From birth to five years of age during World War II my parents and I lived in an apartment on the east side of St. Paul. I have few memories of those years except for Connie Hansen who was my age and we played in the sandbox together on Earl Street. And on 4 July that year during the fireworks at Lake Phalen I wandered off in the night among the crowds and frightened both myself and my mother. The highlight though was several times a week when my grandpa Potthoff stopped at Basta’s bakery around the corner and brought me a Bismarck. At the University and in graduate school I chose Prince Otto von Bismarck to write one of my three plan B thesis for European history.
Prince Otto von Bismarck was a wealthy landowner from Germany’s most militaristic State. As a young officer he rose through the ranks of the Prussian military, eventually to a leadership position in the government. He served two Kings of Prussia who were more interested in parties and womanizing rather than the stern business of governing. Bismarck rose in Parliament to become chancellor and lead Prussia to win a series of wars, which led to the unification of more than 30 German states into a new nation called Germany. With that accomplishment Bismarck became the peacemaker of Europe by promoting cooperation and friendship among the various nations of Europe. To his credit he created the first system of social security within the German Empire and anywhere in Europe. The his desire was to forestall the working people of Germany from turning to Marxist communism. It worked. It was 40 some years before FDR and the New deal brought a similar plan to America. Unfortunately, our social safety net is now at risk with the Republicans determined to trash it. And the Bismarck pastry which I still love, unfortunately, with the closing of our small town bakery will no longer be available. How sad.
My second hero’s name is Teddy. His face along with that of Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson can be seen on Mount Rushmore. My grandparents put Theodore’s name in the middle of my father’s names. My dad was born in 1909 and I have the same middle name and named our first son Theodore. His legendary story can be found in many good biographies and history books. Both he and Lincoln were Republicans and two of our greatest presidents. I parted ways with the an acquaintance after he called my hero a R. H. I. N. O. (Republican In Name Only). Insult my heroes at your own peril.
Sir Lancelot of the lake. It is no accident that our son Ted’s middle name was Lance and so is my eldest grandson Ethan’s. As you may recall Barb’s mission was to raise our two sons in the Catholic faith. My mission was to do my best to mold them with strength of character, bravery and good morals. Sir Lancelot was King Arthur’s number one knight of the roundtable. He rescued fair damsels in distress from dragons and all danger. He was the bravest night of them all. So when our friend Stacy told me of the elderly lady staying in her home at night because of a marauding pack of a rat-like opossums taking over her trailer home in Spring Valley’s slum district, what could I do but try solve the problem? Actually I did with the help of my large raccoon trap. Our eldest son Ted climbed out on a four story ledge to bring to safety a student inside while a drunken crowd of college students below taunted the young man to jump into his death below. Ted also, also pulled a high school friend to safety from in the middle of the St. Croix River. And then her youngest son Tony and his wife brought 2 children to America from Africa and later from Haiti shortly after the earthquake where she was found after three days still alive but buried under the rubble of a collapsed orphanage. And B. T. W. I still like to open and close car doors for ladies even though it doesn’t seem to be very fashionable anymore.
Last but not least is Julius Caesar. I read his book, though not in Latin, titled the Gallic wars. Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came. I saw. I conquered. He was indeed the greatest Roman of them all. Future empires named their rulers after him. The German Kaiser. The Russians Czar. And others. My son named after Marc Anthony (Tony) , Whose eulogy of Julius Caesar Shakespeare began with the words “friends Romans, countrymen lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them;. The good is oft interred with ...” He was loved by his men, set goals and achieved them and changed a failing Republic into an empire that lasted for over 500 years. And of course my favorite summer month July is named after my hero.
Again I’m reminded of what William Kent Krueger said in his recent appearance at the Spring Valley library, that the stories and legends of our youth often sets for us as young children the goals and ideals that help to make us who we are. I believe that can be true for all children if they have good role models and heroes to worship. It is unfortunate that today many of our children’s role models as celebrities and politicians are worthy only of our disgust………