Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Friend Who Mentored Me


On Christmas Eve, 1966, I left the convent after spending eight-and-a-half years there. One of the first persons I met after leaving was Robert Kraske. A publishing house in Ohio, had offered me work as an assistant editor of its weekly reader for the primary grades of Catholic schools. Robert was my boss.

On Sunday evening, January 22, 1967, Bob picked me up at the Dayton airport. I was sure he wondered how one talked to an ex-nun who still wore the pallor of the convent. Forging right ahead into unchartered territory, he asked a question that reflected a real interest in what I might reply. Then and there began the multitudinous conversations we had for the next 52 years. 

Rather quickly, I learned that Bob was, in general, always deliberate in speech, especially with regard to words. He was the first person to quote to me the famous line of Mark Twain. He did this while critiquing my first assignment under his tutelage.

"Dolores," Bob instructed, "Follow Mark Twain's advice: 'The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.'" I got his point and found a better word than the one he'd blue-penciled in the article.

Twain’s observation mattered to Bob who studied throughout his life the art of crafting words into books. He did this so successfully that twenty of his books for 10-to-14 year olds have been published. Often, during our long friendship, he’d stop me in mid-stream as I sounded off about writing, politics, aging. With genuine pleasure, he’d say, “That’s it, Dolores. That’s it. The right word.” He took delight in hearing or using the right word in any given sentence of composition or conversation. 

Bob became the mentor I needed so as to learn how to write for youngsters, how to delete excessive verbiage, how to hold fast to the thread that would guide the reader effortlessly through my writing.

In short, Bob taught me both to write and to edit. Thus, he gave me a career that lasted from 1967 to 2001 when I retired. During those years, he also taught me the art of writing longer books. It was Bob who gave me the advice that has kept me writing. 

Back in the 1990s, As I worked on a novel about Bronze-Age-Greece, he’d ask, whenever I visited him and his wife, Jan, “How’s the book coming?”

 “I’m still on Chapter 1. Polishing it.”

 “Dolores,” he’d say, “you’ve been on Chapter 1 for two months now. Start another chapter.”

“But, . . .”

“Keep going. Write each day and stop in the middle of a sentence. The next day, pick up from there. Do that until you get to the end of the first draft. Then. And Only Then. Will you know that you have a novel.”

“But, . . .”

“When you have the first draft, you have something to work with. You know you have a book in there somewhere. Then you rewrite. Edit. And finally, only after you know you’ve grabbed hold of the story, do you polish.”

“But, . . .”

“If you keep polishing Chapter 1, you’ll never get to the final chapter.” It was sound advice and I took it. Thus, Bob became the mentor of my writing to be published. 

Finally, Bob has been the mentor of my aging. I have watched him for years as he began to learn how to paint in acrylics, draw with charcoal sticks, and play jazz on a keyboard. Always and ever, he tried new avenues to explore. His curiosity about technique and process never faltered.

Always he read for new ideas and enjoyed nature during his daily walks around Stillwater, Minnesota. And always he embraced life: When Jan died, he learned to cook, collected recipes, paid bills, bought groceries, lived his life, adjusted to the new norm, welcomed his adult children home with meals he’d cooked for them, cherished their triumphs, helped them through the dark times, and remained steadfast. He was a man of great fortitude.

And always he was, for me, the living example of the following words by William Blake: “To see a World in a grain of sand. And a heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour.”

I shall be missing Bob for the rest of my life. 

Peace. 
The photo, taken by one of his sons, is for Bob's 90th birthday. He died a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday in late November. 

35 comments:

  1. What a wonderful, boss, mentor, friend, and role model he turned out to be. You were fortune to have him in your life at such a critical juncture and after. And I'm betting he and his wife would have had glowing things to say about you in return.
    Love the Mark Twain quote. I never heard it before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jean, I was fortunate. Triply so because at this publishing house I met two other men besides Bob who helped me find my footing after the convent as well as women who showed the way to being assertive in the workplace. I needed to learn how to be an independent woman! Peace.

      Delete
  2. Dear Dee,
    What a truly wonderful tribute to your friend and mentor. He sounds like a truly impressive man, and the world was enriched by his presence and is diminished by his departure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Sue, I so appreciate what you said so beautifully--the world being "enriched by his presence; diminished by his departure." thank you. Peace.

      Delete
  3. He taught you well... I almost feel like I know him!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Bettina, I hope that within your life there have been those people who have given you faith in yourself as Bob did with me. How fortunate I was. Peace.

      Delete
  4. When you write something well enough to bring your reader to tears, you've done it beautifully and right, Dee. I am so sorry for your loss, but happy that you had the good fortune to have such a friend and mentor, and to have had him in your life for so many years. You have written a lovely tribute to his memory. Peace to you, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Karen, you know there was so much I could have said--so many great stories--but I wanted to keep the post short and so I emphasized the mentoring. But oh, how I enjoyed playing board games with Bob and Jan and their adult children. So much fun, so much laughter. Peace.

