Founder Blog: A Different way of Giving Thanks
Telling someone how they’ve created a positive impact on their life
While I’m usually embarrassed by what sticks with people on their first time meeting me, it’s also such an honor to hear them. We’re taught through our society that the only “acceptable” times for sharing those memories are when the person is not around or, way too often, not until after that person is no longer alive. To hear the stories is an honor that I keep with me. By: Heather Wentler - Co-founder & Executive Director of Doyenne
You never really know how much impact you make on a person. I saw a post the other day that said, “Somebody is learning how to be a person by watching you. Let that sink in.” Those words stuck with me. Many times, I’ll have people come and tell me stories about our first interactions and how it stuck with them. I’ll admit, it’s usually really embarrassing to hear those stories because 1. I’m such a dork, and 2. The details are what people remember. It’s usually the eye roll, the smile, the warmth, or “stay away” feeling they got based on body language, in direct correlation to the words and the rest of the experience.
When you hear back these messages and memories, they stick with you, too. How many times have you done something and thought, “Omg, I’m turning into my parent/role model,” or “I handled that way better than my parent/role model did,” based on the memories those experiences evoke? So, while I’m usually embarrassed by what sticks with people on their first time meeting me, it’s also such an honor to hear them. We’re taught through our society that the only “acceptable” times for sharing those memories are when the person is not around or, way too often, not until after that person is no longer alive. To hear the stories is an honor that I keep with me.
Doyenne partners with KOKORO as part of our Triple Threat Venture Training program, and during the program, you write a letter to your future self that you get back at the end of the 8 weeks of sessions. You also are encouraged to write a letter to someone who you want to tell how much they mean to you and how they impact your life and work. When I was a participant in the KOKORO program, I wrote letters to two of our “bonus children” to tell them how they’ve made a difference in my life. They’re both currently 20 years old and come from, and are on, very different life paths. While they initially were like, “What in the world is Heather giving me?” and had some fear of what I wrote, they both wrote letters back to me expressing ways that I’ve impacted their lives - in ways I never thought I would have.
Another person I want the world to know how much they’ve impacted me is my Grandma.
Whenever I see or talk on the phone with my Grandma Alice, I try to share how my experiences with her have impacted me throughout my life. Usually done in a quip or laugh it off sort of way of bringing up a story or words of wisdom she’s embarked on me, but also in a way to say I don’t know a woman who has been more of a superhero in inspiring me to be in the role and profession I am today.
Grandma is a badass. I don’t know if she would identify with being called a badass, but that’s how I think of her. She was the only woman foreman at a manufacturing company in the 1980s. She worked the line and kept all the male employees on her line in order during a time when things were very different than they are today. When I was in high school and worked at the Piggly Wiggly in my small hometown, I had people come in and say “You look exactly like your grandma. I used to work with her, and she was a hardass on all of us.” Grandma has always had a “take no shit from anyone” attitude that was honed by being in “the middle of the pack” of 13 kids growing up; at 18, becoming a wife, full-time worker, and going on to have 4 of her own children (three boys and one daughter); a grandma to 8, and great-grandma to 2. So much of her confidence and calling out bullshit has been passed along to all of her six granddaughters, who spent just as much time at Grandma & Grandpa’s house as our own homes growing up. Our two boy cousins had a hard time when we were all together because of having such strong female personalities dominating the space.
Grandma is also the softest person. She’s quick to give hugs, pat on the shoulder, or swat on the arm (in a playful way) with love in her eyes and a smile on her face. My sister and I would play on her emotions all the time to get what we wanted, which was usually getting out of school because we were “sick” while growing up. I remember my mom having to call the school and tell them grandma no longer had permission to excuse us from the school day because we were always at her house watching Price is Right and eating ramen instead of sitting through our classes.
Grandma is the one who would climb and slide down the sand "mountains" and snow hills with us grandkids. She would pull out the sewing machines to create new clothes and teach us how to use the machines on no-school days. Growing up, she (and grandpa) was our chauffeur just as much as our parents were. When we returned from vacation, we always wanted to go straight to grandma's to tell her about the trip; when we would go school shopping, we always wanted to go straight to grandma's to show her our new outfits. When we threatened to run away, we always packed up our wagon and roped to our bikes (with our jump ropes) saying, "I'm moving to grandma's house."
Grandma is a big personality, but there are also the quiet moments, her reading her book at the kitchen table while we watched Saturday Morning Cartoons while sipping hot chocolate with extra marshmallows in our favorite mugs. Her biting her nails as she rode with us while learning to drive. Her deep sigh "yes, dears" when all of us drive her crazy, and her triple goodbye kisses to Grandpa as she left for work.
After my grandpa passed away, she continued to live in the middle of the woods for another 10+ years with bears and porcupines literally knocking at the door and raccoons thinking she was a convenience shop by opening windows to come and steal snacks off the kitchen counter. Grandma still tells the stories, always with a smile on her face, as she recalls standing in her nightgown screaming, “Get the hell out of here, those treats aren’t for you,” and telling the bears to leave her bird feeders alone from her back deck. Who stands and yells at a bear?! Bad-Ass!
What most inspires me about my grandma is how she continues to show up for all of us - family, friends, neighbors, anyone who asks - whenever we need her. At 83 years old, she’s still offering to take any of us wherever we need to be for the appointments so we don’t have to go alone, or mowing the grass, and doing the dishes so it’s one less thing we have to worry about. Her acts of service show love beyond any words or hug can exude because she can be hurting and tired from head to toe and still put her needs aside to help another. Of the 13 kids in her family, only one other sibling is alive, and Grandma goes and visits her sister as often as she can to visit and help out as needed. She’s watched almost the entirety of her family, her husband, a granddaughter, a daughter-in-law, numerous best friends, and now, one of her sons pass on. Her strength (for lack of a better word) to overcome and continue seems to know no limit.
I don’t know if Grandma really knows what I do for work. She knows I support and fight for women so they don’t have to go through the same injustices and harassment she went through while working in those various factories all her life. I will never forget giving her a copy of an article I was highlighted in and seeing tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong she said, “No one in the family has ever been in the newspaper before for their success.” Sometimes I say things, and she looks at me like, “women shouldn’t say that,” but even when she disagrees with me, she still does her best to honor and accept my choices - well, sometimes I still get a good tongue lashing, but we all need that at times. She tries her best to understand what other women are going through even when she can’t relate and will also stand beside them and fight with them.
I will affectionately always be her “little shit”, Missy Lou, and “Header Wecker”. I use the mixing bowls and tupperware she has gifted me, and it reminds me of all of us grandkids sitting at her kitchen table decorating Christmas cookies and coffee clutching to catch up on all the gossip. When I hear blue jays, I think of her; when I see cardinals, I think of her - and then get mad at myself for not calling her more. I wear her wedding band and engagement ring as my own rings - she was the only family member to know Chris and I were eloping - as having pieces of her and Grandpa with me every day.
I’ll remind you what I said at the beginning of this post: you never know what impact you have on someone and what sticks with them. I doubt Grandma remembers some of my fondest memories I have with her as they may have just felt like everyday experiences to her. Still, they are core memories that have formed me and act as my north star when holding integrity and accountability with myself.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to write a letter to someone who has positively impacted you and your life. Don’t wait. Even if they’re embarrassed by it, they will want to hear it.