Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quiet Heroes

I usually watch one of the news shows with my morning coffee. When I’m not in the mood for news, I switch over to one of the god stations, which airs reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” at that hour. I loved reading the books when I was growing up, and I liked the series when it ran. It's schmaltzy, but whatever the crisis, Pa, or sometimes Ma, or both of them, will figure it out and everyone will be okay by the end of the show.

I didn’t have a father who was around as much as Pa Ingalls. My Dad and his father were both pharmacists, and owned a small drugstore together. Grandpa Harry was a bit of a rascal; with some regularity he’d leave the store to Dad and Grandma Flo, and take off to watch a ball game or whatever else he wanted. (There are even some rumors that, in the early years, Grandma filled a prescription or two, not knowing when Harry would return.)

The upshot was that Dad worked a lot of hours, often 10-12 hours a day or more, and weekends whenever the “relief” pharmacist wasn’t available. I was lucky that my Uncle Bennie had the time, and the willingness, to teach me to swim, ride a bike, ice skate, etc. But at the time, I was a little resentful. I didn’t understand why my Dad couldn’t be around more.

I had no idea how hard my father worked, how thinly his hours were stretched. He was working all those hours at the drug store, not just as the pharmacist on duty, but also as the store manager. He was taking care of a household and a house and a yard. He squeezed in, when he could, being on a bowling team and a softball team. Every vacation was spent either at his in-laws, or with them. Until I was a teenager, I don’t think my parents ever took a vacation without their four children. And for the last couple decades of their lives, he was also taking care of his aging parents. Dad was an only child, so there were no siblings to step in and share the responsibilities.

Still, I don’t ever remember my father complaining about any of it. Ever. Whatever needed doing, he just did, and went on to the next thing. I know there were financial struggles through some lean years. I’m sure there were great emotional hurdles in caring for his parents as their physical and mental health declined. But you would never know it from my father.

So, my Dad wasn’t around as much as I would have liked. He wasn’t a physical presence often, but he was a towering emotional presence. I knew that he would literally work himself to death, if needed, providing for us, for his parents, for anyone who needed him.

Sometimes heroes don’t run into burning buildings and rescue people. Sometimes heroes just set aside their own needs and wants, and do whatever needs to be done, day after day. They don't often get noticed and almost never get thanked, but the world would grind to a halt without them.

And that makes for a whole lotta emotional security. Just as much as those Ingalls girls had, I’m sure.


josh williams said...

I agree some of the greatest heros are not in the history books, they were just to busy being heros.
My fifth grade teacher read to our entire class during our stay in fifth grade the Ingalls story.
Her name was Mrs Apple, I have no idea how old she was but at that time she appeared to be very old, this from the eyes of a fifth grader.
I was never a stand out student but always had a good relationship with my teachers ( the vast majority, minor exceptions but...) in fact Mrs Apple told my mother that she did not ever choose favorites among her students but this particular year she told my mother that she was especially fond of myself and some scoundrel named Malcolm. If I ever see this Malcolm fella I will hire a number of private detectives to find some dirt on this guy. I just think its kinda rude that he would steal part of my glory days.

La Cootina said...
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