Mentors are so important!

As we grow and develop into hopefully fully functioning humans, we most likely had a little help and guidance along the way.

Recently, I was thinking about people who took an interest in me and I immediately thought of three important people that definitely made a positive difference in my life.

I want to thank them.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

When I was 14, I took tennis in gym class and started hitting balls around.  I really liked the sport.   When I was a small girl, I used to watch my mother hit tennis balls against a wall in Leetsdale and one day while she was doing this and I was walking along the broken fence passing the time, I slipped and got my ankle caught in the steel that was disconnected at the bottom.  That was my first stitches experience and trip back up the hill to Sewickley Valley Hospital where I was born and it was horrible.   I still vividly recall the whole ordeal. 

Anyway, fast forward 9 or 10 years and I bought a cheap used tennis racket at the thrift store and started hitting my own balls against any flat wall I could find. 

My mother was the kind of woman who really wanted to be involved in everything that I did so we would go to my high school and hit balls pretty much every day on one of the four hard courts.

One day, an old man with no teeth wearing a thin white t-shirt, raggedy shorts and really thin flipflops came up to us on the court and told me to work on my second serve first.  I didn’t even know what that was. 

His name was George Koernich and that may not even be the correct spelling of his last name, but he will forever remain in my heart. 

George was the kind of man who most likely played in all whites with the Rod Laver crew back in the long pants history of tennis.  He knew what he was doing for sure.  That summer he spent tireless hours with me teaching me everything about tennis.  My mother scraped up some money to buy me a new wooden Tracy Austin tennis racket at K-mart and I played the hell out of that racket.  I probably played 5 hours every day that summer learning everything I could and I loved it. 

I remember George bringing dozens of old balls from home that didn’t have any bounce left and we served hundreds and hundreds of balls with those.  They still had life for that!

He taught me how to slice the serve and return a slice, explained and showed me how to deal with topspin, taught me defensive moves like how to lob, play the net with volleys and really gave me appreciation for the game.   

At the time, Chris Evert was being usurped by powerhouse Martina Navratilova and I watched every match that I could, read every tennis magazine the school and local Laughlin Memorial library had in its archives and really did nothing but learn and play.

I will say that the local players were never kind nor helpful or encouraging to me, him or us but I’m guessing they watched the progress.

With George’s help I made the tennis team that first year and he and I even ended up entering some regional tournaments playing mixed doubles which yes he played in old flipflops.  George was one of a kind.  He tapped maple trees and brought me the water to drink and it was delicious.  Every time I put a tap in I think of George!

I ended up quitting the tennis team soon after I started my first job at the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe at age 16.  The coach was not understanding that I HAD to work to help my mom so I quit the team.  Priorities!  😊

Enter mentor number two, Andy Amygdalos.  Andy was an amazing man who passed away a few years ago.  Years later Andy told me that when I came in and filled out the application he thought I wasn’t going to be able to hack it.  He didn’t know about my tennis muscles!!!  I could lift those 50 pound buckets of chili and haul boxes of meat no problem!   It ended up being that I became his favorite and best employee of all time or so he told me.   I stayed there with Andy for 7 years.

I have blogged about that first job before but I didn’t say much.  Today I want to share tales about a man who was more of a father to me than my own and I loved him.

Andy had come from Greece and had loaned fellow Greek, Lou Pappan, money so he could open Pappan’s restaurant, which became a very successful Beaver County chain.  I know the fact that Andy worked tirelessly and hard for DECADES for can I say it, (a jerk) that he could have ROCKED his own restaurant no issue, but he didn’t.  Life is about choices.  Andy taught me that. 

Andy taught me responsibility and trusted me to count the daily register, showed me how to schedule employees, order supplies, serve and treat people, make tips, cook, clean and WORK HARD.  Within a year or two, he trusted me to train all the new employees and he knew I would do things as he expected.  I respected him. 

During the first year of college I lived on campus but came home on weekends to work and he always gave me as many hours as I could handle. 

To this day my biggest regret is moving home after Freshman year.  One day I will blog about my mother but not yet. Suffice it to say she was incredibly lonely without me and guilted me to come home. For three years I had to take two busses and spend three hours each day to travel back and forth but I did it and I worked the whole time as many hours as I could.  During college, I didn’t go to a single football game or do the fun college stuff but again, life is about choices and honestly, those “sacrifices” made me who I am today. 

