In search of real-life heroes
While growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, we used to talk about our “heroes” a lot. With the moon landing in the recent rear-view mirror, astronauts topped a lot of boys’ lists. Athletes, entertainers and politicians always made the cut. Some people back then were even delusional enough to believe anyone could grow up to be elected president of the United States.
When I was in fifth grade, I drew a mediocre cartoon about Disney World being my favorite place on the planet and named Walt Disney himself as my hero. (He also was born on Dec. 5, my birthday, so I might be guilty of liberal zodiac bias.) Along with some of my classmates’ drawings, mine ended up in the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post as my first published work, which I was reminded of while looking through the historical treasures in my mom’s closet.
Today, my heroes have changed quite a bit. NASA isn’t nearly as active, and at my age I’m not so interested in being 238,900 million miles away from Earth anyhow. I rarely watch baseball anymore, as evidenced by my last-place standing in our fantasy league. Few entertainers are worthy of emulating, and politicians never fail to let us down. So is anyone worthy of being called a “hero” anymore?
I do declare, yes, there is. To tell you about them, let’s travel to Oscar, Ky., a no-stoplight rural town about a half-hour from Paducah, Ky., where my great-grandparents – Arthur K. Edwards Sr. and Willie Mae Holman – married on Aug. 30, 1911, and started raising a family.
The Edwards clan lived a simple life on a small tobacco farm. Since there were few government benefits back then, the only way to feed your family was to get your hands dirty and work hard under the hot sun. Times were so tough that Arthur and Willie had six children, but two of them – Herman and Georgia Mae – didn’t live to see their second birthdays.
Still, despite having little money, they were rich beyond measure due to their close-knit family and strong faith.
Their world came crashing down around them in 1928, when my grandmother was only 5. Arthur’s brother, George, contracted tuberculosis. When no one else wanted to take care of him, Willie compassionately took the job. Tragically, she, too, slowly died from the disease, which in 1920 killed 113 out of every 100,000 people in America, according to the U.S. Public Health Service.
My grandmother, her brother and two sisters were raised by their beloved father, who never remarried. Instead, Arthur broke his back plowing fields by day, dedicating himself to his children until he died from a brain tumor in 1940. Here’s one beautiful passage his oldest child, my Aunt Anna B., wrote in Arthur’s funeral book:
“A grander father never lived, nor a better man. He was wonderful to his children. Unselfish and sweet, he never once failed a one of them in any way during his lifetime. His kindness made friends of all who knew him.
“He was honest and truthful, never interfering in another’s affairs but helping anyone in any way who asked it. If there were more like him, the world would be a much lovelier place to live. God grant that his descendants may have as wonderful a character as he had.”
I read those exact words to also describe my Grandma Robby during her service on June 8, which would have been her 95th birthday. She would have loved that I read Scripture from the inscribed Bible she gave me on Christmas Day in 1973.
Arthur’s parents died when he was only 14; his wife died when he was just 41. Many people would have given up on life after such painful losses, but he couldn’t do that to his children. Most parents, myself included, can think of dozens of times we unintentionally let down our children, but he never did. My grandmother talked about him so much I cherished his memory, so much so that the nicest thing she ever said to me is that I reminded her of him.
That may seem like the kind of family tree that would soon wither away, but that would be wrong. Because the values Arthur and Willie instilled in their children guided them all to long lives that can only be considered blessed and successful.
Anna B. and her husband, Buck Crenshaw, had three children, who each had three children. Aunt Liz and Uncle Bud Tilford had two children, who gave them three grandchildren. Robby Wernersback and Al Stroh had four children and nine grandchildren, while A.K. Jr. and Imogene Edwards have two children, with seven kids between them.
That’s a total of 11 grandchildren for Arthur and Willie, 28 great-grandchildren and about 40 great-great grandchildren.
While they didn’t get to see those generations grow up, their kids did. Their family tree sprouted deep roots formed in good soil, the kind built to last, with God at the center. They are the embodiment of the American dream. And that’s why Arthur K. and Willie Mae Edwards, plus their children – “The Oscar 4” – are my heroes.
As we prepared to lay my grandmother to rest in the small family cemetery behind Oscar Baptist Church, I walked alone until I found each of their graves. I took photos of their markers and cried – not just out of sadness, but out of joy because I know my Grandma Robby is with her parents and siblings now. She finally got to meet her grandparents. And she’s with the Lord, whose words guided her for a lifetime.
While the Edwards clan is no longer with us in body, they always will be with us in spirit. And by faith, we have the hope of seeing them all in heaven.
It hurts so bad to lose them only because we were loved so much for so long. But the legacy of love they left the rest of us will last forever. Because that’s what heroes do.
David Brown is publisher of the Cherokee Scout. You can reach him by phone, 837-5122; fax, 837-5832; or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.