Where's all the Heroes?
I’m a “baby boomer” and suppose I had the normal genre of “heroes” as a youngster. There was “The Lone Ranger”, “Superman” and “The Flash”, to name a few. But there was another one who was not a fictional character and a lot closer to me. He was my older brother Tom.
Tom and I were only about a year apart in age, but when you’re a kid that’s a lot. We were as close as two brothers can be, I imagine and I tagged along everywhere he went.
There were many reasons I admired him. First, he was better looking than me. He must have been, because over the years he stole every girl friend I had. He was also very athletic. We jogged, and exercised together constantly so we were in top notch shape.
Tom was cool, suave, sharply dressed and extremely popular.He even played guitar in a rock and roll band. The type of guy all other kids envy and want to be like.
In addition he was into martial arts and self defense techniques…which he in turn taught me. After all he needed a dummy to practice on. We made a good team and had lots of fun together.
Tom was also the brave, bold, adventurous type. He was a real dare devil and risk taker. That scared me sometimes. Of course it did. That meant whatever stupid, fool hardy stunt he pulled, I was expected to follow suit. There were many instances when he dared me to do something he had done, but I wasn’t always brave enough.
This was illustrated one Sunday afternoon when we were aged 6 and 7, respectfully. We slipped off to our school yard to play. And as usual Tom found some mischief to get into. He discovered a way to get on top of the school buildings. I remember thinking this wasn’t going to end well.
Tom decided it would be great fun to leap from one building to the next. I looked at the vast empty space spanning the divide. It was a least 4 to 5 feet. To a short-legged 6 year old kid like me, it might have well been the Grand Canyon. My brother cut a striking figure as he dashed, leaped and gracefully landed atop the next building. He turned toward me, basking in his latest accomplishment. “Your turn”, he challenged.
At this point, I could lie, making up a daring, courageous story of how brave I was.. But the truth was I chickened out. I knew my limitations and had watched as my brother made the jump. Sure, he made it look easy and he could jump further than me. But in actuality he hadn’t cleared the distance with much room to spare. I could live with being a chicken, but not stupidity.
Another adventure I’ll never forget happened when I was 11. We we’re living in Smyrna, TN. There were a lot of trees and woods out back of our school, making it an exciting place for kids to explore. Some of the neighborhood children had discovered a cave about 2 miles out back of the school and had planned an expedition. Tom figured he had to be the first to explore the cave so he left a day earlier…dragging me and our younger brother Mike, with him.
We had packed everything we thought was needed. Candles, flash lights, lunch and string. The string was to tie at the entrance and play out as we went so as not to get lost. Hopefully, we wouldn’t be inside the cave long enough to get hungry.
It was dark and wet inside and with flickering candles we edged our way forward. At first there was plenty of standing room but the further we went the lower the ceiling became. Eventually we came to a big slippery, muddy rock that blocked our path. There was enough room to crawl across to the other side. However both sides of the rock sloped steeply downwards into the bowels of the earth. One could easily slip off if not careful.
How deep did it go? Tom tossed a pebble into the yawning darkness to find out. You could hear the pebble bouncing off the walls…forever. I, being afraid of heights to begin with, decided I didn’t want to play “cave explorer” any more, so I inched my way back off the muddy rock. I returned home while Tom and Mike went on.
Oh, the thrilling exploits they regaled me with upon their return. Underground rivers, pirate treasure chests (we lived nowhere near an ocean), Calvary sabers, skeletons and the like. I asked why they hadn’t brought any of the booty back. They couldn’t get it back across the big muddy, slippery rock…of course!
I have many fond memories of those times. But we all grow up. Tom and I are older and wiser now. I realize Tom, like me, is only human having all the frailties thereof. He’s not my hero anymore, although I still admire many of his qualities.
These days’ true heroes are hard to find. I guess I’ll go watch some old “Superman” reruns.