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.

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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. 

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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!

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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!