Just to set the record straight: My heroes have never been cowboys. I mean, I don’t ‘relate’ to cowboys. I have only ridden a horse once and that wasn’t an enchanting experience, so I don’t know if cowboys are or aren’t heroic. They just don’t enter my sphere of reference. When I was a kid I did like Roy and Gene, and especially the Lone Ranger, but that’s about it.
This is not to suggest I don’t have heroes. I’m not a complete cynic, only a partial one. My heroes are those people of wisdom and serenity and who set forth a direction to follow in life that will deliver me from dissolution and madness. I don’t choose people like the current Pope (I’m not a Catholic for one thing and I am yet to forgive them for what they did to the Aztecs and Incas) or even the Dalai Lama. Admirable icons to be sure, but they are also doing their jobs. Doing them well, but I don’t find them particular sources of inspiration in my hero lexicon.
So what I had to do hero-wise is wrack my brain to think of individuals who have given me either guidance or inspiration to help me through the perils and pitfalls of life and without whom my life might not have turned out as moderately sane as it has. You too might try this as an exercise in gratitude for your mentors and helpmates.
Here is my list – some of the characters are public personae and others are purely personal ones:
Teachers: Mr, Friesen (don’t know his first name) was the very strict Mennonite guy who not only taught me how to do math, but also to actually enjoy the process in an academic discipline that had formerly scared the crap out of me; Laurie Lynds, senior matric history teacher who both inspired and made me want to follow in his footsteps, which I did for a while; Jacquie Osborne, senior French teacher, a graceful and lovely older lady who nursed me through French and she accomplished that because she was bright, witty, beautiful and because I was a bit gobsmacked in love with her. Dr. John Winter, UBC history prof whom I had for 19th Century British history and who used to take my breath away with his intelligence and amazing lectures. I wanted to be him. I never was.
Public figures: HL Mencken, First came across the Sage of Baltimore when I was studying linguistics at university and pored avidly through his brilliant The American Language, which I devoured. I later devoured almost every other word he wrote. He was assailed as a curmudgeon (part of his charm, to me) and a woman hater (he was devoted to his wife who died tragically young of TB), and of being a racist. I dispute the latter. He was a product of his time and having grown up and worked in Baltimore; perilously close to the Mason-Dixon Line, he bore the attitudes of his contemporaries re race relations. Not always admirable, but never overtly antagonistic. Actually, he bore more umbrage against the racist lower class whites of the day than he did the African-American population; Mark Twain, virtually an intellectual god to me. One of the most brilliant men to ever put quill to paper and one of the most quoteworthy after Shakespeare, and ahead of Wilde; William Shakespeare. There is no other. I cannot imagine a world in which there had never been a Shakespeare. Ernie Pyle. American war correspondent during World War Two, and the man who was interested not at all in the exploits of generals and other bits of pompous assery but devoted his words to the dog soldier, GI Joe, and though he was American his words applied equally well to Canadian infantrymen. He was ultimately snuffed by a sniper on Iwo Jima and I once made a personal pilgrimage to his grave in Honolulu, Winston Churchill. Little needs to be said about him, and it has all been said before many times, Bill Wilson. The founder of AA. Perusal (many times) of his wisdom gave me my life back in middle age.
Family: My maternal grandparents. These two people were my childhood. Vastly preferred spending time with them than with my parents. From my grandmother I got a love of literature and from my grandfather, woodland lore. I got more than that from each but won’t elaborate further. Paternal grandfather. A rather odd self-obsessed guy, a lawyer and founder of the bookmobile service in BC and who shared his love of literature with me and saw something in me my own parents didn’t seem to. Fortunately he lived long enough to see me graduate from university. There are many other relatives, too, but at this end I’ll narrow it down to two people, my next youngest brother, Colin and his wife Joan who gave me a ton of support at a crisis time of my life. And finally, my dear cousin in England, Angela, whom I regard as my younger sister and who also never wavered in her support for me through thick and thin. Just love her to bits.
And in terms of loving to bits, I cannot forget my dear, dear female friend, Cris Fernandes (Pictured with me a few years ago — OK, 20) who also rallied to be when things were tough and I have tried to do the same for her. I cherish her so much that I asked her to be my Best Person when I married Wendy.
I have other personal heroes as well but too numerous to be mentioned among my friends. But let me say not a one of them is a cowboy.