My Mentoring Story (A Series by Friends for Youth Staff)

Rebecca’s Story.

No one says my name the way Tia Maria Elena does. She always stresses the second syllable more than most people and says it through a combination of her native Salvadorian accent, by way of French, spoken in English. And she always says it through laughter.

Though my aunt lives 3,000 miles away, it has never stopped her from being my mentor and lifelong friend. My Tia Maria Elena has always maintained that Canada’s cold winters are unbearable, and so she found a great way to survive. Most winters she would come stay with my family in California -- usually for a few months at a time. In those times I was her little sidekick. She liked to explore and go on adventures, and I just liked spending time with her. These were among the greatest memories of my childhood.

Growing up I was an only child, but when Tia Maria Elena would come visit, I always had a roommate. It was so much fun having her around. No matter the occasion we’d laugh our heads off. My dad always made jokes about how his sister could not stop herself from laughing, and despite his serious demeanor her laughter was contagious – even to him. She made everyone around her happier.

In May of 1990, accompanied by my family, I made my first trip to Canada for the celebration of my aunt’s wedding. My 10th birthday was a few days before the wedding, and I remember feeling so special when my aunt made a big to-do for my birthday – a birthday that I assumed would go uncelebrated with all the wedding festivities. I still have the cake top from that birthday celebration.

The following summer I returned to Canada, but this time on my own. It was the first of many solo trips to spend time with my aunt, along with my uncle and eventually my cousin. I was witness to my aunt’s love of gardening, cooking, and entertaining. She would let me help with tasks like growing dahlias, making quiche, and planning and executing parties; tasks that I continue to practice with the hope of one day mastering. During these summers together my aunt listened when I was at an age at which I felt no one was listening. She shared who she was and who she’d become, all the while helping me find my own path. Spending time with my aunt and her family and friends shaped who I am today.

The summer when I was 15 was another one spent in Canada. By this time my aunt had me learning French and loving it. She was so patient and encouraging as I totally botched my newest language. My aunt and her family took me on a driving trip through New England and introduced me to Boston. Three years later I enrolled at Boston University.

In college, every Thanksgiving, instead of making the long trip back to California, my aunt would insist that I come to Canada. She would cook a big American Thanksgiving just for me. This is significant because Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, so despite having already celebrated the holiday, my aunt would repeat the whole event. She’d even invite all my favorite people from past visits to join us at the table.

My aunt did not only teach me how to really laugh and have fun, but also how to have grace and fortitude in times of great sorrow. One might think that in times of tragedy there is no room for laughter, but in fact with my aunt there was. There was laughter and joy in recalling the best memories of those we’ve lost.

Last month my aunt came to visit – and of course stayed for a while – and brought a suitcase full of laughter! She was here to celebrate my wedding, and though her birthday fell the day before the party, I made sure her birthday wasn’t overlooked. Since there are so few birthdays we get to spend together, we’ve got to laugh it up and make the most of the ones we have.


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