My Favorite Hero

I’ve had a lot of favorite heroes over the years. From Silky in THE ALASKANS, to Illya Kuryakin in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., to Heathcliff in WUTHERING HEIGHTS, to Gerard in DARK SHADOWS, to Radcliffe Emerson in CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK, to Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS, to Adderly in ADDERLY, to Clive Bennett in BORDERTOWN, to Dante in DEVIL MAY CRY, there have been a lot of men in my fantasy life. I thought it would be hard to narrow it down to just one guy.

Then something happened that made me realize where the real heroes in my life lay. So I decided to tell you about my cowboys.

They were four brothers who grew up on a 1,100 acre ranch near the small Kansas towns of Coldwater and Wilmore. Their friends and family called them “Pete,” “Fat,” “Al” and “Bob.” They learned early about the hard work of raising cattle to send to market, and pigs and chickens to eat at home. As an adult “Fat” didn’t like to eat anything that came off of a pig but bacon because they ate a lot of pork when he was growing up. And he only ate chicken at Sunday dinner.

But they also learned to love the land, and had a great fascination and respect for the animals that lived on it. Being kids, they found time and ways to play, using sticks to make corrals and colored rocks to make herds of cattle and horses. They swam in “cricks” and stock tanks where “Pete” put a frog down the back of “Fat’s” pants one time. Like Little Arliss in OLE YELLER, “Fat” had to empty his pockets at the front door of the ranch house because he was always bringing home baby skunks, little raccoons, bull frogs and garter snakes.

They grew up in the faith of their fathers, and when they reached young manhood “Pete,” “Fat,” and “Bob” showed their personal courage by answering the call to serve their country during the long, dark hours of World War II. They returned to the ranch and resumed their lives. “Pete,” “Fat,” and “Bob” married and had children, both by adoption and the more traditional method.

They kept in close contact with their parents, each other and the ranch. Family gatherings were large and boisterous, with food, fun and children being the main focus. Cousins stayed in each other’s homes and with Grandma, and learned to love each brother just as if he was their own dad.

The brothers were far from perfect. Some of them liked the liquor a little too well, and there were family stories of some fights that occurred at bars and dances. “Al” particularly had trouble, as he was hampered in life by mild Down’s syndrome. But for the most part, they kept their noses clean and were an asset to their family and community.

I came to realize as I thought about heroes that these four men had all the qualities that mattered to me. They embodied courage, humor, hard work and common sense. They respected women and adored children. And all of them were pretty good-looking, too.

I lost the last of my cowboys on July 17, 2009. But I know I will never lose the love that they showed me or the lessons that they taught me. They are and will always be my favorite heroes.


Roxann Delaney said...

Your story touched me, Jeannie. Thank you for sharing it with us. You may have lost the last of them, but you have the memories. Enjoy them whenever you take them out to look at them.

Yes, those are real heroes. The thing with romance is that we have to see growth in the characters. They have flaws, as we all do, but improvement on a flaw makes them as equally human as having it.

Nobody is perfect, not even that hero Theresa described. Trying to make our characters that way leads to boredom. If, as writers and storytellers, we can use the flaws to our advantage to show that people can change, then we've done our job. Because that's what romance is all about. That HEA. Not perfect, just Happily Ever After.

Penny Rader said...

Oh, Jeannie, that's a lovely tribute to your uncles. What wonderful inspiration for you, both as a person and as a writer.

Imho, "these four men had all the qualities that mattered to me. They embodied courage, humor, hard work and common sense. They respected women and adored children." are indeed the qualities of true heroes.

I'm sorry about your loss.

Pat Davids said...

Oh, Jeannie, what a wonderful story. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, but I'm happy that you had the chance to know such wonderful men. We should all have heroes in our lives, especially nonfiction ones.

Starla Kaye said...

As avid book readers it is easy to think only about the fictional heroes we come across. We fall in love with these men, flaws and all. But, as you shared with us, there are many real life men who are heroes that we tend to overlook. The father who works 8 hours or more a day, 5 or more days a week and yet finds the time and energy to attend his children's ballgames or school functions. The husband who works at a job that he doesn't really like but does so anyway to take care of his wife and his family. These are examples of everyday heroes who do simple things, important things. The list of real life heroes can go on and on.

Becky A said...

Thanks Jeannie,
We all probably have true heroes in our lives but in the day to day grind, we tend to forget. Yours was a great reminder to appreciate those everyday heroes because you never know when they will be gone. Thanks for sharing your story, it made my day.
ps: sorry this is late but I've been out of town.