Journal Gen X: Thelma & the Power of Connection
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with relatives. I had many cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My parents would spend summers and holidays shuttling me and my brothers to various relatives’ houses to celebrate the cause of the day. Sometimes, it was just me who visited a relative, and I spent most of that time with my paternal grandmother, Thelma.
Smart phones (or cell phones, for that matter) and tablets hadn’t yet been invented, so there was nothing to distract me while visiting with her. As an adult I am grateful that this technology wasn’t around to come between me and the time I had with her. We engaged in many pursuits: bird watching, exploring the wonders of her backyard, and making crafts in her basement. She had pet birds, or so I was convinced at the time, that came by every day to eat from the many feeders she had placed around her back patio. It was a small patio with a few steps that led down to a walk-way, dotted with large, flat stones. I came to imagine that those stones possessed many powers, one of which was to carry me away as if on a magic carpet. Thelma indulged these fantasies, making her the person I most asked to visit.
Thelma had fiery red hair that she always kept curled neatly into a short do. She was always well-dressed, and as an expert seamstress, she made many of her dresses. When I picture her in my mind, she is smiling. And laughing. And looking down at me with such a loving gaze that I felt as though we were the only two people in the world. Thelma gave such unconditional love and support, that I grew up thinking I could be anyone I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do. I was born an artist, of the performing variety. Thelma was born an artist of the crafting variety. One of her many craft projects was to glaze and decoupage little figurines.
One of our craft days stands out in my memory because on that day, we decoupaged several small, oval, ceramic figurines. The front of the figurine was flat, and on that surface, we placed an image of a girl resembling the Holly Hobbie character. When we were done for the day, Thelma let me keep one. It’s now one of my most prized possessions. In fact, it’s one of maybe five material objects that moved with me from home to college many years ago, and it’s survived moves to several different U.S. states since then. When an impending move is approaching, the ‘Holly Hobbie’ is wrapped in a thick, soft towel and gently placed into a sturdy box. I always find a safe, special place for that piece in my new house.
Thelma died in 2009, and experiencing her death felt as though I hadn’t known what it was to truly grieve before that day. There are moments when memories of Thelma flood my thoughts and I fight the pull toward sadness to instead rejoice in the memory of the times we had together.
Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day, or the weight of the outside world is getting too heavy, I will sit with that figurine we made together. I hold it in my hands, lovingly tracing the delicate cracks that have formed in the glaze over the years, and a feeling of warmth slowly washes over me. For those brief moments, I am transported to simpler times, when summer days meant me and Grandma, hanging out in her magical house, building the type of bond that not even death can break.
I am continually reminded of the power that human connection can have on us. Every day we are afforded opportunities to connect with those around us. Sometimes it’s hard to do – there are interpersonal conflicts, busy schedules, stress, technology, and occasionally our own unwillingness to change that can get in the way. But these connections, when we take the time to forge them, make us happier, calmer, and more able to withstand the rough edges of life. Research backs up the idea that when we connect with others in meaningful ways, it has a profound effect on our lives. When we move through life unconnected from those around us, it’s harmful – to our work, to our personal lives, and even to each other.
This ‘Holly Hobbie’ figurine reminds me of Thelma because of the human connection we had when we made it. It’s a tangible representation of our bond. As the saying goes, we’re all in this together, and no one gets out alive.
So, as we ruminate on all the ways we want to do better in this new year, I hope that connecting with others is high on everyone’s list. As for me, when I feel the push to disconnect, I will remember Thelma’s enveloping love, picture that figurine, turn myself around, and engage.