Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud

The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

I've seen statues of great men: Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Pasteur, Churchill, and others. They were all heroes in their time.

I've met famous politicians. But, I have never considered any of them heroes though. Politicians today are a breed apart from ordinary folks. That's a good thing, I assure you. Whenever I hear a politician speak I watch their eyes as they read the teleprompter and I wonder if they have any sincerity at all in their hearts. They're reciting words. Just words. Is it just me? It's probably my jaded mind I bet. Whatever they may be, I don't consider any politician that I know a hero. They're lots of things, but the word "hero" isn't one of them.

I see kids and grown men and women wearing the jerseys of their favorite sports heroes. I shudder. Some of these sports heroes aren't heroes at all, they're not even decent human beings. Some people idolize them because they can kick a ball or hit a ball or run with a ball or throw a ball, or batter an opponent to senselessness. Some are idolized because they possess decadent wealth and glorious fame. What a scanty litany upon which to build mankind's heroes.

And, then we have actors, singers, and other entertainers. Most of whom became heroes because they look better than Fred or Sally at the local grocery store. We idolize their appearance and sometimes their skills. But heroes? Hardly.

What about those great men and women to whom we've erected statues? I didn't know any of them - but indeed some must have been great heroes of their time. At least history tells us so. But, I didn't know them I'm sorry to say.

So, I live a world today where so-called heroes are a dime a dozen. But, in this era of insincerity, superficiality, and selfishness, it's hard to find a real hero, that's for sure. I consider myself lucky though, because I do have a hero. And, he's a real hero too.

He wasn't famous. Not many have ever heard of him. Just a few neighbors, co-workers and friends. He wasn't much to look at. In a room full of people, I doubt any of you would have noticed him. Indeed, he was short, fat and bald. And he wore bifocals in horn-rimmed frames. He ate too much, too often, and didn't exercise at all. But, he's my hero. Because he was in my life, my world is a little better place. And, because of him, my kid's world, is a little better place too; even though neither of my sons ever met my hero.

My hero died many, many years ago. But, there has not been a single day that has passed since then that I have not thought of him. I haven't visited his grave very much at all. Less than I'd care to admit. But, I know he's not there anyway. He's with me every day of my life. I often find myself asking his advice knowing somehow he's listening. I feel him nearby always. He's alive in my mind and he's alive in my world and that's the greatest tribute and honor I can give anyone.

My hero is someone you don't know, and I'm sorry for that. I wish you could know him. My hero is my grandfather. He's the greatest man I ever knew.

He didn't hit baseballs and he didn't kick soccer balls or score game-winning touchdowns. He didn't write novels, or entertain on television. He wasn't a politician. He didn't sing very well. He wasn't handsome or dashing, or even sophisticated. He wasn't the least bit famous. Very few knew him. But that makes him even more special because he was such an uncommon man. I'm honored to have known him. I'm honored to call him my hero.

Though decades have passed since he died, I can remember those soft summer nights when he would take me for walks. I was very young - perhaps five or six. Sometimes we'd walk to Battery Park on Sandusky Bay and sit on the park bench for what seemed an eternity - and I enjoyed every minute of it. We'd talk about stories, books, inventions, and other things which he noticed interested me. He cared about me; he cared enough to care to talk about what I wanted to hear. Even at age six.

I'd see a June bug. In those days, before the bay became polluted, June bugs, on certain nights in summer, would cover everything by the bay. They were harmless, benign, strange-looking insects. Sometimes they would become so thick, if you weren't careful, you'd slip as you walked because they literally covered the ground. My grandfather was smart. He knew almost everything! He'd fascinate me by telling me that June bugs only lived for twenty-four hours. I remember being fascinated by that. He told me that to a June bug, twenty-four hours was a lifetime. He'd explain that time passed so slowly for them that they lived an entire life in one day. I was in awe of him. He was so smart.

Sometimes on summer evenings, we'd take a walk to Otto's. Otto's was any kid's favorite place. And I think it was one of my grandfather's favorite places too. Otto's was a dairy with an ice cream parlor added to the front of it. I can still smell the inside of that place. I can still see the red-cushioned counter stools and the gleaming green-white counter. I can see the milk shake machines and hear them whirring and stirring up the best chocolate milkshakes in the world.

And, sometimes we'd take a walk to the old railroad station. To a small boy, it was a huge, cavernous place with echoes. It was nearly all wood - wooden walls, wooden floors, wooden ceilings. Not much of it was painted that I recall. It was a dark wooden place with echoes. Echoes are what I remember best about the old railroad station. My grandfather would take me inside and we'd sit on one of the big wooden benches and talk. I used to shout and listen to my voice echo around that huge place and my grandfather would smile and tell me a little about echoes. Little did he know or even imagine then, that his words and his memory would echo through my life. These echoes of days gone by still make me pause in the middle of the busiest day and smile as I remember my grandfather and my days with my hero.

In the winter he would take me ice skating at the boat basin near Battery Park; and stand there for hours in the cold watching me try to skate.

In the spring he'd break out the baseball gloves and play catch with me. In the fall we'd take "hikes" and go on buckeye hunts. We'd fill grocery bags with buckeyes and make necklaces out of them or just polish them up to look at. I don't know what ever became of all those buckeyes.

Though I seldom visit his grave, I can tell you there are no monuments or statues erected in his honor. It's just a grave with a headstone bearing his name and the name of my grandmother. Just a grave among thousands and so ordinary you'd never recognize it if you walked passed it. Yet buried there is a wonderful man who means as much to me today as he did all those years ago. My hero is buried there in an ordinary grave, in an ordinary cemetery, among ordinary people in an ordinary little town in Ohio.

But, to me, my hero is not dead. He lives in my mind and more so in my heart every day of my life. When he spent time with me, I always felt he did it because he wanted to and not because he felt he had an obligation. I think he really enjoyed it as much as I did. He called me his "pal" and I think I was.

His legacy lives on in me and in my two sons. When my sons were growing up I tried to be like my grandfather. I learned so much about life and love from him. I really enjoyed the times I spent with my children when they were growing up. But, I don't think I was nearly as good with them as my grandfather was with me. I could have done better, I think. I don't know that I'll ever be a hero to my sons. But, my grandfather would be pleased to know that because of him my sons had some very special times when they were growing up. Times they'll remember many years from now and share with their children someday.

I don't wear the jerseys of NFL stars. I don't have any heroes that sing or dance. I don't buy things because some illiterate sports hero tells me I should. My hero isn't a senator, congressman, or any other sort of politician.

To the world, my hero would seen the most ordinary of men: a short, overweight, bespectacled, bald man, whose heart was bigger than the sky. And though it was noted, in a tiny obituary printed on an obscure page in a our small-town newspaper, that he had passed away - he will never die as long as he lives in my heart. And he will live in my heart every single day of my life.

I honor him by remembering him. And I will always remember him because my grandfather was the greatest man I ever knew.

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