … but I decided, with some doubts and trepidation, to hitch-hike … from Norfolk to No. Dak!