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Show Me A Hero


My parents, long retired, are packing up their home in rural Central Massachusetts and moving south. It’s a bittersweet event, but one that should have been expected. Seems most folks their age find relocation to warmer climes an appealing thing, especially after the effects of one more winter begin to accumulate.
They are anxious to make the move, but not without some trepidation. After 50 years of living in one place, there is a strong emotional connection with things – the mundane trappings of a shelter called home. The creak of a certain floorboard, a tree planted years ago, or simply the memories that fill a home where children were raised and where long-deceased parents were taken in to be cared for during their final days on this planet.
I vacated the place years ago to strike out on my own and see the world on my wealthy Uncle Sam’s, so even though I lived there for the first seventeen years of my life, I’ve been gone long enough that I am not feeling the same twinges as my folks. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few moments.
With the preparations, which have taken on the feel of an archaeological dig, I have encountered some items from my childhood that have stirred nostalgia. Some of these have been humorous, like the report on medieval weapons I wrote while in grade school.
Spelling and research were, apparently, not my strengths then; nor were my artistic skills, as evinced by my pathetic illustrations of swords and maces.
Some of these emotions were a touch embarrassing, such as the notebook I found dedicated to my former obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I was among the ranks of those wrapped up in the world of D&D. It was a phase that only lasted five short years.
Then there are those that have brought on fits of melancholy.
One such episode occurred today when, rummaging through a fruit box full of juvenile ephemera, I came across an autograph I got nearly thirty years ago: that of Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin.
A child of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, astronauts were a big deal to me and to America in those days. They were regarded as heroes, and rightly so, risking (and sometimes giving) their lives to prove our national dominance in science and technology. So influential was the image of guys like Neil Armstrong that, depending on what day you asked me, there were four things I (and most other boys my age) would have told you I wanted to be when I grew up: baseball player, policeman, fire fighter, or astronaut.
Therefore, it was a big deal to me when, while attending Camp Word of Life in the Adirondacks, I had a chance to meet one of the few men to ever walk on the surface of the Moon.
When I saw the scrap of paper inscribed with the words “To Mike Jim Irwin,” it sent me back a few years. To be honest, I don’t recall much about the encounter. Irwin had just told a bunch of kids about his experiences in space and about his relationship with God, and I rushed to meet the man and get his signature when the meeting was over.
In spite of Vietnam, the country was still affected by a boost of World War II-infused adrenaline in those days, and as a kid, I joined in by watching John Wayne movies on Saturday afternoons. The Duke’s image was one of unadulterated patriotism. In his movies, Wayne portrayed men who were morally and physically brave, and for whom there was no ambiguity about the difference between right and wrong. Wayne played the cinematic hero better than anyone.
Today’s kids look up to the likes of Brad Pitt, whose good looks and acting chops are well known, but whose personal life is too transparent (whether he likes it or not). Pitt didn’t invent marital infidelity or fathering children out of wedlock, but these things have become the focus of tabloid attention, lending an air of societal endorsement to such things.
Having enough money to buy groceries or pay for childcare is not an issue of concern for Brangelina, but for a star-struck teenager desiring to emulate an idol’s existence, the hard slap of reality may be too late in coming when there are diapers to be changed and formula to be mixed.
John Wayne, Neil Armstrong, Bobby Orr, Carl Yastryzemski, and Roger Staubach were all boyhood heroes of mine, as were local guys like policeman and club boxer Bob Benoit. I’m not naïve enough to believe that my personal childhood heroes didn’t lead flawed lives, but I wasn’t exposed to a relentless fusillade of their shortcomings glamorously packaged as something worth attaining.
As far as I knew, they earned what they got in life. As such, I was taught by example that the same was expected of me and the people around me. I imagine they’d all be embarrassed to have had their imperfections paraded before the public on the pages of People, US, or the National Enquirer. Though perhaps not as embarrassed as I was when I rediscovered that D&D notebook.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 7:16 PM | Permalink

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