SHARING OUR STORIES IN 2022: WOMEN'S CONNECTIONS
This month’s story is written by Carol Bokan with lots of support and inspiration from Vv. Carol’s story describes how her relationship with her maternal grandmother helped her to see the importance of filling life with vibrant and interesting connections to other people. She also is reminded of how much she learns regularly from her grand-daughter Vv about the value of talking and listening and writing as ways of making and deepening connections.
Carol Bokan is a co-creator of the WISEWOMENVT SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT. Carol holds a Ph.D. in Counseling and is retired from a 45-year career in counseling and higher education. In 2016, Carol began a second career as a yoga teacher and currently teaches chair yoga on-line. Continuously encouraged and supported by her soon-to- be- 10-year-old grand-daughter, Vv, Carol enjoys connecting with the amazing women and girls who submit stories to the SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT. She and Vv both love sharing stories and helping writers and readers connect with each other.
When we considered a theme for our 2022 blog stories, Vv and I began with the idea of women’s friendships with each other. As we considered what possible stories might wrap around this theme, we realized that it made sense to broaden the theme to women’s CONNECTIONS, more generally. Doing this seemed to allow for more types of stories about the ways women connect with each other and even how they connect with men and with ideas. Our first two stories for 2022 have shown that women’s connections mean different things to different women and here in April’s story we are happy to have this opportunity to share our own perspectives on CONNECTIONS. We look forward to sharing more stories during 2022.
LESSONS FROM MY GRANDMOTHER EDNA: Talking, Listening, Writing and Connecting
My first real memories about how women make connections came from knowing my grandmother Edna, who we fondly called Mamaw Ed. A smart and determined young woman from a small farm town in southern Indiana, Edna made her way to graduate from DePauw University in 1913 thanks to the help of her older brother, Harvey. Her connection to Harvey was always present in her life as she seemed to deeply value his love and mentorship. Edna married late and became mother to Maribel (my mom) and my dear Uncle John. Edna taught in one-room school houses in the area and lived her whole life on a farm near where she was born. During and after college she managed to make life-long connections with people from all over the world. As a little girl in that same farm town in southern Indiana, I was witness to Edna’s visits from all kinds of folks. These included people she had met in college, her former students with whom she stayed in close touch throughout her life, neighbors, and both close and distant relatives with whom she maintained strong connections. Edna was a talker and a listener and her door was always open to welcome visitors at a moment’s notice. She had a party-line phone and gabbed on it constantly, as a way of keeping up with all the local news which she happily shared widely. I recall her regularly giving health updates and social news on a variety of neighbors. I also recall that she got some of her information when she picked up the phone when someone else was talking, took a moment to listen in and asked questions to get more details. She was a relentless talker and listener on the phone and in person and she connected everyone to everyone any way she could. I recall that my dad was not always happy when we took a family vacation and Mamaw (his mother-in-law) provided her usual list of people for us to connect to regardless of where we went. My dad referred to these potential connections as “Edna’s stray cats.” I remember thinking they were fascinating people and being amazed at how she possibly collected them all. Edna’s frequent connection to people and the frequency with which she connected her connections to each other made for few degrees of separation anywhere. The joke in our family was that someone went to Rome and met the Pope. When he asked where they were from and they said, Indiana, he said “Oh, do you know Edna Sinclair?”
Edna, my mother, my sister Pat (on Edna’s lap) and me
Edna’s farmhouse in Indiana, circa 1956
While Edna’s connections were often made by her talking and listening (on the phone or in person), I think most of her connections may actually have come from writing. She was a relentless writer producing regular articles for the small-town newspaper, poems, short stories, and her autobiography. Perhaps most importantly, she was a relentless writer of many letters to many people. I well remember her weekly letters to me when I was in college. These were newsy updates about what was happening in the family and in Quincy, Indiana, as well as tidbits of grandmotherly advice.
I don’t recall all the advice but I do recall being told in more than one of her letters, “remember who you are and where you came from” and “avoid entangling alliances.” I thought the idea of avoiding alliances was a bit odd coming from someone whose favorite thing to collect was long-term relationships. Years later I realized I think she was advising me to not marry young. That advice I did not take to heart, but I think the idea of remembering where I came from has stuck with me well!
I tell the story of Edna to say that, like hers, my life has been one of collecting people. Like Edna, my experience is always full of meeting new people and then doing my best to stay in touch with the ones I most adore. Making connections to interesting people, keeping those connections alive and often connecting those people to each other just feels like breathing to me.
