Friday, December 16, 2011

To Thine Own Self Be True

A person is never easier to see, to remember, and to love than when he's being true to himself.

Thomas Earles Jr., tenth child of Hannah and Thomas Earles was the same as the rest of the Earles. He was a serious businessman who accomplished a lot in the lumber and shingle industry with his brothers Michael, Miles, and William. He was active in his church and community as well. He had four children, a baby girl who died at birth, and Grace, William and Joseph.

There are times I just want to shake the whole group of them and beg them to wake us both up. Do something extraordinary, something unique. Something that stands out and says."I'm me!" 

Well, it wasn't happening with Thomas, born 1861 in Wisconsin. He led a perfectly routine life it seemed, staying married to the same woman for 58 years, and retiring at 62....just because he wanted to. (I'm not saying that's a bad thing! Actually, that story might be more unusual in our day and age than any other story!)

His life seems so ordinary. Stable. Good, I'm sure, but nothing stood out as interesting yet. Nothing spoke to me. And I wanted to learn something.

But life doesn't entertain normalcy for too long. As I looked closer at his life and little family that he and Delia started in 1888, I found someone who intrigued me. Someone who marched to different music. His own. Finally!

Thomas and Delias' first son William was different. I have to wonder how certain stories and eye-witness events may have influenced the course of his life. Maybe you remember how the Earles lived in Wisconsin when the Peshtigo and Chicago fires wreaked havoc one night in 1871? (story here) I'm sure that William's dad and uncles told stories about that night and the aftermath of the firestorms that their communities dealt with for years. But what's funny, not "ha ha" funny, is that in 1909. after living in Bellingham, Washington for four years, 20-yr.-old William would witness another fire that destroyed the Puget Sound Timber Company. One where his dad and uncle were associates.

I can imagine William saying to himself, "Bunch of loonies! Family business or not, I'm not going down that road." Or:

"Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me."

Why do I like William so much? Well, I was looking at his choices and I was impressed with two of them that told me a lot about who he was and what he stood for. And I admire him for them.

In 1917, when he was 27 years old and still living at home with his parents in Washington, he crossed the border to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Oversees Expeditionary Force, making an oath that he "would be faithful and bear true allegiance to King George the Fifth", a man he'd never met in person. Seems he'd found something bigger than himself to fight for.

He was sent to France to fight in WWI, just like my great uncles, Roy and Vic Lowrie. Roy, as you remember, never came home, but was killed and buried in France. (story here)

Less than a year after enlisting, William died too, having accidentally shot himself with his own rifle. He was also buried in France, just 1/2 an hour from Roy. I don't think Thomas or Delia ever visited his grave.

What drives a person to sign up to fight in a war that's technically not theirs? To be a stranger's hero? What type of person stops what they're doing to actively engage in a cause that could cost them their life, never mind interrupt its flow for years? 

William enlisted on May 15, 1917. Two days later, on the other side of Canada, there would be an anti-conscription parade in Montreal. But by August enlistment in Canada would be mandatory. Can you imagine? What was he thinking? When the majority of people around him were fighting against the draft, he's crossing the border to sign up. I ask again, what kind of person does that?

Anti-conscription parade, May 17, 1917, Montreal, Canada

Well, one more thing that I learned about William Harrison Earles from his Attestation Papers. There was a second choice he made in life that intrigued me. The thing that warmed my soul. He wasn't a lumberman. a mill man, a politician, or a broker like his father and uncles. He didn't build and sell stuff, or volunteer in his church or community from what I could see.

He was a writer.

Kinda makes you think. Doesn't it? It made me chuckle.


  1. It makes me chuckle too Betsy! Man! You had to dig a lot to find that, but it was worth it! ;-)

  2. Interesting story and you certainly found some gems.

    I know after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, US men were signing up mostly out of patriotism. However, if you dig deeper into some of these stories and just like today, some do it because of the economic times.

    I have a gr gr grandfather who enlisted in the civil war in his 50's. He was a southerner, so was he conscripted or did life get so hard in the south toward the end of the war, he did it because of the hard times?

    There are also records of him going AWOL and I would surmise war was hell and he just got tired of it and went home. This was toward the end and I think a lot of people just bailed out; they had had enough.

  3. Thanks for stopping by Lori and Bill! I can always count on you two!


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