SHARING OUR STORIES IN 2022: WOMEN'S CONNECTIONS
Vv and I have enjoyed the opportunity to share stories about women’s connections during 2022. We appreciate the work of this year’s writers who have given us amazing stories about ways in which connections to others have shaped their lives.
December’s story by Karen Scott provides the perfect ending to this series. Karen is a very smart and very competent woman who carries a quiet strength in all she does. I have known Karen for years and like so many stories in our series, her story gives me a deeper understanding of who Karen is and how she experiences the world. Writing about her feelings when she recently discovered a long-ago photo of her beautiful grandmother, Karen very thoughtfully describes what it means to really know and love someone. She invites us all to look more deeply at our relationship connections and to find ways to make those connections even deeper and more meaningful.
Karen Scott has lived in Vermont for most of her life, although she grew up and was educated in neighboring New Hampshire. She moved here after college, landing a position as an admissions counselor for the former Green Mountain College, where her mother attended as a student in the 1950s. Having developed an interest for counseling at GMC, she pursued a Master’s degree in Boston, although that was enough time in an urban environment! Heading back to Vermont, she found a position working for the TRIO programs at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. For the next 22 years she worked in a variety of positions with VSAC, all supporting those who wanted to pursue post-secondary education or training.
Ten years ago she left the comfort and stability of VSAC to enroll in the doctorate program at the University of Vermont, successfully completing an Ed.D. in 2021. During that time she worked as an elementary education internship supervisor for UVM, with Vermont afterschool programs, and for UP for Learning, a small nonprofit focused on giving youth a voice in educational decision making. Currently, she is excited to be working for the Vermont Community Foundation as a grants specialist, helping grant seekers access funding available through VCF funds.
Beyond her professional pursuits, Karen is most appreciative of her life partner of 28 years, husband John Taylor, her home on Maple Hill in Marshfield, her furry kids Sophie, Ben, and Teddy, and the life they share together, and family members dotted around the country.
I love my family dearly, but we are not sharers. It’s not necessarily easy for us to talk about our personal feelings, and we don’t spend a lot of time looking back. That includes our family history – I can’t tell you how many times I have leaped to rescue items that my folks felt were too old; too far in the past to share, too old to have a place in the future they envisioned. My GrandDad’s old chair – the one I remember him lounging in after a long day at work – big enough that I could climb in by his side and sit with him as he watched the news on the black and white TV; a rustic chest handmade by my great-grandfather; a scarred and chipped dish Nana bought on her honeymoon touring the American Southwest; all saved from the trash bin and treasured now in my own home.
In May of 2015 my Dad passed away. I spent that month with my Mom at their home in South Carolina. We spent long hours sorting through and packing items – what she wanted to keep, what needed to be passed on, and what went into the bin. Much was going into the bin! I opened one tote and came across the picture (see below) in its lovely silver frame. The frame itself is highly unusual – it is attached to a stand so that the picture can rotate to any angle. What a beautiful woman! I had never seen this before. It slowly dawned on me that is was a picture of my Nana – Marieta – probably from the late 1920’s. I was stunned, almost dumbfounded. At the time, I didn’t understand my own reaction.
I think it was her eyes.
So open, so intriguing, maybe mysterious. So not what I expected.
Immediately it shook my own sense of knowing who my Nana was to me. It rocked me a bit.
Instantly someone I wanted to know.
My memories of Nana are full of warmth and oldness. She and my GrandDad lived in central New Jersey in the home my Mom grew up in. The square two-story home with deep brown shingles sat in an established neighborhood on a busy street in Freehold. In the 1960s their home was flanked by those of her sisters (she had 6 I think; all in the area, plus a brother). The graceful, winding staircase leading to the formal foyer and stately front door always captured my imagination as a child. I remember the high ceilings, the fantastic wrap-around porch screened by carefully tended vines, and the most amazing rhododendron bush in the front yard. It reached to the second story, and held many secrets in the fort it created for my sister and I under its leaves. The formal gardens were immaculate, the tulip tree in the backyard was magical. Everything felt old and stately to me – off-limits glass-encased cupboards filled with amazingly beautiful china and other treasures; beds I struggled to get into they were so high off the floor, but once there I’d sink dramatically into ironed sheets that smelled of bleach and of the house itself. As a youngster I was often put to work chopping veggies in the brightly lit kitchen at a table and chair made by my GrandDad – a set I use to this day.
When I was a little girl my Nana was already an older woman, with steel iron coif, always formally dressed and made-up, and always with a smile and a chuckle for me and anyone around at the time. I have memories of traveling to “the city” – New York City – with Nana in her heels and smart dress, wrapped in her mink stole, to see the window decorations at Christmas time or to see the circus downtown.
Through the years my Nana was always part of my life, or as much a part as she could be from her life eight hours away from mine. She celebrated our life events, spent holidays with us, and once my siblings and I had moved out of the house and she was too frail to be on her own she moved closer to my parents. Eventually my Mom, Dad, and Nana moved to South Carolina to be by the ocean, in the sun, and close to the golf courses they loved.
Visiting Nana and my folks during those eight years in South Carolina had the flavor of a beach holiday, full of shopping and errands, golf (I often rode in the golf cart that Nana drove, content to chitchat and people-watch with her), beach walks, and checking out the newest restaurant discovery. We had our favorite haunts (Brookgreen Gardens for the newest art installation) and our favorite cocktails – always a Whiskey Sour. I believe she was very happy during that last chapter of her life. When she passed away at 98 I was certainly sad, but heartened by the fact that she had seemed to enjoy her life so much, and now was with her beloved husband Bill again.
But I didn’t really know her. And I certainly didn’t know the intriguing young woman in the photo portrait.
The passage of time has always seemed like a river to me. I glide in the middle of the river, following the current. Connecting with others around me isn’t difficult, but it’s also very easy to simply watch as others pass by. It is as easy to avoid connections as it is to swim over and reach out. Eventually we leave the river for other pathways, known only to us.
That is how I feel about my Nana. We glided together, sometimes touching fingertips, but most often content to watch as our worlds unfolded. I feel that while she was a continuing thread in my life, in some ways we were passing each other most of the time. Maybe, during those times when we were gliding side-by-side, if I had made more of an effort to reach out we could have connected more strongly and intentionally.
Connected more deeply.
I believe it is her eyes and her straightforward gaze that I am captivated by in her portrait (photo 1). I see her soul, and I wonder why I hadn’t really seen her before. Seeing that picture, I instantly felt remorse at my lack of ability to connect more deeply while she was alive.
Truthfully I think about that often. It’s my own struggle of wrestling with stereotypes I have formed, my own set expectations and understanding of others, and deeply entrenched ways I think my world works. Most of all it’s about the passage of time and wishing I could connect back through where I have already been. It’s not about regret. It’s a desire to know someone responsible for me being here, and learning who that person was behind the eyes. It’s also my struggle to connect more deeply to those in my present.
Looking back, it was the loss of my Dad and the time I spent with my Mom that shook my concept of how I was gliding through life. Finding the portrait of my Nana was an important trigger, I believe. Seeing a young Marieta opened a door to my past, and helped me reconsider my relationships with other members of my family. Since then, I have slowly (and irreversibly, I hope) gained new skills at connecting with them. For that I am truly grateful, and I treasure that photo.