WAYS of CONNECTING:
Connections through talking and listening:
I make lots of connections by talking, so much so that my grandfather once commented about me, “I swear that girl was vaccinated with a phonograph needle.” While this metaphor doesn’t make sense to young people today, it was a good description then of the fact that I was a non-stop talking child and I continue to be a non-stop talking adult These days my talking is in person, and on the phone and more often than not on zoom or facetime. (I smile when I imagine what Edna could have done with a smart phone!) The Covid pandemic provided me with much opportunity to maintain connections with friends from everywhere via the phone and the computer. Like Edna’s relentless letters, I do relentless cyber-connections. I teach chair yoga on zoom three times a week. My senior zooming yogis have become a lovely group practicing together for two years now from Vermont, New York City, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, wherever. We have never met in person and yet our connections are a delight. My sister and I talk nearly every day and do yoga on zoom twice a week from Indiana to Florida or Vermont and I have regular phone or zoom chats with at least ten individuals or groups from around the country. Vv and I face-timed our way together through 2020 and have continued to stay in touch that way. While I have a long-standing reputation as a talker, I aspire always to be a better listener. My years as a counselor helped me develop some listening skills, but it is a constant struggle to make sure I listen at least as much as I talk. Sometimes I succeed at this balance, sometimes not.
One of my first favorite childhood games was “connect the dots.” I loved those coloring books that allowed me to draw lines from number to number to make a picture. As an adult I love connecting the dots between people. Like Edna, I often find myself asking a few questions and discovering that the new person I just met is connected to someone I met somewhere else sometime in the past. I love it when those small world dots connect and when that happens I smile and I feel like I’m channeling Edna, wishing she were here to get a kick out of this connection.
Connections through writing:
Like Edna, I like to make connections in writing. I think her influence drew me to develop the idea of the stories on the blog at wisewomenvt. The first year of writing the blog I did a monthly share about yoga and I loved the opportunity to make connections in this way. After a year of a monthly blog posts, I realized it would be fun (and easier) to find some guest writers for the blog. Together Vv and I hatched the idea of “Sharing Our Stories” in 2021. It was really fun to reach out to our friends and invite them to write their stories. Their creative and interesting stories were a delight to read and to share. Toward the end of 2021, I was ready to let go of the blog and Vv was determined we should try it another year. By that time, she was much more of an equal partner in the project and connecting with her on it was the very best part of it all. I have loved watching the way she develops ideas and makes connections as we work our way through this project.
LESSONS ABOUT CONNECTING FROM MY GRAND-DAUGHTER, Vv
While my grandmother Edna was my first teacher about connections, my current teacher is soon-to-be-ten-year-old Vv. A fellow talker for sure, Vv and I love chatting about all kinds of topics. Her mom between us is a talker as well, but truth be told, when the three of us are together, Vv and I compete for most words per minute and my daughter provides most of the deep listening. I often think that I’m a cross-generation bridge from Edna to Vv, who is my co-teacher in a face-time one-room school class for the 18-inch dolls in her playroom. Like Edna and me, Vv is a talker and a writer. She is also a drawer and designer and a singer and an actress. She loves connecting people in the stories she writes and in all her experiences in and out of school. Vv has I am sure her own story about how she makes connections and perhaps she will share that on the blog at some point. She offers some thoughts in her poem at the end of this post. For now, I can say that she closely studies the connections between the characters in The Baby-Sitters’ Club, Dr. Who, and High School Musical the Musical the Series, and she knows exactly how those complicated interpersonal relationships work. She effectively used technology to make it through a year of remote school for third grade and this year happily moved to connecting back at school now in person through book club, theater, and the school newspaper. She has stayed connected from New England to her BFF who moved to the west coast, and she regularly teaches me something new about how to maintain connections through technology in ways her great-great grandmother Edna could never imagined and would have absolutely loved!
CONNECTIONS by Vv Welsh
Age 9.9 years
One of a kind
Not the same
Experience makes them better
Closeness means everything
On the inter-net or in person
Neither good nor bad
Staying side Bye-Side
As I think about the importance of connections with other people in my life, I sometimes wonder what drives me to stay connected. I don’t have a perfect answer for this question, but I am ever so grateful for every connection and look forward to finding new ways to stay in touch with the dear people in my life who help me understand what is important and what is real. Connecting to dear ones simply seems to be what makes life sweet.
Vv Welsh, age 9.9 years