#22 – My First Mentor

Long before I knew what a mentor is, I had one – my Aunt Esther Musselman. She was not only my Dad’s younger sister, but also my piano teacher and the wife of one of our pastors.

Esther and Sue in late 1990s

I remember Aunt Esther as an energetic woman, much livelier than my parents.  She took a special interest in me, perhaps because her own daughter Mary had died at birth six months before I was born.  Aunt Esther was an agent of God’s care for me, and she didn’t expect me to be perfect.

This vibrant, gifted woman with a bit of flare (for our community!) had the pluck to get certified as a piano teacher and to complete high school by correspondence as an adult. [My grandfather had seen no reason why she needed a high school education.] I noticed early on that as a pastor’s wife, she had considerable freedom to use her creativity and her leadership gifts,

I took piano lessons from Aunt Esther from Grade 2 through most of high school. While I certainly wasn’t a natural musician, I likely progressed adequately until heavy school responsibilities cut into my practice time.

We had piano recitals at the local Fire Hall.  Each year it was predictable as clock work that Susan Clemmer would forget the piece she had so carefully memorized. Nervousness took over, and halfway through I just stopped!

Esther-Musselman-handsAfter several years of trotting out to give me the book so I could finish the piece, Aunt Esther finally gave up.  She invited me to play duets with her, using the book. An act of desperation for Esther translated into special time with her for me, with all the pressure gone.

During my teenage years, I interacted with Aunt Esther in many settings.  After I was baptized at age 11, she coached me in the strange ritual of foot washing by volunteering to be my partner my first time.  I was pleased to exchange a “holy kiss” with her! As my youth Sunday school teacher, she made it safe for me to ask questions. She accepted doubt as a part of faith, giving me hope.

Aunt Esther and Uncle Russ celebrated my graduations with little gifts and remained important encouragers to me as a young adult.  Unlike my Mom, Esther did not think the sky was falling when I chose to marry a draft resister and move to Canada.

Esther and Russ travelled to Ontario for my ordination, and Esther told the children’s story in that service. She played piano when Sam and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Canada.

Aunt Esther still taught 15 piano students at the age of 82, and played piano or organ for funerals. She died in 2002 in her 90th year.  Even though she’s been gone for 15 years, my heart still smiles when I think of her.

Christmas, 1996 with husband Russ

I especially treasure my memories of four generations of Clemmers singing Christmas carols in Jim and Ethel’s living room with Esther playing the piano. And she delighted us endlessly by playing our phone numbers!

Aunt Esther blessed me by noticing me, by accepting me with my foibles, and by expecting God’s best for me with a non-anxious spirit.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. In your growing up years, which extended family member or other adult in your family’s circle blessed you? How did he/she do this?
  2. As an adult, which young person(s) have you noticed and blessed?

Next week: The Artist’s Eye

2 thoughts on “#22 – My First Mentor

  1. My first mentor was Rev. John Torosian, the chaplain and a teacher at the private high school that I attended. He was a friend to me and he taught me in courses on Ethics and Chemistry. In those days the school publicly posted people’s final grades and in my final I had an overall average of 94.8%.There was a very special award for anyone who had a n overall average of 95%. I had 5 courses, so if any one of my marks was raised by even 1% I would bask in the glow of this achievement. So I went to see Rev. Torosian and asked him if he would give me the extra point. He considered my request and then he asked me if I thought he was a n honest and fair marker. I said yes. Then he said if I wanted the extra point he would give it to me, however, he wanted me to know that i had not truly earned it. I struggled interiorly, deeply. Then I said I did not want that point and I went home. In the years that have followed I more and more appreciate the TOUGH LOVE lesson he taught me by CARE-FRONTING me, rather than by confronting me:
    – to face obstacles with integrity;
    -to accept the truth about my real achievements;
    -to be highly disciplined.
    -not just study an ethics course- but to practice ethical behaviour, even when it is hard to do so.
    Rev. Torosian helped for me as a strong, ethical woman.
    Heather Whitehouse


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