Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Greatest Mentor

Buffalo Botanical Garden Waterfall

The number of people that I could nominate as my mentor are numerous; but when I consider influence and high self-esteem, I would have to choose my Great Aunt Grace.

She was an educator (by nature), a poet and a day dreamer; and she was my Savior in my adolescent world; she was my hero.

She encouraged an aggressive spirit, stating your case with fact, and putting up a good fight for what you believe in.

Reading and drawing or anything "creative" was in, and the BOOB TUB was out. (That's what all my elders called the television when I was kid). When we did watch television at her house we watched “The Laurence Welk Show” and “That Girl” and “The Bob Newhart show," among other shows.

 Television today would have had no place in her life.

Unusual art and whimsical collectibles filled her home and made up a big part of her life. The stories she told were gripping and authentic and caused the subject to take on a life of its own. She filled her home with a variety of beautiful things from so many different places from all around the world; they stirred my imagination and showed me that there is more to this world than Western New York. 

Not that Western New York is bad ... there is just so much more beyond it's boarders.

She taught me how to sew a button on a sweater with a 12 inch single piece of thread, and get that thread through the eye of a needle in one attempt. 

Her flower arranging skill was also passed down and arranging a bouquet of flowers was a thrill for me to learn. They never lacked in color, and the height of each flower complemented the other. She was simply good at it, and it showed, the flowers even seemed happy. To her it was effortless, and though it's still a challenge for me, I still try to make them as beautiful as possible.

My very first camera
I was her very young photographer and at a very young age she bought me my first KODAK film camera. Within minutes she gave me my lessons in how to take a great picture of the most mundane objects, making them the subject of my eye. My eye has developed over the years, and sunsets, animals, family and garden flowers are my most coveted subjects. I have more pictures than picture albums, and it will probably always be that way.

She loved the forest and the trees; all of the forest flowers and the beauty of what lay beneath the winter thaw. She taught me the names of unusual and rare flowers like the Trillium and the Jack-in-the-Pulpits and my favorite,
Doll Eyes
Doll eyes. A creepy looking plant – it was a conversation starter for sure. It is an intriguing plant, with those little white balls that look like Doll eyes, and they can still be found in the woods along the road right where she introduced them to me.

Her affection toward all things wonderful was curious and fun, and her fondness for the simply beautiful ignited in me a desire to KNOW THINGS. Lots and LOTS of things that might not have meant anything to me had she not shown me their beauty. I now find great meaning in things that to most, would be a waste of time.

My Aunt far right corner - Brant #1 School
She was a High School Algebra teacher and went to "Normal School" where a few trades were taught, like teaching, and had one of the first school houses near North Collins, NY. She taught her whole career, and I am not sure on the span of years, but I believe that during the early 1950’s though the 1970 she taught at a regular, large public school; she was the first woman to became the head of the Math Department there. Neither the school board nor the men in her department were very enthusiastic about her advance ... but she was thrilled and earned her position fair and square(so the story was told). She was a very popular teacher.

She taught me to identify every native song bird she knew, song and appearance, so I could put them together and identify them for myself. Her favorite was the Chickadee. They would eat right out of her hand.
I teach my niece those beautiful bird songs now and who they belong too. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to pass that knowledge onto yet another generation.

She taught me about respect and the importance of saying Thank You. “Always, always say thank you," she said. "It says a great deal about your character and how you portray yourself.  A thank you, even for the smallest thing, is never forgotten.”

She taught me how to drive a car, and how to maneuver it through a bank drive-through window entrance. When I smashing the side of the car into the cement pole guides on my first try she just yelled, “STOP! Now back up slowly, and try it again, one more time.” I made it through the second time with flying colors, and I have never been in another accident in a car that I was driving.

She then proceeded to show me how to make a bank deposit and check my paperwork to make sure the bank teller did their job right. "Just because you know someone at the bank, doesn't mean they will always be right," she said. That was a lesson well taught.

And she instructed me on the importance of keeping my mouth shut when the only thing I want to do was blurt out a response in objection, especially when I KNEW I was right. She gently reminded me that "people do remember what is said if it happens to be negative, or is focused on the negative; so it’s better to just keep it to yourself.” She said. 

So I do.

Mostly she taught me to be grateful for every blessing I am given, every day. She showed me with her actions how to love my family when there were no words. She encouraged working hard at something I love and to do my best in everything I do, and to be satisfied; because there is always someone who has it worse than I do.

She said to be true to my word and to always stand tall and proud, because we are our best cheerleader. We need to always believe in the best, and especially believe in ourselves.

Above all of these things – she instilled in me my love of writing. What a gem to have had her encourage me, it is one of my greatest loves. 

I never imagined I would use it to tell the world about her. (BIG sigh)

I am glad I learned the things that I did from her. Her contributions to my life have been priceless and enormous, and having her as my mentor was a great gift. No one will ever compare to her and I feel greatly blessed that I got to be one of her student; and her niece. 

I hope I can be as impressive of a mentor to my niece as she was to me.

Here's to my Great Aunt Grace ...Thank you for being my mentor!