Between the Rows: Invisible Heroes

Changing the world, one inconspicuous moment at a time

Published online: Mar 26, 2018 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Lynda wanted to change the world. That was her one big dream: change the world. Problem was, there was never enough time. That’s one of the consequences of being the cool aunt. Her twenties and thirties were spent driving all the nieces and nephews—and there were a lot—the hour or so into town on their birthdays to some fun shopping at the big department stores. She organized church functions, helped pull of weddings, and unfailingly made everyone with whom she came in contact feel better about life. Even after she and her husband, Jim, were finally blessed well into their thirties with a long-hoped-for (and evermore adored) child, Lynda always, always found a way to help whenever and wherever she could. 

As she aged, every family reunion would find a cluster of younger folk surrounding Lynda, sitting in her folding chair, legs crossed, head thrown back in laughter as she dusted off old jokes and recounted past escapades. Every one of the great-nephews and nieces (and even some great-greats) knew Aunt Lynda. Heck, she knitted custom Christmas stockings for every new arrival, whether by birth or marriage—probably over a hundred.  

Lynda never thought she changed the world. But no one who ever knew her would deny that she did. In a million little ways, in a million tiny instances, she changed the world.

Invisible heroes like Lynda exist everywhere, though their abundance does nothing to diminish each one’s ample contributions. I suspect you don’t have to think too long to come up with a sizable list of the invisible heroes who have in some way touched your life.

Invisible heroes, for example, like Bob, an old cowboy whose raspy-yet-booming voice, legend tells, could be heard five miles away—“Hep, cattle, hooooooo!”—as he pushed cattle from one valley of summer pasture to the next, and who took in a teenage grandson who didn’t want to go to a new school when his parents divorced and both moved away.

Then there’s Dave, a farmer who spent his winters coaching JV basketball and whose fanatical “Oh yeah, baby!” still echoes in the consciousness of kids he coached a decade and a half ago.

And Michelle, who, even while navigating her own life’s unforeseen challenges, somehow managed to get every record book, for every project, for every kid in her 4-H club, submitted in time for the county fair every year.

Not to mention Kent, Jeff, Paul, Bruce, Ted and the rest of the volunteer fair board members who managed year after year to make sure that county fair came off and remained free to the public.

Or Harlo, who valiantly kept the tiny grocery store—the only one for 20 miles, the one that had been in his family for over a century—afloat, even as the Super Walmart in town continued to poach his business. Many a farm kid, rushing home to beat his midnight curfew, would notice a light on in the upstairs office of Harlo’s store, the volunteer fire chief diligently keeping his books through bleary eyes.

And there’s Karlene, who would spend summer mornings teaching hundreds of kids over the years to swim at the city pool, then hustle back to the farm, every bit a part of the spuds and grain rising up out of the ground as anyone else.

Let’s not forget Todd and Karen, who whose college town church congregation was made up almost entirely of dirt-poor newlyweds to whom they became surrogate parents.

Or Tom, who for decades ran a little shoe store and taught business classes at the community college before moving with his sweetheart to a little house on a picturesque spot on the lake, ensuring countless idyllic summer afternoons as grandkids squealed joyfully and jumped off the dock into the turquoise water.   

We’ve got Jerry, Eugene, Don, Rod, Carl, Mike, LaVell, Dan and Craig, who spent their prime years rousting reluctant teenagers out of bed to move pipe, pick rock and, in the very best cases, milk cows. And Celia, Heidi, Patti, Rebecca, Julene,  Kathy, Darlene, Jan and Bev, who kept the same long hours but also made sure those drowsy delinquents got registered for school, knew to hold the door open for a lady, and took their hats off when they stepped inside.

That desired change in the world can be seen in dramatic, almost comical tan lines across countless biceps and foreheads in late July. It can felt in callused hands and blistered feet. It can be smelled in the sweat and dirt and freshly dug spuds filling up the cellar in the fall. It can be tasted in a bologna sandwich in the field at noon and in reheated chicken pot pie long after sundown. It can be heard in pleading of a preschooler begging to come along and ride in the tractor.

You want to change the world? Odds are, you already have.