Reminiscence of Our Father

Henry J. Mies

August 27, 1921

Read at the 9th Mies Reunion


The greatest heritage that a child can carry through life is the pleasant memory and fond recollections of childhood. Under normal conditions these early memories are necessarily associated with the parents, rather than with any one else. Blessed therefore is the child that has had good and wise parents and a joyous childhood.

In childhood we are too young to appreciate aright the value of early training, and the gift of splendid parentage. These only come with reflective years. A joyous childhood does not mean that a child has been allowed free and unrestrained will. Such a childhood usually comes to a short and abrupt end. I am reminded of the little incident of Johnnie's fond parents. After the poor little fellow had been tearfully laid away in his last resting place, the fond parents erected to his memory a monument on which they wrote the following epitaph, "Here lies Johnnie, beloved son of John and Mary Smith, who died at the age of three years and six months. Our great consolation in life is that he was never deprived of a single wish."

A true childhood should necessarily be full of childish pranks but yet at the same time rich with the great lessons of life which have been taught by capable and devoted parents. In our own instances we as children were very fortunate in that both parents cooperated together and contributed to the full of their generous and unselfish devotion.

A few years ago it was my pleasure and privilege to speak to you of some of the pleasant and sacred memories of mother. Today I want more especially to speak of the memories and associations of our father.

I am sure that the earliest recollections that each of us, his children, will have of him will be his devotion to his children. No trouble on his part was too great, provided that it might in a legitimate way, contribute to the pleasure and welfare of a child. Many is the occasion that I can recall of his willingness to be troubled with the care of a young child. What one of the children does not remember the many pleasant trips to some of the pioneer towns? In fact with several of the boys, it seems that these trips to one of the town to the Northwest, became so ingrained in habit that in later years they continued to make these trips quite frequently of their own accord. I might also add that as the population of the family increased, these trips for each child became less and less frequent proportionately.

In connection with these trips the children were gaining their first contact with the great outside world, and at the same time were learning one of the great and necessary lessons of life, that of absolute obedience, in contradistinction to the fulfillment of personal gratification. Each newcomer that appeared on the scene, no matter how youthful, soon learned the lesson that in seeking permission to go on these trips, tears were of no avail. That a decision made was based upon impartiality and justice and was final. While instances of this character seem trivial yet they were fundamental in the training of a child. The child was made to realize that it was not the rule of absolute authority regardless of right, but the rule of parental authority based upon justice and right,

Perhaps the second greatest characteristic that I recall in father from the standpoint of childhood, was his willingness to entertain his children by the relating to them of his experiences in regard to his travels. These experiences were founded in fact, and no matter how many times retold were always interesting in the highest degree. No doubt, all can recall of many evenings spent in listening to stories told to visiting friends which although we had heard them many times, never lost their charm in retelling. These stories, while fascinating in themselves, had the effect of linking our childhood up to a father who had seen and done things. As every child must have a hero, we saw in our father, that hero, that man of adventure and resourcefulness that satisfied our imaginations and implanted in us that instinctive desire to pattern ourselves after him. In our limited horizon, we were looking forward and hoping for the day when we might ourselves cone forth with that spirit of aggressiveness and resourcefulness possessed by our prototype.

How many countless times had we heard the story with its details - how as a young man, he had left his native land because he did not wish to subscribe to the military system, how he had come to the land of his choice a stranger, and had landed in Chicago with the munificent sum of 10 cents in his pocket and a satchel full of old clothes; how in a short period of reckless expenditure, he had spent his fortune by giving five cents of it to a friend for tobacco, and spending the other five for apples; how he saw men unloading lumber from a ship and he volunteered to assist them; how he went with the men to a restaurant for a meal, and how while at his meal, a fire broke out and his satchel and clothing were lost; his shipping with these men to the pineries of Michigan; his stay and hardships of the winter; his visit during the summer to his old country friends at Mendota; the labor on the farm, and the neighborhood happenings; the discovery of gold in Australia; his trip as sailor from New York to Africa; his stay in Africa and later his journey to Australia; his many adventures during his five years in Australia; his return to the United States; his voluntary enlistment and service for three years as a soldier in the Civil war; his return to Mendota to his old friends; his love and courtship of the little maiden who had grown into womanhood during his absence; his adventure with his copper head friends; the joining of the Builders of the Union Pacific Railroad; his marriage; the Wild West; his return to the land of his birth and visit with his parents, and the more recent history and occurrences as a pioneer farmer.

