Puff “N” Blow Mentoring

Puff “N” Blow Mentoring: Clarice Goodyear

I have been surprised at the number of young women who revealed to me that I had been a mentor in their lives. Having been a recipient of really powerful mentoring in my own life from a number of women, I was delighted, somewhat humbled and more than a little confused. I often had no idea I was mentoring when, apparently, I was doing my best mentoring. I like things to be straight-forward and accountable in clear lines. The idea that the most teachable moments have taken place in almost complete unawareness on my part  is as disconcerting as it is inspiring.

A young professional, remarkably gifted woman tearfully tried to explain at my retirement party how much observing my life had meant to her and her wife. I couldn’t quite understand what she was saying because of the whole tear thing, which was surprising in of itself because she is as tough as old boots.  I knew she would likely get back to me, because she is conscientious. She sent me an email. What she was trying to tell me, she wrote, was that observing the way that Carl and I had to pivot over the last year in terms of our life-plans enabled she and her wife to pivot in a dramatic way too. It was true. Carl and I did have to pivot, sharply. We had planned to take 4 months to explore Canada’s National parks after we retired. However, my father died  this spring which meant that we had some ground-shaking decisions to make as a couple. We had planned to move to Newfoundland and build a house. We had planned to travel extensively in our tiny camper, answering to no one and no thing. Then the pull of needing to be close to my grieving mother as well as close-ish to our grandchildren.  One of them has juvenile diabetes (infant onset) which has meant we want to offer an extra layer of support. Carl and I had many, many difficult conversations amongst the funeral arrangements, retirement plans and the chaos of wrapping up major life-long careers. How could we make these decisions in a way that honoured our needs, obligations, dreams and wants? We decided that whenever we have been presented with major challenges that opened up a variety of pathways in front of us, anytime we chose a path with love as the ethical driver, we have flourished. We didn’t necessarily get what we planned for, or sometimes even wanted. However, love has always had its own way of opening up positive currents in the river of time. We usually end up where we need to be. So, we bought a house in Nova Scotia and cut our trip by half, trusting we will get to the places we need to be, when we need to be there. Watching us make those decisions somehow inspired my younger friend and her wife. Mentoring is weird that way.

I have thought a great deal lately about how I have been mentored. Some mentors, like the Dr. Shelley Finson, feminist scholar and social justice warrior, have consciously mentored me and many other student theologians. Other, earlier mentors probably had no idea how they were influencing me and how critical their modelling was.

I have been blessed to have an unconditionally loving mother who taught me how to love and believe in the inherent power of good in the world. She was and is my original, best mentor. She made my sister, brother and I strong, creative and caring. She had a grade nine education but read almost a book every day. I thought everyone’s mother did this until, as a teenager I was interrupted browsing in the Gander library. The librarian wondered aloud whether my mother would eventually check out every book. It seemed there was nothing she was not interested in. Would my mother be interested in serving on the Board some day since she knew so much about their collection? Gaping, mouth opening and closing, I said she would have to ask my mother herself. I looked at my mother with new eyes after that day. She was so smart, in an unassuming, humble kind of way. Mom was taught there were three options for a woman’s career: secretary, teacher or nurse. Then, after you married and became pregnant, you stayed home to become a homemaker. She had no opportunity to claim one of the three careers herself, but she fervently hoped my sister and I would choose one in case our future husbands abandoned us, a fate our father assured would befall us if we persisted in being as saucy to our husbands as we were to him. Her own father had abandoned her mother, seven children still at home, leaving the family stuck fast in terrible poverty for a long time. In her mind, this possibility floated, specter-like in the future of any young woman. She encouraged us to choose one of the three possible careers.

Clarice Goodyear taught me that women could be kickass leaders and entrepreneurs and there were more than three options. Her daughter, Elizabeth, (Betsy to me), was my closest friend and she went to bat for me, convincing her mother, against her better judgment, to give me a chance as a part-time worker. I worked at Goodyear Humber stores in Gander for two years. It was a terrifying, life-altering, soul-strengthening experience.   I continued to be welcomed with open arms in her house and a place was always prepared for me at the frequent feasts over which Joe Goodyear Senior presided. In the store, however, I was simply an employee. She was determined to hold me to the same high standards she expected of every employee of the store, including herself. I was a teenager, very much interested in enjoying the things teens did in the late seventies, which meant I was often tired on Fridays and Saturdays. No matter, clothes were to be folded, customers attended to, phones answered and cash to be meticulously counted. Once, I heard her voice across the dry-goods floor early one morning. “Linda Butyn! I don’t know what the heck you are doing with that cash register. We have decided you are not stealing because you are over as much as you are under on any given day. Stay away from the cash register until I can give you another lesson!” I looked around. Older co-workers smiled and averted their eyes.  She did give me a lesson, the main crux of it being an assurance that she knew I was smart enough, I just needed to slow down and pay attention to my task. We practiced the cash register. In those days, the electric-but-manual registers required great finger strength, much multi-tasking and reverse change back-counting. We practiced and practiced. Slow down and take the time to do it right, she said. Speed is the enemy of accuracy. This was painfully demonstrated when I, in a hurry to leave with my friends, made a advertising sign that declared an electric blanket was on sale for $3.20 instead of $32.00. One quick-witted senior spotted this and immediately claimed her $3.20 blanket. I thought Clarice would fire me or, at least, take it out of my wages. The tragically bereft expression on my face must have persuaded her otherwise. She sighed and let the lady have her blanket.