      Delete
  5. Bob sounds like someone who you needed at that time in your life - a serendipitous encounter. How fortunate for you both. I find it amazing how people can affect someone's life - sometimes not even knowing it. We all need friends like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Rian, I did need a mentor. I left the convent as such a neophyte. So innocent--that had been my name "Sister Innocence"--and so naive. I had no idea what the job entailed at the publishing house. It was just what was offered as I dealt with hallucinations and mental illness. When i started seeing a psychiatrist in Dayton, Bob was so supportive. Peace.

      Delete
  6. How cool, some people come into our lives and effect us so much

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jo-Anne, one of the wonders of growing older is that we have a longer and longer life to look back on. Then we can really see all the good that has come out of the vicissitudes of our life and all the people who have befriended us and walked on the journey with us for a long or a short time! It's quite wonderful as you say. Peace.

      Delete
  7. Dee, thank you for sharing with us a bit about your dear friend and mentor, Bob. Would that we could all have someone like Bob in our lives!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Bea, I do know how fortunate I have been throughout my life. Always there have been friends who have journeyed with me and helped me find my way. My prayer has always been that others will know the cherishing that our good friends offer us. It can make all the difference in how we view life. Peace.

      Delete
  8. You have used all the right words, Dee. A wonderful tribute to a good man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Joanne, thank you for saying I found the word to use. I hope they did Bob justice and that somewhere he is applauding them and grinning! Peace.

      Delete
  9. He sounds like he was a wonderful mentor in so many ways, Dee. Thank you for bringing him to life for me in this post. I love your ability to do that. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear DJan, thank you for your kind words about my writing ability. I've always--since I was seven and wrote my first one-page misery!--wanted to write. Bob is the one who helped me really understand the power of words and how we must be sparing. Peace.

      Delete
  10. Oh my! I am nearly speechless and mopping tears! This is a beautiful tribute to a cherished friend, and it is very clear how much he meant to you. I hope the memories soothe you as you grieve. Though you will miss him, he is certainly with you in spirit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Lynda, yes, he is with me in spirit. And as I work on the next memoir, I will call on his presence as I sit here at the computer! Peace.

      Delete
  11. What an amazing man and what a marvelous friend and guide. You were both so lucky to have shared part of your lives with eachother. I am so sorry he is no longer in your life physically but he is obviously still there in much of what you do, write and feel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Patti, yes, he taught me so much about writing and research and how to use research. And he sent jobs my way when I was freelancing and he was the managing editor of the Minnesota Conservation magazine. I'm so fortunate. Life is good. Peace.

      Delete
  12. He just looks like a writer or an artist. A Professor of knowledge of many things, not just the one he chose as his job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Judy, that's such an interesting observation. He could have been a professor of history for he read historical nonfiction prolifically. One of his strengths as a teacher was that he listened so respectfully to all points of view. He valued differences. Peace.

      Delete
  13. What a wonderful tribute to a life well lived!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Sandi, yes, Bob's life touched so many of us, especially his three adult children. Peace.

      Delete
  14. Bob sounds great, Dee. I have a well-published writer friend (younger than myself), who has edited some of my essays. I can't help now but hear her questions in my mind, such as, "Just say it!" I still chuckle when recognizing my penchant for dancing around a subject or sentence, and silently I thank her for letting me see this. I'm sure glad you had such a good writing friend and know you'll always be thankful for him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Deanna, I'm so glad to learn that you have a friend--as I've had Bob--who encourages your writing and helps you write more accessibly. What a treasure she must be to you. Peace.

      Delete
  15. How special. I was lucky enough t have a lifelong mentor for writing and how to be a teacher in a small town in Minnesota though I grew up in St. Paul...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Ray, what a gift--to have a mentor for writing and teaching. Like you, I had a mentor in Sister Scholastica who taught me in college. Later, I based my way of teaching on hers. What is wonderful, also, is that we realize, you and I, just how blessed we have been and have let our mentors know that. Peace.

      Delete
  16. What a wonderful man and teacher and mentor for you and you have written him a wonderful tribute. I’m so sorry that he is gone, but what a full life he lived.
    I want to thank you for taking the time to tell me about your knee surgery and the encouraging words. I will be thinking of you on the 18th and the days after!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Cynthia, please do stay in touch about the knee surgery. Let's cheer one another on. Peace.

      Delete
  17. Dear Dee he was blessing to his all kind of relationships including his family and friends !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    thank you so much for sharing such heartwarming story of your friendship ,it is overwhelming indeed ,as i am feeling for you and your loss my friend !

    he guided you for better writing and for other patterns of life and you were blessed to choose him as friend and his words as Light for sure
    i never found such perfect way of guidance with specific words and such accurate sentences ,he was inspiration and so are you !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Baili, yes, I was blessed to choose him and more deeply blessed that he chose me with whom to share friendship. You write well, without a mentor. And perhaps you will meet one in the future. But please don't wait for one--your writing inspires all of us who read your blog. Peace.

      Delete
  18. What a wonderful man. He kept you on the straight and kept you focused. Wonderful man.

    ReplyDelete