Thank you, BlueRidgeNow.com, for publishing Jeff Nance’s heartwarming story about the differences mentors made in his own childhood. Jeff is a Big Brother in Henderson County and serves on BBBS Henderson’s Advisory Council.
If you can’t get to the link above because of Blue Ridge Now’s paywall, here is what Jeff says in the article, published Dec. 19.
Reflection, giving thanks, and gratitude for mentors
Jeff Nance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Henderson County
Autumn is the greatest of the four seasons to me. It’s a time of reflection, thanksgiving and gratitude. As the leaves fade and break free of the branches, my mind detaches and meanders to the little boy from long ago.
Reflection: I am 9 years old again and remember wishing that I had never been born. Profanity and domestic abuse abound within the walls of my childhood home. Raised in a single-parent home, without a father, my mother endured constant, physical and emotional abuse from her alcoholic boyfriend. Those horrific nights left traumatic scars on my soul.
However, the biggest void in my life was never meeting my biological father – he was an abusive alcoholic as well. Longing to “play catch” like the other boys did with their fathers in the neighborhood made me feel excluded and worthless. My mind would search the universe at bedtime, as the fighting and cursing down the hall rang aloud. My soul questioned and cried within, “If there was a God, why would he allow such hell in a child’s life?”
I am a “Big” brother with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Henderson County. I also serve as a council member on the BBBS Advisory Board. For the past 18 months, I have been a school and community-based volunteer with my “Little”, who is a fourth-grader. Prior to COVID-19, as a school-based volunteer mentor, I would spend an hour one day a week with him at his school.
He is an avid, excellent reader and I enjoy listening to him “make the pages come to life” as he reads to me. We spend time working on his math assignments. We play ball in the gym and have lunch occasionally. For the past eight months we have been spending time together outside of school (community-based mentoring). We have kayaked together and fished. We have played miniature golf and had lunch at White Duck Taco.
A couple of weeks ago we strolled the sidewalks of historic downtown Hendersonville. We went to the aquarium and shark lab and to the Pisgah Forest Gem Mine; what a treasure that was for me, to see the excitement in his eyes. But the “sweetest” part of our afternoon was when our eyes gazed at the treats within the glass counter at McFarlan’s Bake Shop.
Thanksgiving: Each Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the mentors during my childhood: men, and women, young and old, black and white, who molded my young life. Mentors who took time away from their families and poured kindness and encouragement into the life of a lonely, fatherless child.
One mentor was my babysitter. Mary Simmington (Simmie) was 68 years old when I was just 2 weeks old. She lived across the street and cared for several children to supplement her fixed income. She empowered me with positive encouragement that never existed in my home.
She taught me to cook and bake. She shared life lessons in gardening, sewing and grocery shopping on a $40 a week budget. To this day Simmie is the greatest influence in my life.
I had other mentors as well. My neighbor, Richard Pipes, would open his home to many kids. He spent time with us playing billiards and Japanese pinball. His wife would make homemade nachos as we sat on their living room floor watching movies together.
Every year, the Friday after Thanksgiving, he allowed us to help “stage” his front lawn with life sized decorations, nine reindeer and a huge sleigh with Santa. There was also a manger scene that contained the wise men, animals, Mary and Joseph and the newborn, baby Jesus.
I will never forget the massive, flag-draped billboard he displayed in 1979 with the message: “FREE THE HOSTAGES!”
Other mentors would leave an impact upon my life as well. Baseball and basketball coaches would pick me up and take me to practices and games. They would spend money, without hesitation, for meals at McDonald’s or Pizza Inn. My older cousin, Richard, would take me to play putt-putt and the driving range and to grab a bite to eat.
Gratitude: I have always been fatherless in the eyes of this world. And those early pages of life can never be written as fictional. The memories are never far removed. They serve as “markers” and the assurance of the existence of my Heavenly Father. He is indeed the Father of the fatherless!
At 53, those pages from my childhood reveal a different story. A story not so dark, not so lonely but one of great thanksgiving and much gratitude. “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” -Jean Baptiste Massieu
Those mentors, ordinary people with ordinary lives, made an extraordinary impression upon my soul. They sharpened the man I am today. Their acts of kindness and time invested forever altered the course of my life.
I do not care to imagine where or who I would be today without them. The little things they did brushed the canvas of my soul with an eternal joy. A joy no one can erase or take away.
As Ronnie Millsap sang, my heart proclaims: “What a difference you’ve made in my life.”