The Iron Man

Because I was eight years old and the only girl in the neighborhood at that time, my ten-year old brother always let me tag along with him and his friends. When the boys played baseball, my brother would say to me, “Hey Sis, you're so good in the field, go over to that spot and wait for a fly.” That spot was not just in “out” field, it was in “left-out” field. But, at the time, I was too young to realize what was happening and way too enthralled with the idea of being part of my brother's team. At the same time, my brother, Frank, although making sure I didn't get in harm's way or the way of the game, every now and then, asked his friends to hit a ball in my direction so I could “field” it. Naturally, that play never counted but it sure made me feel important and like I was someone incredibly special. Despite being only 27-months older than I was, Frank always found a way to do just that – make me feel special. However, there was one day in particular that, to this day, brings a warm feeling to my heart. It was the day we climbed the Iron Man. In a section of the park near our house, sits a statue. I didn't know it at the time, but the statue was and still is a memorial commemorating the battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the Merrimack, which was fought in 1862. The Monitor was only six months old at the time of its sinking and the street on which we lived was named after the massive and historic ship. The statue is huge and made of iron. It depicts a man in a semi-sitting position holding desperately onto a rope that stiffly hangs just below the ship's deck on which he sits. This was a favorite place for the boys as they would climb the statue and sit for hours looking at everyone who walked through the park. From that height, a child felt you could see for miles. On one of my “tag along” days, Frank and the other boys decided to climb the statue. I stood at base looking up helplessly. I, too, wanted to climb the big iron man, but was too small to reach. Finally, my brother stretched his hand down. “Come on, Sis, grab hold. I'll help you up.” As I took his hand, he explained where I should place my little feet and what part of the statue I should grab to hoist myself while he pulled me up. Within seconds I was sitting in the lap of this great iron man. I was on top of the world. I looked around and as my heart fluttered with excitement, saw the wonders around me that the others had seen from such a great height for so much longer than I had. As the boys laughed and joked among themselves, I was quite content to sit in silent awe. Eventually, it was time for dinner. One by one, the boys climbed down. I was the last to begin the descent, trying carefully to place my feet around the iron man's wide arm. My legs were just a bit too short. I couldn't get down. My brother realized my plight and ran to help. “Hey, Sis, turn around and kneel on the spool. Wrap yours legs around the rope. Then hold on to his arm and let yourself slide down. Once you get low enough, let your feet drop and then let go. I'll catch you,” he said. While I trusted my brother with my life, I didn't trust my life with my little hands and legs. Frank assured me I'd be okay. He stood directly beneath the stiff iron arm. I knelt at the edge and did what my brother suggested, but with one added thing. I closed my eyes. If I was going to fall and kill myself, I didn't want to watch. Suddenly, I felt Frank's gentle hands grab me. “You're down, Sis. Safe and sound. Let's go home.” I opened my eyes, gratefully and happily, as Frank gently put me on the ground. He grabbed my hand to walk the short distance from the center of the park, across the street to home. It didn't matter to him that his friends stayed and watched. After all, he was the big brother taking care of his little sister. As we approached the parks exit, I turned to give the big iron man one last look for the night. As I did, I realized I'd learned some particularly important things from my experience. Although for a while I felt like I was on top of the world, I didn't need a statue to keep me there. My brother's love and protection did that better than artificial things could ever do. I didn't need to climb a statue to see the beauty and the wonders of the world. They were right before me – at my own eye level, in my mind and heart. As we grew, I married and moved away, my brother enlisted in the Army and was sent to Viet Nam. Although he returned after his Tour of Duty, he did not return whole. There was something lacking in his spirit. Years later, we would find out that he contracted the cancer that would consume him before his 51st birthday. Several decades have passed since then, and although Frank is no longer a physical part of my life, I think of him daily. When I recall that day when I sat atop a statue, I smile and realize: my brother was my Iron Man.

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