Photo by Alex Samuels on Unsplash

Andy would let me study and do my homework when we were slow and he was always interested in what I was studying, and included me in his family.  I know he felt like I was a daughter to him and I felt it too. 

Andy had a bad heart and took nitro pills and once in a while he struggled.  One day he had to sit down for hours and rest and I ran the restaurant.  I LOVED that I could help him and wished he didn’t have to work so hard. 

Andy put his three kids through college and one son became a doctor.  I remember his daughter Julie’s graduation party where he made me a high ball drink which just about put me under the table!  He also filled me with terrific Greek food and taught me to speak conversational Greek.  The little old Greek men who spent their days at the counter, smoking their cigarettes and drinking coffee with just a touch of cream also helped shape me.  They sat and watched me, commented on any friends who would stop in, gave me gifts for my birthday and really became a needed family for me.  I still remember them and am so grateful that they also played a part in my development. 

For some reason as I write this on my 52nd birthday I think of the people who knew me between the ages of 16 and 22 and it is making me cry.  I miss them.  They loved me and it was so awesome!

Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

After college, I got a job through a temp agency at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith in downtown Pittsburgh.   This was a really male dominated place but there were a handful of strong female brokers and I had the pleasure of working with one such woman named Marta. 

Marta still is a beautiful, smart and accomplished woman and successful at work and in her family life.  She has a great husband and a fabulous son who keeps her busy plus adult stepchildren and dear friends that she cultivates relationships with.   

Back in 1990 when I started there, I knew absolutely nothing about being professional.  Marta and the two leading ladies, Nancy and Karen who were the direct bosses of all us sales assistants, really helped shape me into a working woman.  They were encouraging to me and after a couple of years when I knew what I was doing, also trusted me to train new hires.  I loved that.

Marta was an only child too but she had a great upbringing with loving parents and included me in so many fun things that I would never have had a chance to experience.    And she appreciated how I helped her in her business and treated her clients and she spoiled me. 

I think Marta may be the reason I have taken on the role of mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I mentor a growing girl because Marta’s friendship and love meant so much to me. I appreciate what Marta did for me so much that it was and continues to be inspiring in my life.

Even after I left that job 7 years later, she and I are still connected and she was there for me when I left my first husband and embarked on my new life.  That was a hard time for me and I love Marta for being supportive.  She will always be someone that I respect and adore.

Photo by Karina on Unsplash

I really hope that I can be a great mentor for my Little.  It isn’t always easy knowing if I am being a positive influence and teaching Maci how to be a full functioning person.  I want to expose her to all the things I can and give her experiences so she has a fuller life than what I had as a child.

It is a journey that is two years in and we have 4 ½ years yet to fulfil our commitment to each other. 

I am looking forward to sharing the lessons we both learn from this experience in future blogs.  Maybe someday she will take on a Little of her own! We shall see what life brings to us both but for now, I heartily thank the people who helped me in so many ways. They are definitely still with me!

Music makes the best connections!

A few times a year now as opposed to weekly like when I was a young lass, Mitch and I venture out to sing a few songs at a local bar.  We are still exploring the area around us in Washington and other points south of Pittsburgh.  We are also old now so instead of going out at 10 pm, if I can find a karaoke bar that starts at 8 pm, I jump up and down.  Add the idea of a NONSMOKING environment and this is the trifecta of perfect karaoke.  We recently had one of those nights and it got me thinking.

A few weeks ago, I was in line at the local post office where I often find myself and instead of scrolling through FB or IG I am known to engage my fellow waiters into conversation.  These are always fun chats.  I meet the most interesting humans in lines and it passes the time as well as opens the doors to new friendships.  It also gives me a chance to try and spread the word about my personal chef business.  I literally carry my business cards in a Seresto collar tin.  It is the perfect reuse for something that I hated throwing away.  I can’t tell you how confused everyone is when I pull that out of my purse!  😊   

One such day I was chatting up the person in line behind me and passing out cards when a stout little smiling man came in and asked about a photocopy machine.  He was told there was one up the hill at the Shop n Save.

I happened to glance at what he wanted to copy and saw it was a flyer about karaoke on Wednesdays 8 pm at the Bradford Lounge.  I knew exactly where that was.  I had toured the George Washington Hotel in the hopes to have Mitch’s upcoming 60th birthday party there but it was sadly booked.  This bar was part of that cool old venue.