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If I goofed off, laying my tired, sometimes hung-over head on piles of cool denim that needed folding, she would, through some magic of telepathy, know. “Linda Butyn! Get your head up! Fold those jeans!” It was easier in the winter-time because she wore hard-heeled shoes and I could hear her striding across vast space of the dry-goods floor. In the summer-time she wore soft, crepe-soled shoes and I was constantly surprised by her popping up somewhere behind or in front of me. I worked harder in the summer-time. In the middle of that last summer I was employed by her, I asked if I could arrange and decorate the store windows. This had been the coveted purview of more seasoned, permanent workers. I could see her considering it carefully. Yes, she said, give it a try, I think you may have a good eye. I was shocked. Then excited. That summer I discovered a talent for creative display and public relations. It taught me how to imagine a consuming public might regard something they didn’t know they needed or wanted until an eye-catching window tableau paused them to consider. This has been a helpful skill in both ministry and blogging. Clarice told me about the positive feedback she had received about the windows. She was a woman of rare but honest praise, so when you received it, you were changed.

More than anything, Clarice taught me that a woman could be a leader and stand toe-to-toe with any man. She could be flinty. Occasionally, on my way to the employee bathroom, I would observe a shoplifter sitting uncomfortably on a chair in her office. Sometimes I would catch their eye and we both knew they were doomed. Clarice would carefully and, often compassionately,  interrogate them. They usually confessed. Their fate was not universal, though. Some of the young ones were made to call their parents. Some, whose parents were absent or awful, experienced other forms of help and referrals. Some, the hardened, unrepentant criminal-type, warranted a visit by the police. There were odd shoplifters, like the Soviets who came off the Aeroflot flights. They were famous for habitually stealing jeans. These small groups of carbolic-soap- scented, pale people would descend on the store. One of them would clearly be watching the rest very carefully – their “minder,” lest they defect. These poor souls simply warranted some observation we were told.  Before they left the store, they were simply asked for the return of the jeans. Clarice reasoned it was difficult enough suffering for Soviet citizens to be saddled with party-minders outside the iron curtain and then burdened with unspeakable treatment behind it. She taught me that justice is not simple and is sometimes flexible in application, but it is always important to apply it.

Of the many dubious things that Betsy talked me into, the most unexpectedly interesting was attending the Girls Self-Esteem course that Clarice and some of the leading citizens of Gander cooked up. I think it was born out of a concern for teen drinking and drug abuse, a chronic problem which was only then beginning to make itself known. A partner in this course was the RCMP. I think we were supposed to learn to be lady-like. There were lessons on health, drugs, fashion and manners. I don’t know if I learned much of that. The unintentional lessons I absorbed were in watching Clarice Goodyear stridently tell, often right in front of us, the somewhat disconcerted male RCMP officers what was acceptable and unacceptable in terms of course content, student behavior, police conduct and so on. THAT meant a lot to me. She was totally unafraid. She was not puffed up. She assumed she had a right to be there, be heard and her role as a community leader involved the fiduciary trust of young teenaged impressionable girls. We watched her eye-to-eye gaze, strong voice and confident body language used with every male leader that entered that room. Holy crap. If she only knew about  the small explosions ripping apart up some of our internalized chains of patriarchy. I love, therefore, that a trail in Glovertown, Newfoundland, named in her honour, is called the “Puff ‘N’ Blow.” No one could blow down Clarice Goodyear and, if she could help it, young girls would be strengthened enough to withstand and breathe through the sometimes shrieking winds of outrageous fortune in their lives.

It would likely be surprising to Clarice that her life was such a living act of mentoring for me, as it was surprising that my own has been for other young women. I guess, it is another characteristic of excellent mentoring. It pays itself forward in replication, generation upon generation.

 

 

 

 

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