Bjerre My Danish Mentor
My life until now has been populated with mentors who have guided me on the right paths. Thanks to Google I know that Mentor was the assigned man by Odysseus to take care and advise his son Telemachus while father was away in Troy. When Telemachus is grown and his father has yet to return, he and Mentor go in search. It is at this point that our Mentor is taken over by the wise Athena giving even more credence to the important role that mentors play in our lives.
This is a rough list of my mentors up to know:
George Waterhouse-Hayward: He died in 1965. More than anything he taught me (not too well) the value of patience and the importance of avoiding bitterness. His King James Bible, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám have been constant sources of inspiration. My father once told me, “If you want to learn how to cook you must first be able to make sauces.”
Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. : I lost Brother Edwin in 2013 and we were friends until then. He once told me, “These two glasses (a small one, and a big) one, both full of water are equally full. The same can be said about happiness.”
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor: I lost him in 2013. I always went to him for advice. His advice, “Alex if you think this will make you happy, buy it.”
Juan Manuel Sánchez: This 80 plus Argentine painter now lives far in Buenos Aires. He once gave me a book, a Chilean translation into Spanish of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. “Read it.” I did and a lot of my life changed with that book.
Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. This wonderful man whom I worked for as a translator while in the Argentine Navy I contacted a few years ago before he died in his late 80s. His piece of advice has always been with me. “Alex, it is obvious that you and military life don’t see eye to eye. It is useless to rebel as they will arrest you and throw you into the brig and you will prove nothing. Wait until you have reached a position of power and then change what you do not like.”
I am sure that I may be doing a disservice to women mentors here and I had plenty of them! They range from my mother and grandmother to my very own Rosemary.
It has been in the last few days of Christmas time idleness that I thought of one more mentor. While I was born n 1942 due to bureaucratic errors my birth was recorded almost a year later in 1943. This mean that as a conscript sailor I was from Clase 1943. By the rules of military order a sailor from the 1942 class outranked me.
I was only a month in my military service when I met Bjerre (of Danish extraction his name is pronounced Pierre-eh with that initial p pronounced as a b). He was a handsome and very cool lad. Since we called each other by our surname I have no recollection of his first name. Bjerre was in his second year of our two year conscription period. We were sailors in the Argentine Navy. We (my first year companions) called him and their kind, conscriptos piola. Piola in Argentine slang means quick-thinking, almost sly.
He told me, “Those three white stripes on your collar are in honour of Lord Nelson’s famous three victories, The Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar.” I have since found out that the British navy had issued collars with three white stripes before all of those battles. But it rang true and I have never forgotten. While he might have erred in naval history his advice was always good enough to prevent me from falling into the traps that other tenderfoot sailors got into. Once his stint was over and I lost contact with Bjerre I tried to model myself after the crafty Dane.
I believe that there was one act of personal craftiness on my part that was directly inspired by Bjerre. I had a cushy job as a translator of Captain Onofrio Salvia who was the Senior US Naval Advisor. But I was still subject to those terrible summons for reinforcement of military training or to the orders of lowly corporals who would make me clean huge kitchen bells (over huge stoves). One day I went into Salvia’s filing cabinet and purloined a nice 8x10 glossy of the then Argentine Chief of Naval Operations, Contraalmirante Benigno Varela. I put a dedicatoria in one corner, “A mi amigo Jorge Alejandro” Contraalmirante Benigno Varela. I placed the photograph under the glass of my desk. Within days treatment improved and I was no longer called for duty for military instruction drills.
But my “friend” had limits in an ability to save me.. I was told by a chubby Argentine Captain to report every day at 6 am to translate documents for him. I told him this was impossible as my train from the pension where I lived (this was in fact a privilege) did not have a train that would get me to the office on time. The Captain looked at me and it was then that I lost it. I told him in what was then defined as pure insubordination,” I flatly refuse to obey your order.” The man looked at me and said, “In time of war I could have you shot. Or I could send you to one of our remote stations in the Antarctic. Your only contact with the female of the species would be penguins. But need you. I will have put in the brig for two weeks and every day you will be escorted here at 6.”
I am sure that Bjerre would have known better. But then mentors always do.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.