Our local public library offers reading programs for kids every summer. This summer, the theme is "Every Hero has a Story." My storytelling group meets at the library, so we borrowed the idea this month, and swapped hero stories.
One member of the storytelling group, in the Navy at the time, watched Apollo 13 launch and snapped an Insta-Matic photo; he still cherishes the memory of those heroes on board that troubled flight. Another told fairy tales about a prince cursed to be a troll until he found his true love - who proved herself to be his hero by washing his laundry. A new member shared the story of her grandmother, who helped a reclusive mountain man find a bride.
Preparing my story, I pondered all the types of heroes we hear about - firefighters (our little corner of the world is already having a rough wildfire season), other first responders, teachers, activists, volunteers, rescuers, explorers, adventurers of all kinds. But the person who immediately popped to mind never did anything that would make the news.
My great-aunt Emma was born in Minnesota to German immigrants who farmed land there. She followed her brothers to the Yakima valley, where they had peach and cherry orchards. Emma and her half-sisters provided meals daily for their own families, extended family members, orchard workers, friends, and anyone who happened by. (If they weren't hungry when they arrived at Emma's door, their appetites would be ignited by the smells coming from her kitchen - her fried chicken, potato salad, and pies were stuff of legend.) In the summers we'd gather in the grassy yard that sloped gently from the back porch to the trees, eating fresh corn on the cob and homemade vanilla ice cream with peaches picked that day, sticky juices covering our chins and running down our arms as we sampled as many as we brought to the farmhouse.
Emma experienced the joys and sorrows of family life - she married Clifford at age 18, had two children of her own, lost her youngest son in an automobile accident the night of his high school graduation. After their oldest son moved away, Emma and Clifford finally sold the orchard and moved to a mobile home court with many of their relatives and friends. Suddenly Emma had no yard to care for, no huge farmhouse to clean - and she reveled in it - but she cooked as well or better in that tiny mobile home kitchen as ever. Emma and Cliff celebrated their 60th anniversary; their cancer diagnoses came within a few months of each other. Cliff wanted to outlive Emma so she "would never have to be alone," but alas, he passed first. Emma followed within weeks.
I'm not certain any of that is heroic. But if I had to give Aunt Emma a superpower, it would be unconditional love. Countless of us kids and cousins remember the sparkle in her blue eyes, her warm hugs, her enormous smiles whenever we came within view - and no matter what we did, success or failure or even lack of trying, in Emma's eyes we were champions.
So when I needed a character for An Alien's Guide to World Domination who would take Our Heroine in when she was lost, steer her in the right direction, and also kick some (*ahem*) when the bad guy tried his evil doings, I couldn't help but name that character Aunt Emma.
Who are your heroes, and what superpowers do they have?
Elizabeth Fountain writes stories of angels, aliens, humans, and of course dogs who save the world. You can find her blog and more of her work at Point No Point.