I’m pretty picky about my heroes. I certainly don’t let Hollywood or pro sports tell me who I should idolize. I choose my heroes from people I personally know. Mostly, they are people who’ve gone through hell but found glimpses of heaven along the way.  

I wrote this post a year ago about a father/daughter set of heroes I have- Pete and Annie Hampton.  It’s been a year since Annie passed, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t draw inspiration from her and her Dad, Pete.  I like to share my heroes; you can make Pete and Annie your heroes, too.

My Heroes: Pete and Annie Hampton

My heroes are people I can hug.  I doubt any of my heroes or heroines will have statues built for them, buildings named after them, or national holidays in their honor.  But when I need a dose of courage to wrestle fear to the ground or a little flame in my fireplace to warm my chilling soul, I draw from the stories of people whose eyes I know the color of.  I’d like to invite you to my little town in Kansas to meet two of my heroes- Pete Hampton and his daughter, Annie.

Behind my house is an old railroad bed covered with thicket so tight you can barely walk down the path.  It used to be more open because Pete rode past on his four-wheeler to the open fields that surround our town.

If you crawl up on the railroad bed and walked into town, the first paved street you came to would be Sturges. If you looked to the left, you would see Pete and Annie’s big old two-story house on the corner. Pete might be working on a car parked under the big elm tree outside.  He doesn’t have a garage but can fix anything that’s broken and does it all outside on a graveled driveway.

Pete’s the kind of guy you want on your side if you’re in a dark alley. His calloused handshake is firm and, when he grows his mustache out into a Fu Manchu, he’s a bit intimidating. No, let me rephrase that- he’s very intimidating. But spend ten minutes with him and you’ll find he’s got a very gentle heart that beats behind his brawny chest. The muscles under his tattooed arm might lift an engine out of a car or rescue a kitten out of a tree. And when he smiles, his eyes dance with mischief.

I watched his daughter, Annie, as she grew up in our little town and attended the same school as my children. Even as a small child, she was country-girl beautiful with a scrappy attitude of a tomboy.  She was cuddle-me-cute one minute and pinning a knuckle-headed boy to the ground the next. She was as sweet as her Grandma’s cherry pie, but took no sass off of anyone. She looked most like her Daddy when she smiled.

What Annie wanted, Annie worked for. Even as a little girl, she worked for her grandma at Grandma’s Kitchen waiting tables on crusty old coffee-drinking geezers who belly-ached about the weather.  If she wasn’t there, she was at the grocery store stocking shelves and lifting the spirits of customers with her winsome smile.

Pete and Annie were more than father and daughter; they were buddies. There was an inseparable bond between them that was forged on the battleground for her health. Annie had everything going for her and everything against her.  She had cystic fibrosis. Pete had one mission in life: keep her safe and alive.

I travel so much that I had lost track of them until a neighbor asked if I had heard about Annie’s failing condition; it was bad and growing worse each day.  It is such a helpless feeling to watch good people struggle with such horrible tragedy.

Pete had always done an amazing job of raising Annie by himself with, of course, the help of his mom, Grandma Jane and their family. Pete could have driven all the way around the world three times with the number of miles he racked up with doctor visits and hospital stays.  His primary job was to take care of Annie so he did whatever odd jobs he could to make a living that gave him the flexibility to be there for her when she needed him. She needed him a lot.

I kept up-to-date on their story by reading their Facebook posts  as I traveled.  Often, when she was in the hospital, they would talk to each other on Facebook.  She once posted a John Wayne saying for her Dad, “Life is hard: it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  Then she wrote personally, “I said what I said, take it however you wish.”

Or he would say, “Annie’s surgery went good today. It was funny; she was in recovery room and she told me the surgeon took her phone and changed her ringtone. I said yep, you’ll have that sometime.  A little nutty but fine.”

My favorite line was of him saying, “Good morning, baby girl.”

The day Annie died, she wrote these words. Since then, Pete has had those words tattooed on his back:

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. If you don’t write, draw, sketch, create, the rough feel of a pencil will begin to feel foreign caught in a grasp between your fingers. If you don’t paint with punctuation, your sense flow will start to chop, sputter, and dry. Your straight line will have a subtle curve. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Annie inspires me create.  She also inspires me to fight life’s battles with courage and a sense of humor. I take her advice daily. I use it so I don’t lose it.

Pete inspires me to put my family above all else.

They are my heroes.