Sometimes, it's easy to look at parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. and see a sort of superhero standing in front of you. They're pillars of authority, great love and the epitome of family. They have been/are there for you when you need them; they offer advice and insight that silently demands your respect. And, you happily and instinctively give it, without thought.
But, then something happens that makes you see a much more human side to them. Maybe they get sick, or they get upset and/or cry - and you are jolted into the reality that this person feels things you also feel, and now it's time for you to be the comforter. And, when everyone gathers around a family photo album, seeing a photo of that relative before you were even born - is proof that they had a life before you - and they led it, gaining experiences and wisdom to bestow upon you.
It's all so mind-bogglingly beautiful, I think.
My grandfather has always been a strong, quiet (but when he has something to say, people listen - because he doesn't just talk to hear himself talk like many do), and loving man. The women in my family have pretty obstinate personalities - we often have opinions, a lot to say and a desire to share those things. We feel confident in our convictions. But, I've never been unaware that the strength behind us has always been a strong masculine backbone of a quieter confidence. Like a sturdy branch of a family tree where the sparrows come back to rest once their wings get weak.
"Here. I want to show you this. I don't take this out very often..." my grandfather said, as he unrolled a long photo of US Merchant Marine servicemen from 1946.
Smack in the middle of the photo was my grandfather - the only soldier wearing aviator sunglasses.
I gasped, feeling proud tears welling up in my eyes as I gazed at the photo spread out on the table (next to his watch he had just given my husband-to-be, made by the same designer as my wedding gown - which neither he nor my fiance could possibly know about), and I just felt so incredibly loved - and lucky. I wondered if my papa had the foresight back then, to set himself apart in that photo - cleverly whipping out the shades just before the photographer snapped the photo. I couldn't stop looking at the picture...and thinking - especially of just how cool my grandfather is.
Suddenly, it seemed so many years passed before my eyes, filled with poignant moments with him - going to Toys for Joy and calling him "daddy" - and him not correcting me. The one and only time he ever 'yelled' at me (for back-talking my mother). When he would take me to Bingo and buy me a hot dog, nachos and my very own Bingo dabber. How he hugged me before my senior prom and told me how special and beautiful I was, and how proud he was of me. How he was - and still is - always dressed sharply. And, how as the years passed, his hugs got warmer. The night before Louis and I left to fly back to Chicago was the warmest hug to-date.
On the plane, I wondered if the cool Merchant Marine in the photo knew then, just how loved he would be today.
And, I wonder if he knew he really is a superhero.