An Old, Dear Friend

Mr. Benjamin Musser and relatives

By Judy Berman

He was nearly eight decades older than me. But, as friends go, the age span was never an issue.

The moment I met Mr. Benjamin Musser, I knew by his kindly eyes and shy smile that he was someone I could trust. He became my fishing buddy, my good friend and my protector.

My parents and I had a room on the third-floor in my Grammy’s row house. I was excited when he moved in just down the hall from us.

Our family quickly adopted Mr. Musser. By family, I mean the WHOLE family. Aunts, uncles and cousins all accepted him as kin. He was included in our family reunions and other get togethers.

At 82, some might envision a frail man bent over and leaning on a cane. Not Mr. Musser. His daily walks put us all to shame.

One time, shortly before Christmas, he went shopping for a Christmas tree with my Mom and me. We must have scoured every tree merchant’s business in the city. I was the lucky one. I got to ride on a sled – up until we finally purchased a tree.

When we got home, my Mom collapsed on the couch. She was just worn out from our excursion. Then, we heard Mr. Musser’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

He took one look at my Mom and said, comfortingly, “That’s it. You rest now. I have to go run some errands.”

Mr. Benjamin Musser 1

Remember the role Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morito) played to Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) in “The Karate Kid” (1985)? His lesson was that fighting is “always the last answer to problem.”

I learned a different lesson from Mr. Musser. One about patience.

That’s a critical skill when you’re fishing. First, Mr. Musser put a corn kernel on the hook, and then we’d wait for some unsuspecting fish to take the bait.

We caught a few sunnies that way. He cleaned them and cooked them for our dinner. Some of our cats might have benefited from our outing as well.

The only time my Mom raised an eyebrow about Mr. Musser’s influence is when he – and Grammy – allowed me to have coffee. I was about 6 or 7. They’d pour the scalding, dark brown liquid in a saucer. Added a lot of milk and let me drink it.

Mom hinted this practice might get me booted out of any proper social gatherings. But she didn’t put a halt to it.

One day, after school, I came home with some disturbing news. I told my folks that a man, who was driving a black car, stopped across the street from my bus stop. He told me that he worked with my Mom and offered me a ride home.

I had been conditioned by my folks to never accept rides with strangers and said “no.” When I told my Mom about this stranger, she was rattled.

Mr. Musser volunteered to walk me to the bus and come pick me up when the school bus dropped me off.

At work, Mom asked everyone she knew whether they had offered me a ride or knew any one matching the description I had provided. They didn’t.

Looking back, I feel that I lived in this very loving, protective cocoon. Imagine my reaction when I was nearly 8 and learned that we’d be moving because my Dad had accepted a job in another state.

I didn’t want to go. Mom, trying a bit of psychology, gave me the choice of leaving with them or staying with Grammy and Mr. Musser.

Tears ran streaming down my face as I blubbered that I wanted to stay with Grammy and Mr. Musser. I don’t know what Mom and Dad did to finesse that situation, but I was soon on my way to a new home several hundred miles away.

Mr. Benjamin Musser

While we were miles apart, Mr. Musser remained a friend and a part of our family until he died at 105.

He was the dearest friend anyone of any age could have.



COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Music Video clip: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” by Randy Newman. Song in “Toy Story.” 

Main Photo: Mr. Benjamin Musser with my Aunt Lois Meyers, cousin Dar Mowery, and Aunt Ida Gilbert. (Thanks to my Aunt Susan Wagner, cousin Sherry and cousin Ruby Reich for sharing these photos.)

Photos: Mr. Benjamin Musser

  1. Mr. Musser sounds like a wonderful man. My step-dad is 81 and is every bit as active and giving as your friend was. I’m sure it was hard to move away from him, though it’s wonderful you still kept in touch.

    How scary about the stranger in the car. Good thing you had the smart instinct to decline!

    1. It was hard moving away from Mr. Musser and all of my relatives. He was a very sweet man. Your step-dad sounds like a treasure as well, Carrie. 😉

      This was not the first time there was a stranger-danger incident. When we lived in another city, my Mom told me a man and a woman tried to walk off with me. Mom was on the front stoop talking to friends when she saw them. She asked what they were doing and they told her that they thought I was lost. Mom was so upset that she hadn’t thought to look to see what kind of car they were driving or what the license plate was. Yes, it was scary.

      1. Here’s something that’s scary, but in kind of a reverse way:
        I catch a bus downtown around 7:07 every weekday morning to go to work. The bus stop is at Teall and Herbst avenues, near where you used to live.

        Lately a woman and her four young kids have been walking up from the Sunnycrest Apartments to catch the same bus. One of the kids is young enough to need a stroller; I doubt any of the four are as much as 10 years old.

        On Thursday they came to the bus stop, the mother got them settled — and then she walked away from them and past me to the corner. I figured she was going to drop a letter in the corner imailbox — as I often do — but instead she crossed the street and went to the corner store.

        I’m willing to bet she was in there for three minutes.

        In the meantime the youngest boy, as youngest boys will, started running around and playing with what I think was the oldest boy. A few times, the youngest one came dangerously close to the end of the curb. Luckily there was practically no traffic, but I kept an eye on him.

