I started this post in September of 2012 and the first words I wrote were “This will be hard.” Now I can’t actually remember why I thought writing about heroes would be hard. This being my 100th post, I can’t think of a better topic.
I write in a genre that celebrates heroes as the epitome of manhood and it is generally accepted that heroes are extraordinary, superhuman, beyond the capabilities of the rest of us.
In my mind, a hero is an ordinary person who responds to demanding circumstances in an extraordinary way. It won’t come as any surprise to you that I think of my father as a hero. If you’ve read my mother’s memoir of World War II, Following the Troops, you may get the idea that she felt the same – otherwise, why did she traipse all over the country with four and five children to be with him where ever he was stationed in the war years?
Though she wrote her memoir for me, she never gave any explanation for the years she spent on the road. For these years and many other reasons, she is also one of my heroes.
My parents were married during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the time the Second World War started, they had four children. I was not one of them. My second brother was born during the war and perished before its end. The sad circumstances of this brother’s death are the reason that my recently departed, dearly loved brother, is another of my heroes. He, in his turn, brought another hero into my life: his wife.
What makes these perfectly ordinary people heroes? Not only because they are my family, I assure you. I have already written about my father and what he did when he returned from WWII and couldn’t find work in my post, What I Learned from Helen Keller and My Father. But the one thing that I learned about him after his death is where, for me, his heroism finds its greatest evidence. My father was a recovering alcoholic. His dependence on alcohol began as a social drinker before the war and took hold during the war as he trained young men to be sent to the Front and culminated with the death of my second brother. By the time I was born, my dad was teetotal. I never saw him take a drink, even at big family celebrations where the libations were plentiful and everyone else was imbibing. That is strong and courageous in my estimation.
My mother worked most of her life, an orphan at the age of 13 and separated from her two older sisters. She was raised by an aunt hundreds of miles from her home. Her schooling ended early, partly because she was dyslexic and spent most of her time daydreaming. With four surviving children and another on the way, she had plenty to keep her tuckered out but she worked in a canning factory, to help make ends meet. After my father’s death from cancer, she went back to work as a cook in a school cafeteria, again out of financial necessity, and raised two more daughters on her own.
My elder brother was a quiet, studious boy in a family of five boisterous girls. When our second brother died, my brother was four years old. He carried that memory with him for the rest of his life. Despite that, he found the strength within himself to have a full life, delight his sisters, son, nieces and nephews with stories, giving his service and dedication to many thousands of veterans of too many wars as his proudest service to his country and years of love and care to his wife as her health declined.
My only sister-in-law was born with cerebral palsy. As a child, her mother was embarrassed by her condition and would put her daughter in a closet when they had visitors. She was a very intelligent young woman, achieving academic honors and accolades from educational institutions. As a teacher of children with special needs, she was listed in Who’s Who in Education. Throughout her life, she struggled with health challenges, many surgical procedures and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Never once, in all the years she was my sister-in-law, did she ever ask “Why me?” She faced life without any reservations or resentment.
So, when I wrote “This will be hard” I was right. Writing about people you loved and admired who are no longer here is hard. All I can do is live as well and offer as much.