The above rough outline when filled in with the thousands of incidents told in an interesting way fired and inspired the imagination of youth. I doubt if any of us can fully realize the influence of these stories on our lives.

In these stories there was always underlying that intense loyalty and devotion to the land of his adoption. It has taken these later years to show that even as a young man he had read aright the wrongful tenderness of the land of his birth and rather than lend himself to the military system, he preferred to cast his lot with a foreign lend in which the principles of government were more in keeping with the dictates of him own conscience. How well can we all remember his scathing denunciation of his disloyal associates, and of his just indignation of the disloyalty of any of our own neighbors and friends! Patriotism with him was a passion. He was always ready as a loyal American citizen to do anything that would advance his Country's welfare. Patriotism, loyalty end devotion to our country was thus instilled into us from our earliest childhood. We as children can justly feel that had all other citizens of the land of his birth, been as farsighted as he, that the recent Great World War," would have been en impossibility. Because of our early training in citizenship the recent test of hyphenated citizenship in which a foreign monarch looked to this country for a "citizenship allied by blood', he found not a single child who for one instance wavered in his devotion to his own Country and who was not willing to see and acknowledge the grievances of a foreign country even though allied by blood.

Another characteristic that was very pronounced was his spirit of simplicity and democracy. With him there was no cast or superficial superiority. With him, "a man was a man for all that." His simplicity and love of democracy made him revolt against anything partaking of dominance and arrogated authority. He was tolerant of other men's views and opinions, and he wished other men to be tolerant of his views and opinions . This quality of his character made him many times misunderstand and led him into entanglements especially with his own countrymen. His wide travels had given him a breath of viewpoint that was not possessed by many of those with whom he was thrown into association as neighbors during, the early pioneer days on the farm. I believe that this characteristic of his makeup has had its beneficial effect upon his children as its natural tendency would be to make them less subject to bias and prejudice and more respectful of other's opinions. Still another characteristic of his life was his absolute regard for truth and veracity. This was a quality that he demanded in his dealing with his children above all others. Every child knew that an untruth was abhorred, and its ascertainment was followed by the most severe punishment. Wrong doing accompanied by truth could be mitigated and its reward was tempered with moderation wrong doing accompanied by falsehood brought forth vials of wrath that no child sought or desired to encounter many times. These early' lessons have without doubt, left their impression and made of each child a scion of truthfulness, a virtue, I might add of which their wives were in later years to be the chief beneficiaries. Every wife now has the assurance that any report about questionable conduct of her husband while away from her presence can be satisfactorily explained by securing a truthful statement from her husband.

In regard to his love for truth there stands out in memory an incident which has its amusing as well as serious aspect. Fate had determined that it should be fathers lot to be a close neighbor to one who possessed little regard for truth, and whose chief delight in life seemed to be to stir up contention and strife among neighbors who might take him seriously. In regard to father his pleasure was to circulate false stories with the precaution that they would be sure and be retold. Father's indignation and anger was his merriment. This neighbor realized that he was too old to be subjected to bodily punishment and that the elements of legal damages were lacking. The ill feeling and wrath thus engendered, created the foundation for a sort of a family feud which in turn was taken up by the children in each respective family. This family feud became a part of our childhood lives and continued throughout the entire period of our childhood. From the part of the other family it was later attended with a spirit of jealousy that made it seem probable that it might break into open hostility at any time.

While this feud was in a certain sense a shadow upon our childish lives by reason that we thrown into constant association with these children yet I have always felt that it had it's providential side. It had the affect in determining that certain other children from homes of better training and parentage should become our childish associates. As time went on the line of clearage became more and more worked. The children of our own family and of our our associates seemed to find pleasure and pastime in books and the pursuit of better things. With them it was different. They had acquired nearly all the vices of young manhood, and became disturbing factors in the entire neighborhood.

Knowing that a child is in a large measure influenced associates, it has always remained a question with me in these later years in how far would our lives been affected had there been a bond of friendship and fellowship with the children of the family indicated.

There are many other qualities of his character which I could speak of length, such as to his absolute integrity and honor. Men who dealt with him in business matters felt that his word was his bond, and he came generally to be respected and treated upon that basis.

In our father we had an example of a man who was self-made- who had risen from a boy without opportunity, had educated and trained himself in that greatest of schools, experience, and has left to his children a heritage of personal qualities, and as the father of a family he left the greatest of all aspects, the esteem and respect of his children.

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