by J. A. Buxton
For me, it was Richard C., who never knew he was my hero.
What happens when you have a rare opportunity to meet a childhood hero? Is it anything like you had expected? Write a story or poem about the experience, real or imagined!
I must have been four years old when Richard became my first hero. This was before Mum remarried; she, my older sister, and I were living in a small house on the edge of town. Richard, a young man at this time, lived across the street and up the hill from the railroad tracks.
In the eyes and imagination of the small child I was at the time, Richard was perfect. He noticed me and actually talked to and not down to me. Since my father had left when I was only two, maybe I subconsciously thought of Richard as a father figure. My childish adoration of him might have been annoying, but he never showed any irritation.
What I remember most about Richard was his limp. All my life I’ve been attracted to men who limped, and I can trace this back to him. The memory of one summer afternoon walking behind him down the road has stayed with me for over 60 years. There I was, putting one small foot up on the curb and the other down on the street to mimic his wonderful walk. When he turned around and saw what I was doing, he grinned before shooing me back home.
Sadly, Mum remarried after I turned five, and we moved down into a large home in the center of town. I only saw Richard one more time after that when I was a teenager myself.
To explain why I did what I did, let me first tell you I am a night person. The first time I left our home in the night, I was around 13 and unhappy with my parents for a reason that I won’t go into at this time. After waiting until 2 a.m. when both of them would be sound asleep, I crept down the stairs from my second-floor bedroom to the landing by the front door. On my right were the French doors going into the master bedroom, and on the left was the archway leading into the living room. In my hand I held a small battery-operated lamp, which guided me through that room, the dining room, and down the hallway into the dark kitchen.
I left the safety of our house after relocking the back door and went down the porch’s steps. I do wish I could put into words the feeling of freedom that came over me every time I managed to escape into the night.
To continue, our house on Cottage Street was located on a street halfway between the center of town and Lake Wickaboag. On my original venture outside, I headed down the hill toward the lake, passing the darkened houses of our neighbors on the way. After spending hours sitting cross-legged on the sandy beach looking out over the water, I reluctantly returned home and went inside before my parents woke up.
That was the first of many nocturnal trips. Only once did I get a slight scare when a car slowed down as I was exploring the dark streets around the town common. When I ducked behind a tree, the car sped up and disappeared into the distance.
One night still strong in my memory was when the carnival came to town. They came almost every year while I was a child and set up their rides and booths on the outskirts of town. The first night of this yearly visit, I stood on the side of the road looking up at the dark rides outlined by the full moon behind them. It was a magical image and one only carnival people ever saw.
Okay, it’s time to tell you about meeting my hero again after all these years we were apart. One morning, just before dawn, I was sitting where I usually finished my nightly adventures, on the stone steps of our library.
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Coming toward me out of the darkness was a tall, male figure. With that familiar limp, Richard came out of the shadows into the dim light cast by the street lamp in front of the library.
“You’re the little Wheeler girl, aren’t you?” he asked, hunkering down on the steps beside me. “What are you doing out here all alone?”
For the next 15 minutes or so, I regaled my hero with stories about my adventures of exploring our town at night. Unlike other adults, who might have scolded me for what they considered dangerous, Richard just nodded and laughed when I started lisping in my excitement of seeing him again.
All too soon, I knew it was time to head down Cottage Street and back home. I never did find out why Richard was walking in town before dawn, and sadly this was the last time I saw him. My nightly excursions continued for a few more years, but never again did I share my adventures with anyone else…until now and with you.
I’ve had other heroes as I became a young adult and then what is euphemistically known as a senior citizen. Walt Disney, Ross Perot, and a few others come to mind, but Richard with his wonderful limp will always remain my first and foremost hero. He did what no other adult did at the time for a shy child. Richard listened and didn’t judge.
I wish I knew where he was now so I could thank him.