This past weekend, I attended the Arkansas Women Bloggers Conference.
I sat in the midst of seventy female strangers, and yet, I felt at home. And let me tell you something, home is where’s it’s at! What I took away from this conference was wildly unexpected. And I’m not talking about those free boots…although those babies are my new loves! (You can scroll down to see my pretty boots, BUT come back up to read what I gots to say)
The first night, a fascinating woman named Mary set the tone for the entire conference. Mary, known in the Ozark Folk Center community for her storytelling and folk melodies, riveted us in sharing both the heart and performance behind the art of storytelling.
She sat on the stage step, telling tales of Mountain View women whose stories inspired those around them. Mary felt so familiar to me–her aged, folk tongue, her slumped shoulders that came to life when she laughed, her expressive hands that always managed to find their way back to her cotton dress. Watching and listening, I felt like I was sitting on my front porch sharing stories with my Mimi and my Ammaw–very different stories but enjoying at them all the same.
Mimi (great grandmother) loved to garden and dance at the community center on Friday nights. She lived alone most of her life, but had many visitors that stopped by for a story or two. Mimi was quiet and never rambled. I always felt like her words were plotted, but I now know her thoughts were just well organized–admirable to a girl like me. She really was a woman of mystery to me. I’m telling you, every time we drove up to pay her a visit, I would see her sitting in her bedroom window, half hidden by the curtains. It would’ve been an eerie sight had I not known she just liked to watch the birds. My sister and I would run up to her back screen door and wait for her to yell, “Woo-weee, come in ‘dis house.” And like church mice, we would tip-toe in, take our place on the floral couch and just… listen. She told us stories of the wild boys in her high school and the pranks they would play on the girls; she told us about working her whole life at the local drug store, and told us a lot about her garden. Mimi told events but never her private thoughts. She kept those to herself.
Now Ammaw, my grandmother, was my best friend. She loved beer,cigarettes and the Golden Girls, but above all, she loved her family. Her house stayed full as she housed anyone who needed a temporary home. On the weekends, it became a crowd of crazies sitting around shootin’ the bull, and I learned a lot about life sitting and listening in that garage, on a church pew, in the blue light of the bug zapper. It was hours and hours of, “Oh, nah, you remember when ole JugHead nailed his shoe to the ground?” or “That One-Eyed-Jack fella had better boobs than I’ve ever seen on a lady. He was sumpin else.” There were some of the best story tellers in that bunch. My Ammaw was far from perfect, and she never pretended to be otherwise. It was all the more reason to listen to what she had to say.
So this weekend, got me to thinking about my story–not how I present myself, but how I share myself with others. I want to take away what I learn from other women and their stories and incorporate it into my own. I want people to know they have an open invitation to my floral couch. I want them to feel comfortable standing at my screen door unannounced, and I want to yell back, “Come in ‘dis house!” My everyday choices, my everyday approach to people matter–they make up my story. What I believe, what I give and what I take, what I say and what I don’t say, it will all be handed out to those around me. Whether through words or mere living, my story will linger here even after I’m gone. I’m reminded of the inevitable-we all have stories. Intentional or not, we are all saying something. And so, I’m still humming that folk song that we all sang with Mary… “May the life I live, speak for me.”
A big thanks to one of our sponsors Country Outfitter who gave away a pair of boots to each conference attendee. AND the first two weeks of October, I will be hosting a give away from Country Outfitter! You will receive $150 credit to pick out your own pair of boots! I’m pumped! But hold your horses until October!
A few of the women who made it all happen. Don’t they just radiate beauty?!