The Real Hero

By Vicki Blum

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    For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love (2 Tim. 1:7).

    Dick Richards stood at the kitchen window and listened as the wind howled around the corners of the barn and heaped great mounds of powdery snow. It was March 1939, and southern Alberta, Canada, was having one of the worst spring storms that he could remember.

    Dick shivered and pulled back from the window, gazing around the silent room in frustration. His mom and dad were quietly talking in the bedroom, and the younger children were all asleep—except for his sister Jean, who was reading in front of the fire. Dick was thirteen years old—almost a man—and it made him feel restless to be stuck in the house like a chicken in a pen.

    He glanced over his sister’s shoulder. She was reading a Superman comic book. He grabbed it from between her fingers and threw it across the room, ignoring her loud screech as she jumped to retrieve it. He wondered why she chose to fill her mind with such nonsense. He had discovered long ago that there were no real heroes in this life, only ordinary people like his dad, who was thin and tanned from working long, backbreaking hours in every kind of weather. And Mr. Meyers down the road, who limped and spit on the ground, and cried when his only daughter married a fellow from Calgary. No, Dick didn’t figure he would ever meet a real hero.

    Suddenly the bedroom door opened, and Nephi Richards appeared, helping his wife into a coat. She looked pale and ill, and her belly seemed larger than ever.

    Dick asked, “Is it time for the baby to come?”

    “We think so,” his father replied.

    Dick peered out the window. “How will you make it through the snow?”

    “We’ll take the Model A. Uncle Rolley is meeting us halfway with his big Chevrolet.”

    Dick reached for his boots. “I’d like to come, Dad.”

    “We need you to stay and watch the children.”

    “Jean is old enough, and she’s much better than I am with the younger ones.” His father was silent, so he continued hopefully, “I could help if something went wrong.”

    “Nothing will go wrong,” interrupted Dick’s mother. She looked lost in her husband’s thick plaid coat and gum boots.

    “If you’re coming, you’d better hurry up,” his father said gruffly. “We haven’t much time.”

    As they stepped outside, the wind tore at their faces and almost flattened their bodies against the side of the house. It was difficult getting to the car, and for an anxious moment Dick was afraid it wasn’t going to start. Then it sputtered to life, and they were moving slowly through the snow.

    “Can you see where we’re going?” Dick asked, squinting out the window into the speckled blackness.

    “Well enough,” his father answered.

    Dick sat beside his mother and listened. He could hear her breathing—sometimes sharp and ragged with pain, sometimes slow and deep. He could hear the wind screaming, feel it pulling at the car as if it was bent on throwing them headlong into the ditch. He took his mother’s arm and held on tightly.

    They hadn’t gone more than a mile when the Model A lurched to a stop. “There’s something blocking the road,” Dick’s father said. “I’m going out to take a look.”

    Anxious to help, Dick got out too. The snow was drifted over the road like a giant feather pillow, and Dick saw that it would be impossible to shovel their way through. He stood silently and watched while his father kicked and stomped his way around the drifts.

    Nephi Richards returned to the car and took his wife’s small cold hands between his large ones. “Hazel,” he said, “we have a choice to make. We can go home and you can have the baby there, or we can walk to where Rolley is waiting. I think it would be easier for you if we went home.”

    Dick’s mother held her head up bravely. “But if something goes wrong, it would be better for the baby to be born at the hospital. No, I’d rather keep going.”

    Dick and his father helped her from the car. Dick heard her gasp as the cold wind whipped across her face. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.

    They stuck close to the barbed wire fence and struggled through the drifts with a certain desperation. Dick could feel his mother’s hand gripping his tightly through his mitten. He gritted his teeth as snow oozed in the top of his boots and made his legs burn with icy pain. Their breaths came in spurts, filling the cold air for an instant, then vanishing in wisps of steam. Dick knew that his mother was in great pain, but he didn’t know how he could help her. It made him feel helpless.

    The journey seemed as if it would never end. Dick’s face burned. His lungs ached. His fingers were numb. His feet felt like two lumps of ice on the end of his legs. He kept hoping that the merciless wind would die down, but it returned again and again with new vengeance, shrieking against their bent bodies as if it would lift them from the earth. Finally Dick’s mother went limp in his father’s arms.

    “I’ll carry her,” his father said. “We’re almost there. I can see the car.”

    The last few steps seemed to stretch out forever. Finally Dick staggered against the side of the Chevrolet, wrenched open the door, and helped put his mother inside. Uncle Rolley’s anxious face stared at them from the front seat. “Go as fast as you dare,” said Dick’s father.

    The waiting room was warm and still and smelled of antiseptic soap and floor wax. Dick was too tired to move, so he leaned back on the wooden bench and watched his father pace back and forth across the floor in front of the nurse’s desk. He had been told many times in Primary, and again in his priesthood lessons, how extremely important it was for parents to have children and how the spirit children of Heavenly Father needed bodies to progress. Up until now, he had figured that having children was just a simple process involving a small inconvenience. He closed his eyes and put his weary face between his hands. Tonight he had seen things in a different way.

    His thoughts were interrupted by a man with a white uniform and kind blue eyes. “Mr. Richards?”

    “Yes!” Dick’s father crossed the room with two swift strides.

    The doctor reached out and gripped the other man’s hand. “You have a son,” he said.

    “How is Hazel?”

    “Your wife is a very sick woman, but we feel that with the right amount of rest and care, she’ll be all right.”

    Dick saw his father relax as the fear and strain of the last few hours left his body.

    “May I see her?” asked Dick.

    The doctor nodded. “She’s asleep, so be very quiet.”

    While his father continued to talk to the doctor, Dick slipped into his mother’s room. She looked peaceful lying there under the white blanket, her face all relaxed and free from pain and worry. Her eyes were closed, and her lashes looked dark and long against her pale cheeks. He leaned close to her. He knew that she probably couldn’t hear him, but somehow it was very important to tell her anyway: “You’re a hero, Mom!”

    Illustrated by Richard Hull