        But I could just as well been like the guy in that car. I could have stolen the kid. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten away with it — maybe the other kids would have yelled, prompting the mother to come out — but maybe I would have.

        Did she expect me to watch her kids? If so, that was at least a little presumptuous of her. And when she came back, she said nothing to me, and I said nothing to her. Maybe I should have.

        In the meantime, my birthday is coming up soon, and I’m taking that day off. I hope for those kids’ sakes that she doesn’t decide to go to the store that day.

        comment from earthrider to Mark Murphy:
        It would take just seconds for either the kids to get hurt or someone to abduct them. My Mom was outside with me during the first incident when we lived in Philadelphia. What if she hadn’t been paying attention?

        I’m glad you were there to keep an eye on the kids, Mark. Sometimes, like Blanche DuBois in a “Streetcar Named Desire,” kids “depend on the kindness of strangers.”

  2. A wonderful memory! I lived in a sort of cloistered way with relatives all around although the neighbor girl had an incident with a guy flashing her when she was riding her bike. It must have been so hard to move away from such a loving home.

    1. Kate … Thank you for suggesting that I write about Mr. Musser. I’ve often thought about it, but I didn’t start until after your comment. It was hard to move away from my relatives. They’re a very loving bunch of folks. 😉

  3. oh, i love this story so much, judy. what a wonderful friendship and you were truly wrapped in a loving cocoon. how lucky you are )

    1. Thank you, Beth. I really do feel that I was enveloped in love. I do feel I was lucky to be in that environment especially when I have known many kids who did not have such a warm, loving home life.

  4. Judy, you are the master of short details that create full images. From the corn on the fish hook to energy to run errands after getting a Christmas tree–and especially the coffee!–you created a full and rich image of your dear old friend.

  5. All children should have a Mr Musser, how lucky you were to have him Judy, and that he remained a part of your family right into his wonderful ripe old age. Lovely memories, thanks for sharing.

    1. Jenny … What a wonderful world that would be. That was another song I considered adding to this post. I agree. If everyone had a Mr. Musser in their life, they would have a wonderful childhood. Thank you for your comments.

  6. What a wonderful tribute to Mr. Musser! And how fortunate you were to have him as a friend. Obviously the secret to his very long life was his gift of giving and kindness to all those around him. We need more Mr. Mussers in this world for sure. A lovely story Judy and thanks for sharing it.

    1. Thank you, Dora. I’m glad you liked this story. My Mom would definitely agree with your thoughts on the secret to his very long life. More Mr. Mussers in the world would definitely be a plus. 😉

    1. Ronnie … I have a few sketchy memories of Mr. Musser. When I moved away, I wasn’t quite 8. So he’s also a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t know what he did for a living before he retired or anything else about him. I know he had relatives in the area. There’s only one of my Mom’s sisters who might be able to answer that. 😉

  7. You know what a sucker I am for nostalgia. This one fills the bill! I am always inspired by the elderly who move full steam ahead both physically and mentally. I agree with Marylin. You are the master of short details that create full images, the genius of writing in my opinion.

  8. Mr. Musser, the ideal mentor, protector, de facto grandpa. You had it good in your grandma’s boarding house, Judy. Here’s to Benjamin, kind and wise sir, who was rewarded by somebody up high to live to an age to spread all that knowledge and patience. Thank you for letting me see him and read of his ways, my friend.

  9. Such a sweet and heartwarming tribute to Mr Musser Judy. Thank you for sharing your memories of this remarkable man with us.

  10. I agree that there should be more people like him in the world. Although I obviously never knew Mr. Musser, I feel like I do now. I am glad he was part of your life and that you could call him a friend.

  11. Judy, thank you for this much-needed reminder that there are wonderful people in the world. They’re not hard to find, if we just stop paying so much attention to overpaid celebrities and athletes, dishonest politicians, and various troublemakers. We need to keep honoring the good and decent people who represent the largest part of humanity. Mr. Musser certainly was one of them — and so are you.

  12. Mr. Musser is a great friend indeed. A kind man with so much love, heart, courage, strength and patience. He is blessed to have found you and your family. Family is indeed more than about blood ties. It’s about sharing hearts and souls. Of being there for each other no matter what. You also have a guardian angel watching over you. The man that asked you to ride his car is one of our worst fears. So many kids had been harmed because of them. Your parents taught you a life saving lesson early in life. Till now, me and my wife. still walk my kid to and from school because of such fear. Thanks for sharing with us Benjamin. A true friend and family. Have a great day my friend.

    1. Thanks, Island Traveler. I agree. Family is indeed more than about blood ties. When one is missing, there is a hole in your heart. I’m so glad that Mr. Musser was a part of my life and was there to watch over me when I felt threatened. You have the right idea about walking your son to and from school. You’re not only providing a safety net. You also have an opportunity for a terrific bonding experience.

      I’m so glad, IT, that you were able to help your Mom during your visit home … and they, in turn, took care of you. Blessings.

