Remembering our ties to our French allies

Posted12/7/2015 1:34 PM

This story took a twist right after the powerful images of a weeklong Veterans Day display of 2,015 American flags on Naperville's Rotary Hill came down Friday, Nov. 13.

Those red, white and blue colors stirred up images of the tricolor flag of France when the stunning news went viral about terrorist attacks in Paris, renowned for rich history, art, food and wine -- and considered America's first ally.


In the weeks that followed, we've heard demands not to live in fear; yet, after weeks of news reports, some of our policy advocates appear to fear freedom of expression, creativity and innovation.

When opinions are instant and reposted -- sometimes without merit, common sense and fact checking -- it's increasingly challenging to determine the truth or to find thoughtful consideration for solutions in a world wrapped up in rapid change.

So I reverted to my favorite TBT (Throw Back Thursday), Thanksgiving Day, mindful of traditions shared at Mitchell Family gatherings that have multiplied in size by six since the first one I remember in 1950, when 20 of us celebrated on my grandparents' farm in Battle Ground, Indiana. My cherished memories likely are different from every one of my 22 first cousins, their children and their children.

When we outgrew my grandparents' dining room, my mother's brothers and sisters took turns hosting Thanksgiving before our family reunion found a home at the Battle Ground Retreat Center, then at Ross Camp near Lafayette.

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Fact is, I was born in Lafayette, Indiana, just across the bridge over the Wabash River from West Lafayette, home of Purdue University, where my parents met in the mid-1940s.

The county seat of Tippecanoe County was named to honor Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the French soldier recognized for his support of George Washington's Continental Army and American independence, who strengthened ties of friendship between his country and the young United States.

Perhaps a little-known fact is that Lafayette, Indiana, was the only town named as a tribute to General Lafayette during his lifetime. And, thanks to my grandfather, who thought I should know, I recall being introduced to a marble image of Lafayette, sculpted as the centerpiece of a fountain located on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Court House.

My grandfather was an agricultural economist at Purdue. During my summer vacations on my grandparents' farm, I'd often tag along with him in his DeSoto to visit grain elevators or his office on campus.


Other times we'd venture into Lafayette to visit the Columbian Park Zoo or stop for frozen custard. Sometimes we'd pass the magnificent Court House on 4th Street with that fountain.

I've never stepped foot on French soil, but for 12 years I lived in New York City where a bronze sculpture of Lafayette is located in Union Square Park.

During a trip back East last summer, our daughter Ashley and I viewed Lady Liberty from Battery Park. Dedicated in 1886, the gift from America's first friend stands as a symbol of freedom for our republic in New York Harbor.

Proposed by Edouard de Laboulaye and sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi, the two men, like General Lafayette, had hoped the French would embrace the same ideals.

This Thanksgiving, we again headed to Ross Camp and we missed the fun-loving spirit and contagious laugh of my mother's sister, Frances, who died in August at age 89.

Mother's youngest brother, Phil, keeps a running account of our family's Irish ancestry in thick binders. He shared his updates. Uncle Phil always says grace, counting our blessings as he remembers Gertrude and Paul Mitchell, their nine children and all their descendants, some experiencing health challenges, and a great-great granddaughter who just was born on Nov. 21.

And, of course, we prayed for peace.