Wind beneath my Wings . . .

Frank M. Juelich

As a boy my life revolved around books, an obsession, which followed me through the years. Books, which abounded with heroes and hence gave me my concept what being a hero was all about. They walked tall through the pages of the book, fearless and always courageously facing a variety of dangers. They were never tired; they could handle almost anything and at the end of the story walked off to new adventures that needed the rescue of a damsel in distress, a village besieged by robbers or the pursuit of a villain who robbed a widow of all her livelihood. The adventures varied, the crime differed from plot to plot, the villains ranged from gray to black-black on the scale of villainy and the hero - was always the same - clever witty, strong and muscle-packed. Of course, there was always a matching heroine. Her reward at the end of the adventures was usually an embrace, a kiss and - a good bye as the hero went on the other great deeds meeting other villains and other heroines . . . 

My father was nothing like those men in the books who captivated my heart, my allegiance and love. Nor was my mother anything like those willowy, gorgeous looking and combat trained heroines at whose feet I could humbly have spent my adolescence.  

From a boy's perspective and this is what this is; my father did not fit the cast of a hero. The limits of his heroic deeds were walking at the edge of tall buildings - though not in pursuit of goons and villains - but dislodged roof tiles, for that, was his job. He was a roof maker by trade - admittedly a good one and a skilled one but - just a roof maker. He was a man clever with his hands, immensely practical and hard working.  Yet, to me then, certainly not a hero.

At one time he even was a custodian in a school. The bottom rung of the establishment . . . 

My mother was a plain woman. The most attractive aspect was her raven black hair the envy of a lot of other women but otherwise . . . I guess at a beauty contest she would have worked in the kitchen. She was not educated but educated enough to read to us, the four younger ones, stories from the Bible about Abraham, the gentleman, Jacob the deceiver, King David the valiant and Solomon the king who had so much gold that we kept dreaming about it at night, of Queen Esther the beautiful and Ruth the faithful one . . . 

One thing that stands out in my mind is that, though clean, my parents always seemed to wear the same clothes. My father had a coat that he wore for some 30 years. Though Sundays they would wear something else till coming home from church or visiting a relative. 

My parents were most ordinary people and compared poorly to the heroes of my childhood dreams.

Yet looking at life from the vantage point of almost 66 years and looking after 1000 poor children who look to me for their livelihood, my eyes have been opened to the extraordinariness of those two people who were my parents.  

Those two people raised eight children through a time of war and hunger and disaster when death was as common as the measles; they kept going when a bomb destroyed our home and all that was in it; they took in their stride when the oldest son became a war casualty in Russia. Their concern was ever us, the children; they fed us, helped us to get educated, clothed us and set us on our feet finally living much better than they ever did.  

My mother's day started often at 5.00 AM and ended at midnight, stitching, darning, washing, preparing meals - if there was something to prepare. True our clothes were patched but they were always clean. All this without the help of washing machine, dishwasher, gas stoves etc.  

They would always eat after the children had eaten, they would always go to sleep after the children were in bed. They would always come last. This is why they wore the same clothes for so many years.

Later as we grew older and more money came in things improved yet my parent's habit of - children first - never changed. 

My father received a head injury during the II World war which partly incapacitated him and after the war he volunteered to searching the German woods for unexploded mines and bombs - a very dangerous job - to feed his family and - got wounded again. This time his right arm and hand were totally damaged and became useless. Yet he continued to climb on top of roofs working and repairing. When his body finally did not permit this anymore he became - a sweeper in a factory - to be able to look after his family. 

Science tells us that sound travels slow. It true but sad that the same applies to the voices of our childhood - what our parents tell us when we are 15 we hear when we are 50. We were deaf to their admonitions, blind to their sacrifice. The make-believe heroes of books, movies and TV blinded me to see the true heroes - my parents.  

Ashamed that your parents make a living rolling bidis or work as a coolie, may be as a rickshawwala, a sweeper . . .? Don't! Worship the ground they walk on. You are in the presence of heroes - the only real heroes who are willing to give their lives that - you may live.