My Uncle Tom was also my godfather. A decorated veteran for his services, he saved many lives in the battle where he lost his right arm. A true American hero in our family’s opinion who received the congressional Medal of Honor and Purple heart along with many other awards. Uncle Tom was great fun. I loved Sundays and holidays when we spent time with him, Aunt Marge and my cousins.
One summer before school started in September, both families packed up, drove to Upstate to the resort (in those days it was called a camp.) Tom a disabled veteran received the use of a cabin for the week. Now you have to imagine it was a little crowded. Uncle Tom had five children, and his brother, my father, also a veteran, had ten. It was a chaotic, fun filled week. Not only was I on vacation, but I was spending it with people I loved and enjoyed.
Several exciting things happened that week.
The first event had our skins crawling. A large, and I mean large snake, wrapped itself around the corner of the building. It was the first time I ever heard my mother scream and get so excited, and not in a good way. I think her fear, filled me more than curiosity. The men and the groundskeeper took care the pesky thing and life resumed. Over the years, that snake has grown to such a size it was wrapped around three-quarters of the house. In reality, I’m not sure of the size. At six, everything’s out of portion.
Even at a young age, I understood the next event was huge. Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, visited the camp. She appeared dwarf next to some of the veterans, but in reality she was average only in height.
Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours sitting with the men discussing their courage, their needs, politics, and life in general. She thanked each and every one of the soldiers for their service to our great country.
After spending time with the men, she moved on to their spouses. Mrs. Roosevelt spent a couple of hours in discussion with them about childrearing, politics, their strength to keep the home front going strong during their husbands’ absences and life in general.
The next group she took time with was us kids; first the teenagers, than us youngsters. It was mind boggling how she fit in with each group and was accepted easily. There were no awkward pauses when she changed groups.
She sat, played and discussed whatever was on our minds. Mrs. Roosevelt left an impression of strength and fortitude, that made us realize our fathers and uncles were not only family, but real American heroes. When I questioned why she was so special and everyone wanted to speak with her. After she finished laughing, she gave me the best answer. Said she didn’t know, because to her our parents were the special ones.
Naturally at six, I continued to question her. When asked if we could be heroes too, she answered: We could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up, because we lived in the greatest country in the world. And she was right.
The following year, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt passed away. Her passing saddened a nation. We understood we lost a grand lady on that day. I think of her often, and pull strength from her words and deeds on tough days.