Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Mentor

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”


“God did not create you to be alone. He deposited skills, knowledge, and talents in someone out there who is expected to mentor you, teach you and encourage you to go high. Go, get a mentor!”

Israelmore Ayivor

“One of things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people.”

Dick Gregory

My first few months in Monterey, California were not good ones.  I was the new kid for the sixth time in seven years.  I hadn’t made any friends yet.  A lot of the kids I met seemed pretty rough.   Worse, I couldn’t find my true love, my Muse.  In fact, my Muse was barely in my life.  I didn’t know she existed, not just because I was only 13, but also because I had not yet discovered the power of my own written word.  So I looked for the next best thing, the power of other people’s written words, specifically in comic books. 
The problem was that I didn’t know where to get comic books.  I lived on military housing and there was only one store in the immediate area, a little convenience store, called the  “Stop-and-Shop” I think.  But they didn’t sell comic books.  So for me this store was completely useless.  I didn’t need milk or bread; I needed comic books!  I went several weeks without getting to see or buy any new comics.  I considered giving them up completely because I couldn’t expand my collection. Then one day something wonderful happened.
There was, in our military housing complex, the equivalent of a swap meet.  This was an semi-annual event in which residents could set up tables and sell stuff they no longer wanted.  I met this kid who had a copy of Blue Beetle #5.  I traded him all my Garbage Pail stickers for his one comic book.  Then I asked where he got the comic and he took me to the table.  And that’s where I met Rex “Wess” Wessling. 
To say that Wess rescued me was not to overstate the case. We could talk about comic books and he didn’t think I was weird. He not only had hundreds,  even thousands of comic books I had never seen, he was well-versed in them.  From Wess I also learned about comic book newspapers and comic conventions.  A whole new world had opened up for me. 
Wess invited me to his house and I met his wife Fran and his two sons, Jeff and Owen.  In his bedroom were boxes and boxes of comic books and they were all for sale!  I felt like I had a lifeline.  I bought several that day and the next morning when I woke  up, before I had breakfast or did anything else, I was reading comic books. I was so happy!
As important as the comic books were, something more important happened.  Wess and Fran became my friends.  They became mentors.  I eventually started going to there home every day.  I helped them move furniture and I played with and babysat their kids.  Wess would take me to downtown Monterey to look for comic books with me.  He wasn’t a father to me, but he was a great big brother.
Fran took an even stronger role, more like a mother. She listened to my problems.  She corrected me when I was less than diligent as a babysitter for their neighbors.  She invited me to her block party and when one of the neighbors told me I had to leave because I didn’t live on that block, it was Fran who called me at home and said to come back because I was her guest. 
Living transitionally as my family did, we moved again about a year later, to the nearby town of Marina.  Not having a car, that was pretty much the end of my time with the Wesslings.  I saw Wess two more times.  Once I happened to be in the area and I dropped by.  Then I saw Wess at his graduation from the Naval Postgraduate School.  And that was it.  Being young and in the moment, it never occurred to me I wouldn’t see them again. 
I was lucky to have them in my life, even if it was for a relatively short period.  I’ve been fortunate to have several older people throughout my life who mentored and befriended me.  I was not always an easy person, but for some reason I seemed to be blessed with an abundance of good teachers and older adults who guided me through adolescence and my early 20’s.    I still remember, by name, most of the teachers and mentors I had.  In fact, partly through persistence and partly through the miracle of Facebook, I’m still in touch with some of them, including Wess Wessling.
Blessing younger people has always been a passion of mine.  I hope I can do for others what many have done for me.  I hope I can teach others to Get Started and Keep Going.  Thank you, Wess and Fran!