  13. Oh, what a really beautiful story Judy!! 🙂 I felt quite emotional when you said you were given the choice as to who wished to live with – impossible choice!!! But it was kind of your Mother to at least suggest it, even if she wasn’t serious about letting you part from them. There’s nothing worse than children feeling they have no choice in life, but unfortunately that is how it is, children rarely do have choice.

    If you had insisted on staying, do you think your parents would have you stay until you missed them too? That must have been really heart wrenching to leave not only that large protective family home, but also such a lovely character like Mr Musser – what a strong man he must have been, no wonder he lived to 105! 😀 It’s amazing how some people just seem to have soooo much strength and stamina way beyond the average person.

    I can remember a lady in her mid 90’s who lived near my Mum and Dad, who seemed very old, but had incredible strength. She lived with her little barking doggy in a tiny bungalow, never had a carer or anyone do shopping for her, or appeared to have many visitors. I would see her trot off briskly to the local shops, come back with two half full carrier bags, then off out again to walk her little dog, and finally do a bit of weeding around the flowers in her front garden, before she disappeared inside to prepare her evening meal. I was in my late 20’s at the time, and was just stunned by how much energy such an old lady had. I wished to be like her, but the reality is, I’ve never been like that at all! Leaning over weeding is something I absolutely hate, it hurts my back and neck so much I often end up with a headache afterwards – I’m not a great gardener. And after shopping trips, I’m a lot like your Mother – I flake out in a soft chair!! 😀

    I can see a really good idea for a novel in this delightful story Judy – if you were ever thinking of writing one!

    1. In my case, Suzy, it would have been a no-win situation. I wouldn’t have wanted to part from parents OR from Grammy and Mr. Musser. Either way, I’d be missing the ones who weren’t in my daily life. From what my Mom told me years later, she was not expecting the response I gave her. 😉

      My Mom did love to garden. It was just making the rounds looking for a Christmas tree that wore her out. She was working up until she was nearly 79 and had to go in for an operation. One, sad to say, she did not recover from.

      My Dad was very active. He went on morning walks in the desert with his dog. He was nearly 92 when he passed. He was much more active than I am. Got to work on that. 😉

  14. I am adding to the list (above commenters) who were moved to tears from this unique and special friendship. Everyone needs to learn patience, I learned to fish from my Dad and Grandpa, too. I think Mr. Musser is a saint and may need to be added to the St. Christopher list… I am not, by any means, being sacrilegious, Judy. I mean there are men who go beyond the ‘call of duty,’ are true heroes. I would have had a hard time parting with him, too. The long distance move, away from Mr. M., was such a big challenge. Sorry you had to make it, but glad you held him in your highest regards and cherished him.
    I was not in a cocoon, while a child! I was loved but in a unique way. We were told we were to pack up our toys every summer, to be part of the unpaid ‘children/teachers’ of Head Start. In a basement of an inner city church.
    I was like those kids that their parents put them on a bus or subway, to show them they can rely upon themselves. I like to compare my ‘city’ life, to my best friend’s country life. She could ride down the ‘lane’ on her farm, by age 12, I could ride a bus with a friend to Cleveland International Airport, then get on an electric train to the Terminal Tower, downtown Cleveland at age 12! Holy Cow, what a contrast! Smiles, Robin

    1. Robin … People like Mr. Musser are our true unsung heroes. Thank you for your sweet comments.

      It sounds that you – like me – became a lot more independent as a result of our experiences in the city. I lived in the country when I was a teen. Totally different skill set needed. 😉

      I lived in the city (Harrisburg) until I was nearly 8. I recall roaming around on my own and once walked across a huge bridge to where my Mom worked. She was horrified that I did that and crossed a very busy street to boot. But I also think I was street wise before I had Mr. Musser escorted me to and from my school bus stop.

  15. Judy nice to meet you, Diana sent me over and I really enjoyed your story, what a gorgeous man and to have you all around him. I am writing a novel about a boy living in an old folks home and I love how Mr Musser, was strong and positive at his tender age. I want to show the young readers how special it is to spend time with the older folk and that they are not all fragile. This story bought a tear to my eye because it was so touching. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Kath … I’m delighted my story touched your heart. I think the generation gap would not be an issue if more young people and older people got together and got to know one another. Mr. Musser was a positive influence on me and we did spend some time together talking, fishing or just hanging out. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. 😉

  16. You’ve written some marvelous posts, my dear Judy, some very beautiful and moving posts, but I think this one tops them all. Took me back to my own childhood, really. I remember our whole neighborhood as one big loving cocoon. We didn’t have anyone as specific as Mr. Musser, but there were lots of older folks who loved to stop and chat, and who kept a discreet eye on us.

    Thanks for sharing Mr. Musser. You remind us all that the greatest treasures in life are usually right under our nose. There are so many people whom, if I could see them again today, I’d hug and say “Thank you” to, over and over, with tears streaming down my face.

    1. Mark … Your comments about recalling your neighborhood when you were younger really touch my heart. There are so many folks I can recall who cared for us and looked out for us. I do wish I could see them again and thank them.

      Thank you for your sweet comments. I am so glad that you enjoyed this story. Mr. Musser was very special to me and my family. 😉

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