The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

Us Folks, Myself, and a Visitor — One-way Interview

Talking to Myself…about human relations and interface.

SGH January 2019

A favorite cousin, my own children’s age, an accomplished business-woman, visited our family several years ago. I was fascinated not so much by what she said as by what she did not say, and how much we did not ask her.

She was raised by my first cousin and his wife. Those two parents have been, and still are, remarkably accomplished people, enjoying a deserved retirement, and healthy as horses at 80-something years old. Visiting with them was always a distinct pleasure. The conversations were priceless with input and output by both ends of the family.

One of the things these three professionally astute people do is listen.
They know how to listen. And they do chime in with responses. But….


Several years ago the daughter of these two parents came across from New York, New York to Seattle and we all agreed to meet at a nearly invisible little restaurant in Seattle where we more than filled a “booth”, once my family and the grandchildren gathered around.

I watched her watch. She was not only full of the loveliest facial features her two parents could have bestowed on her, but also with the relaxed poise and spirit of interest and approach-ability her parents had practiced all their long lives. She sat in her New York casual clothes with her cup of coffee and menu, and settled into the corner near the window.

Her head tipped a little bit down, and glasses sat alternately on the top of her glossy, smart brunette hair, or brought down onto her nose in a really attractive way. Some people really know how to make specs spectacular-looking! When she smiled there were twinkles in her eyes and a peek at the most beautiful teeth one could choose, if one gets to choose teeth! A blazingly warm, quiet smile.

Our group did what our group usually does… having a look at the menus and ordering libations for whomever wanted them. The youngest child — my grand daughter — shyly examined her menu with true seriousness, not looking up for a long time. My cousin watched her with interest. She has two girls growing up in her house, which. I happen to know, are delightfully fun and happy kids, braces and camp and school sports and all. She asked my granddaughter a few questions. She got vague answers. Shyness no doubt.

Back and forth tentative conversation broke out slowly and then inter-meshed comfortably, but, remembering it now, it was all about us.

It was all about us.

In my mind it was that she was learning to “know” our family in this visit.

It didn’t occur to me then, for some strange reason, that this cousin would definitely be a person our family should want to learn about. I just passively watched and listened and chatted, as I am wont to do. If only I had asked her leading questions. But I think I was watching her more than listening to us. (Which suggests that I had many questions about her that I didn’t put into words.)

Our visitor said so little. She had watched like an eagle all that went on, and listened like a cat. I looked to see if her expression would tell me more about how she perceived us. (Why didn’t I just ask her? That would have been a good way to begin.) She watched us like a writer, in fact. Taking mental notes. Asking a few questions, but mostly watching.

I’m wondering in retrospect, had we learned anything about her? What exactly was her business trip to Seattle about, and how was it going? And how was her own fascinating (really) career going in the book publishing business? Were my grandchildren at all aware of what book publishing is about? Do they get hours and hours of pleasure from reading leaves of bound books? Or are they so “into” technical media that the concept of publishing real three-dimensional books for people to have in their own hands and turn the pages of..maybe dog-ear… or, as I tend to do, write in the margins of and underline? Will my grandchildren have a bookcase next to their beds with beloved titles lined up on the shelf and a sort of “Velvet Rabbit look” to them — as if they are well-loved? Would they want to pack real books with them when they became adults and set out to “seek their fortunes?”

And even more curious was that our very close family here on the West Coast — largely grown up in my house with only one parent — me- — was, evidently, not used to picking the brains, memories, and stories out of new adult acquaintances. Mostly they were waiting for a turn to “share”. An uncomfortable silence might elicit a polite question from one of the adults there. We do know to be polite.

My cousin was an expert at asking brief, irresistible questions.

That gave my kids and grandchildren their opportunity to speak of themselves. My cousin would sometimes ask investigative questions. The kids would get a chance share their answers, with details, and examples.

The dinner was over, and we were hugging and wishing each other well, and saying how good it was to visit.

But did we visit?

How do families become CONversationalists? They are fairly good at listening. They usually politely wait their turn to speak. But do they know how to ask questions? Do they wonder what it’s like to be the visitor, and in the visitor’s world?

What does all this teach me?

In a nutshell, it teaches me to ASK. Be curious! Reach out into others’ worlds and discover wonders and new concepts!

One of the things about bringing up kids is that things get busy, and there is too much to do all the time about activities like school, and house, and meetings, and phone calls, and meals, and keeping a schedule that is always too tight.

It’s getting even worse with our blessed computer interface.

When asked something like “what did they do in the fifties” how much more likely we are to say “look it up”, or “Google it” than to say, “What do you want to know? Ask me and I’ll tell you what the fifties was like for me.”

ARE children interested in the history their parents have experienced? I always was, but it didn’t take much of a question to set my grandparents or parents off to recall “how it was.”

Are parents and grandparents superfluous now? After all, everything’s pretty much preserved in The Cloud, right?

That Cloud doesn’t have a lap, and it doesn’t ask questions back. It doesn’t interact to make a real network.

Something like “11001010001110101” is all the cloud is. (I have no idea, by the way, what I just wrote in “digital-eze”.Somebody can go look it up.) But it doesn’t speak to me in a way that kicks off my affection or curiosity or fascination.

Just saying…. What do YOU say?

Susan G Holland© Jan 11 2019



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Susan G Holland

Ever curious, I wonder, I ask, I probe, I learn, I write ;soon a grateful 85 still discovering the brand new day. I moved to New Mexico, a whole new paradigm!