Eulogy to a Hero

Prime magazine recently asked readers to submit articles on their heroes. Below is the award-winning essay, written by Columbia resident Jeanne Dzurick. As Thanksgiving nears, take the time to give thanks to your own special hero.


By Jeanne Dzurick

She wasn’t highly educated, greatly honored by society or a rock star. But she was very intelligent, a successful businesswoman, loved by her family, and admired for her grace. She was a proper lady. We called her Mam-ma. Although she never stood taller than 4’11”, like every real hero, she looms large in memory.

Being the “third” girl was not an envious position in my family. Following the birth of my younger brother, circumstances led to my being “lost in the shuffle,” of the fears and concerns of my parents over his illness. Although my older sisters were available, they were enough years older than me and so close in age to each other that I was pretty much left odd man out.

Somewhere in all of this, Mam-ma stepped into my life. She made me feel special simply because she made me feel appreciated. I wasn’t just the third girl, or the umpteenth grandchild, but a person in my own right. She had that gift — that gift of making you feel you were the most important person in the world. That gift of making you feel that you could do anything, and what you want to do, is to be just like her.

I learned many things from her. There are so many sayings that still ring in my ears. Such as “Never go to bed at night until the house is straightened. You never know when you might have to call the doctor in.” At the time, I’m sure I was pretty much confused as to whether the doctor wouldn’t come in unless the house was neat, or whether the doctor would tell everyone you had a messy house. Regardless, I still don’t go to bed without making sure the house is straightened…just in case.

I would spend several memorable weeks in the summer with her, and it was a very precious time for me. I wasn’t one of several, I was the only one and she devoted her time and attention to me every day. We played cards, most particularly “Dirty 8” or “Gin Rummy” and she tried to teach me to crochet. She always had Hersey bars (by the box!) and Pepsi. Her bookshelves were totally open to me, and although at the time I thought she had the most extensive, wonderful library in the world, I realize now that they were mostly Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Imagine my chagrin when I grew old enough to realize I was reading an abridged version! Realizing my love of reading early on, she made sure that I received for my birthday, the Reader’s Digest Children’s Series. We lived in Lake Ozark at the time, and although the summers filled our resort and small town with tourists, the winters could be long and isolated and receiving those books each month, in the mail brought such excitement that I can remember that feeling even today.

I didn’t take everything she said to heart. Every summer, my aunt, not having a daughter of her own, thought it was necessary that I get a permanent. I never agreed, and would sit there summer after summer with tears in my eyes as she tightly wound every little strand of my blonde hair onto tiny little rollers, dabbing on really vile smelling chemicals. She would then admire her handiwork on what looked to me like baby doll hair gone wrong. Mam-ma would always say, “You must take pains to be beautiful.”

One summer, I must have been nine or 10 years old and starting to become a “real” person, I looked her in the eye and said, “If it has to hurt to be beautiful, I don’t want to be beautiful.” Looking back, I think I cursed myself. But I don’t think I ever had to have another permanent. And although I felt guilt when I saw the hurt in her eyes, I still find it painful to “take pains.”

But not Mam-ma. Her nails were always done every week, a deep dark red. Her hair was picture perfect. She was a businesswoman, who owned a trucking business, an unusual occupation for a woman in the 1950s. I remember walking so proudly with her to the office and riding the elevator. Her secretary would take me to lunch and I always returned with some trinket (and once even a doll) and I felt my grandmother was someone important to lots of people. Not just me.

Mam-ma taught me manners. She taught me that it was okay to be a “tomboy” but that I must remember I was still a lady. She taught me to accept. She had embroidered and framed on her wall the Serenity Prayer. I took that to heart, because she had taken it to hers and I try to live by that, even today. She taught me to love words and stories and to appreciate those days of summer where my world was populated with just the two of us, a deck of cards, a crossword puzzle, a good book, and, of course, a Hersey bar and a cold Pepsi.

I always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. As I grew up and I would ask a friend, “Isn’t she beautiful?” and they would make no comment; I began to realize that she really wasn’t all that beautiful.

But when we have a hero, they may not really be the strongest, the wisest, or the best looking. They are heroes because they made us feel special, loved and worthy. They make us become more than we ever thought we could be. How fortunate I was to have that hero in my life. She left me no “things” at her death, because she had already left me everything she had to offer.