My grandfather, Alfred Liguori, grew up in the Bronx during the Great Depression. Love abounded at home, but there was not much food to eat. He had a single threadbare sweater which he wore to school every day. When a kind teacher once offered to buy him a winter coat, he was too proud to accept. Instead he told her he had a jacket at home and just wasn’t using it because he wasn’t cold. Still, Alfred made it all the way through 8th grade before having to leave school to get a job to help the family survive.
Alfred’s dad, Raffaele, loved him dearly, recognized his intelligence, and wanted him to have opportunity. So when Raffaele found out that one of the customers in his barber shop was a brilliant man, he implored him to take Alfred on as an apprentice.
Mr. Adler, a machinist, was either convinced of Al’s potential or had compassion on a loving father. He took my grandpa in and began teaching him. He was more than a teacher though. He was a mentor. In order to give Alfred space to learn how to think creatively, Mr. Adler would ask Alfred how he would tackle a problem before revealing his own solution. He always talked him through the thinking process when tackling a project, and included him in the decision-making. Through that experience, my grandfather developed both critical thinking and marketable skills.
Having those competencies changed the trajectory of our family’s life. When World War II broke out, my grandfather was given a “2-B Deferment” meaning his skills were so valuable for war industries that he needed to stay home and build aircraft parts. Being a toolmaker then allowed Alfred to create a business after the war ended. That in turn gave him and his wife (who also had to leave school before completing high school) the means to educate their two sons.
And so, the kindness of one man created ripples that continue still.
I adore this important story in my family history because of the love of a father, the kindness of a stranger-turned-mentor, and the work ethic of my grandfather.
As I reflect on my gratitude for Mr. Adler, I think about a special person in my own life. Today my mentor, Walter Green’s, talk about the importance of gratitude was published on the TED website. His stirring exhortation is to let the people in our lives know the special impact they have had on us while we have the opportunity. I wish I could let Mr. Adler know what he did for us.
Do the people who have helped you become the person you are today know how important their influence has been? Is there someone who cared about you when it mattered, believed in you when you didn’t quite believe in yourself, or served as an example to you?
This might be a great time to let them know!
P.S. Watch Walter’s TED talk for inspiration!