“Hold it,” I said.  “I need a snap of that flyer.”  He gladly obliged.

This place is smackdab in the middle of town across the street from the beautiful and historic Washington County courthouse and steps away from Bradford House for which I’m guessing it was named.  Festivities for the Whiskey Rebellion are held every summer right in this area.  That is a terrific 3-day event full if history, music, storytelling, reenactments including a REAL tar and feathering and endless fun.   

Washington like many such towns in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas have seen some hard times through the last several decades but just in the almost three years that we have lived here, I can see sparks of resurgence happening and I hope a continued trend upward becomes the norm.   

We have enjoyed some really tasty meals at several GREAT restaurants in town too but had yet to wet our whistle at this place.  I was excited!!!

At 8:05 pm we showed up and ordered drinks.  A quick look around the bar showed just 3 others in the place all crowded at the far end of the bar.  Mitch told me at that point he thought this was going to be on the boring side where we would sing a couple of songs and quickly go home.  That didn’t happen.

I informed the karaoke guy who was set up right at the front of the bar that we were there to sing and he smiled and gave me slips of paper and a pen.  OLD SCHOOL is what I thought. 

Back in the early days of karaoke, there were actual books, papers and pens all over and you pored over the books and wrote down your song choice titles, the artist’s name and your name and then passed it to the karaoke people and waited your turn.  Usually in every karaoke place I go, people are shy or need a drink or two to sing, so I start the karaoke,  but this place was different.  People kept arriving and adding their songs to the lineup and list.  I was 3rd in the rotation and everyone was WONDERFUL.  We quickly made friends, started sharing business cards and cheering each other on.  What we loved SO much was the many different kinds of songs everyone was singing.  It was glorious because this group was all folks in their 50-60s I would guess and the music and talent was incredible.  NOT that karaoke is about being good, but it certainly makes it more interesting when the singer can hold a tune and he or she chooses really cool music.

Who knew we would be in the company of Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Dennis DeYoung from Styx and more legends of the good old days?

The bartender who as soon as we started singing seemed to be a bit more generous on my pour, (Mitch was driving) came up and helped me sing The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.  She just ran around the bar, grabbed onto the mic and started belting it out with me.  I was thrilled she loved the song as much as I did.  The fact I had never sung that song in public before is amazing.  I keep waiting for more members of the band ( I have yet to find a Lindsey Buckingham) to show up and sing with me, but since karaoke has all the backup vocals, it was high time.  What a thrill!!!

During the next three hours, I did more Stevie Nicks, some Walking After Midnight from Patsy Cline, sang a little Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and more Fleetwood Mac.  It was an old time karaoke night for me which I adore.  Mitch sang a great Rolling Stones tune, some Mark Cohn, Tom Petty and rocked the whole place.   

The lady sitting next to us who sang some fun songs too wanted to tell me about her teenage years going to concerts at the Meadows, a local racetrack that has entertainment. I can’t even imagine what the place was like in the 50s! She regaled me about a night when she was a teenager and saw the Platters, the Drifters and The Coasters together and seeing the Beach Boys in her youth too.  I loved hearing her fun musical memories.

Everyone there shared stories of the bands that all have played in or still play with and the great musical acts they have seen.  The gigantic smiles of everyone there was a sure sign everyone was connecting through music.   

Being the only child of a single mother, I often stayed home by myself while she worked.  I played her records over and over and learned about singing harmony from the Mamas and The Papas, practiced my Soprano with Barbra Streisand and am still haunted by the song Suzanne by Judy Collins. 

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

The thousands of hours I spent listening over and over to those records seriously created the foundation for my musical tastes today.

I could recite albums front to back, and would never tire of listening to music.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, music is my favorite thing and for my 40th birthday I had help creating a double CD of my favorite songs to gift all the party guests.  One CD was For the Heart and included love songs and the other was For the Feet and a dance compilation.  I borrowed that idea from the late George Michael. 

For my 50th birthday party, I made  a thumb-drive with my favorite 50 songs of all time with MP3 files.

I wonder what technology will exist for my 60th.  I am already thinking of what that musical gift will be and jotting down long forgotten tunes. 

#musicmemories #singkaraoke #karaokerocks