John Terris invaded Dalton Gardens in a dying Volkswagen, ink still drying on his music education diploma. Coeurd’Alene School District assigned John six elementary music programs. One was Dalton. I sat in John’s first band class, an undented rental trumpet in my hand. Our herd of noxious sixth graders made stupid blats and giggled wildly. John pattered in, unnoticed amid childish cacophony. His baton timidly tapped the conductor’s stand. Nothing happened. Louder he rapped. Two of thirty heads turned. We limped through the lesson. “This is a clarinet. That is a note.” John urged daily practice; few obeyed.
By next lesson John changed. He barked. He broke a baton on his stand. Twelve year olds cowered, instruments in laps. John tossed a non-compliant few out of class. One at a time, John listened as we butchered the week’s assignment. He reassigned seats based on our performances. One girl wept silently. John offered free tutoring on Saturdays. I came. It was a price my family could afford to pay. My parents compensated John in the coin of the poor; he was invited to dinner.
Saturdays held wonder. John taught me instruments and music. That, however, proved the smaller part. John taught life. He spoke as a peer, the first adult to treat me so. John entertained my ideas and confusions seriously, and criticized them seriously. He nurtured a kernel of maturity in me. Our dialogue rambled: politics, pain, girls, death, science fiction, beauty. John did not lecture. We conversed. He told me more of his life than I knew of mine. John taught me that a man’s dearest friend is himself. And that investing in young minds is time well spent. I taught John to ski and goof around.
Xenophon (Athenian, 4th century B.C.) said: “Socrates spent his life in lavishing his gifts and rendering the greatest services to all who cared to receive them. For he always made his associates better men before he parted with them” (Memorabilia, Book I). So too John Terris.
May you have or be, at least once in your life, a mentor.