Giving thanks to a real, everyday hero
His voice was weak, but I knew better.
The person on the other side of the phone is anything but weak. He’s one of the strongest men I know.
It was hard to hang up the phone at the end of our conversation. How do you wrap up a conversation with a hero — especially since that “goodbye” before hanging up could always be the final goodbye.
My grandfather is 88 years old and is more a hero than any character the writers at Marvel could ever dream up. My grandfather doesn’t need a super suit, special powers or spandex to make an impact on those around him.
Dictionary.com defines the word “hero” as “
Can you imagine going from high school to World War II? Most high school kids are worried about acne and relationships and how well they’ll fit in at college. Not my grandfather. Not others who so valiantly served with him.
The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, our whole country felt violated, scared and vulnerable. We responded by sending kids in their late teens and early 20s into combat. My grandfather served in communications and was a rear gunner on a plane that was in the midst of a firestorm of destruction. I can’t even fathom how that felt. How much courage it took to stand up to evil and defend a whole country in one of history’s darkest moments.
But my grandfather was just getting started when it came to being a hero — to being a role model to those around him. Defending our country? Surviving one of the worst wars in the history of mankind? That was just a prelude to a series of other heroic efforts.
In my book, a hero is someone who puts others before himself. That is willing to risk it all for the betterment of others. And grandpa has done just that. He sacrificed and worked hard to bounce back from the horrors of war to start a family — and then devoted himself to protecting and inspiring each of his children to be their best. He worked hard as a chemical engineer, developing new rubber products and helping shape the future of vehicle tires, but that cause came secondary to his family.
When my mother fell in love with horses, he did all he could to foster that passion — despite the bumps, bruises and sacrifices necessary along the way. Today, my mother is living out her dream. It may not be as glamorous as she envisioned. It has not always been easy. There have been numerous sacrifices and tons of hard work along the way and more to come. But that drive she has to embrace her passion came from my grandfather’s love and commitment to her and her dreams … dreams that she has been able to pass along to her own sons and grandchildren.
He helped inspire a passion in my aunt that has helped her become a top-notch teacher and organizer of a long-term daycare/preschool. He fostered a fascination in my uncle for mechanics and everything automotive.
Every summer, my grandparents would make the trek from Beaumont, Texas, to central Pennsylvania to spend time with my brother, cousin and myself. They made back-to-school shopping an annual tradition, and we cherished their visits every year. While here, grandpa was always quick to involve himself in our lives as best as possible.
One summer while I was in high school, a group of us won the state 4H Dairy Quiz Bowl competition and were invited to present Pennsylvania at the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky. I helped organize a donation-based auction as a fundraiser for the trip, but at the last minute, the auctioneer bailed on us. Without a second thought, my grandfather grabbed the microphone and did his best to auction off the items on hand. You could tell he was nervous and out of his element, but he never let it phase him. There were countless times grandpa came to my aid, and I am forever grateful for his dedication and love.
It was a similar love and dedication that he showed for his wife — my grandmother — over the years. He stood by her side through thick and thin, even when her health took a major turn for the worse. A few years ago, he went through a rough hip surgery with a number of setbacks, but worked harder than anyone ever could rehabilitating himself so he could get back home to help take care of my grandmother, who was basically bedridden at that point.
He stayed with her to the very end, and then did his best to honor her with a very nice service.
Six months later, he pushed his limits again by traveling more than 1,000 miles in a car back to Pennsylvania with my uncle and his family to attend my cousin’s wedding. The trip took its toll on him, but you could tell there was no place he’d rather be at that moment.
All of this ran through my mind as I speak with grandpa tonight, who is quick to say that he feels good. He’s doing well. Of course he doesn’t want anyone worrying about him. He’s always been the independent person who takes care of everyone else.
I tell him that we continue to pray for him. That we miss him a great deal. That we love him so incredibly much.
And as I push the end button on my cell phone, a few tears start to roll. I pray for him immediately. That he has a good night, that he feels better, that I hope I can have another conversation with him again soon.
There is something else I need to say.
For being such an amazing role model. For showing us how someone can stay true and dedicated to his family — how someone can inspire his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pursue their passions and strive for greatness. For the laughs, the support and the unconditional love.
And for proving that real heroes really do exist.