Bloganuary Post for January 2: How am I Brave?

[Bloganuary is hosted by WordPress. A new topic is presented each day during January.]

I don’t know if I’m brave because I’ve never been in a situation requiring bravery. I could offer insignificant bits of times when I’ve been microscopically brave, but those examples are dust and easily blown away. However, there are stories of bravery among my family, mostly it’s the kind of bravery needed to get through the beating life sometimes hands a person.

My great-grandfather Joseph, in the vest and tie, died of typhoid fever in 1922. His wife Mary is holding my Nana.

My great-grandparents Mary and Joseph, both orphaned young, traveled from New York City to West Bend, Wisconsin, on different orphan trains when they were small children, most likely with notes pinned to their clothing, listing their names, their destination, and the names of their new families—who they met for the first time at the station. Later, Mary and Joseph fell in love and married. But Joseph died young, leaving Mary with seven children and one on the way.

Grandpa George and Grandma Olive with their first child, my father.

My grandpa George and his three younger siblings became orphans at 11, 10, 8, and 3. They went to live with an aunt and uncle. But young George felt it was his responsibility to provide for his siblings, so he went to work at a copper mine. While riding in a wagon and holding a container of kerosene between his legs to keep it upright, some kerosene slopped on his legs and caused serious burns because George didn’t tell anyone until he got out of the wagon. His aunt put her foot down, refusing to let him work at the mine. He was, after all, only 11, and she and his uncle had the means to welcome the four orphans into their brood of children. Later, George started a business, married, and had three children. For the rest of his life, he quietly helped people in need. In his old age, he lost his sight, and to keep busy he cracked pecans, filling jars with nuts to give to family and friends.

Grandpa Howard as a young man

My grandpa Howard fought in World War II for four-and-a-half years. He was shot in the leg while fighting in Italy, and for that bullet he was awarded a Purple Heart. I don’t know if Howard ever carried a wounded soldier to safety or saved his fellow soldiers from enemy fire. He never talked about the war that gave him two permanent souvenirs: a limp and nightmares. The limp was constant, and the nightmares were frequent. The war wrecked his first marriage. He became estranged from his children. And he drank heavily until he became sober in his late 50s, eventually helping other alcoholics.

My beautiful sister and her beautiful daughter, circa 1994

My sister has a special needs child who almost died from seizures at three months old. My sister was brave on that night and has been brave many times since. Doctors told her that her daughter suffered brain damage and would probably never walk or talk or feed herself or learn to use the toilet. My sister spent as much time with her infant daughter as she could, stimulating her, talking to her, moving her limbs. Now an adult, my niece walks, talks, uses the bathroom, swims, plays soccer, and much more. Was it my sister’s love and bravery? Or the neuroplasticity of an infant’s brain? Or a combination? Because of my niece’s cognitive disabilities, she still struggles, and my sister is still brave.

Someday, I will probably need to be brave. And I hope my family stories will give me courage.

4 thoughts on “Bloganuary Post for January 2: How am I Brave?

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