A Trip to Vermont: Connecting to the P.E.O. Sisterhood

Leaving Vermont after getting there from here, June 23, 2019.

Not long after my debut novel, Telling Sonny, was published last December, my cousin Anne asked me if I would do a presentation to her local chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, a philanthropic organization that provides college scholarships to women. Before each meeting, the group has a program featuring a talk by a successful woman–and by virtue of my publishing history, apparently I was a successful woman. I was incredibly flattered and very happy to oblige–as long as Cousin Anne understood that there was no way I was driving over Bethel Mountain to get to East Middlebury in the winter or in mud season. The date was set for June 22nd.

I headed out for Vermont the evening prior and made the mistake of relying on my GPS for directions. Once I got off Route 89, the GPS took me onto a narrow road with sections that had been washed out and more-or-less repaired with gravel. The narrow road became dirt, my ears started popping from the steep climb, and then the dirt road narrowed to one lane, threatening to become a cow path. At that point, I pulled off by a pasture and looked at a map, which naturally didn’t show the road I was on or the one that led to it.

And the Spirit of Vermont thundered down from the mountains, “You can’t get there from here!” When I finally managed to get off the mountain and arrive at Cousin Anne’s, she wanted to know why I hadn’t followed the directions she’d given me. Because I left the Post-It note stuck to my desk, says I.

My presentation went very well. I introduced it by explaining that I had been a member of the first class at Old Dominion University to graduate with the creative writing concentration in 1982, and I published my first novel in 2018 at the age of sixty-two. That set the group back a few paces!

Reading “My Father’s Side of the Family,” the poem that was the precursor to Telling Sonny. Judging from the expression on the audience’s face, I was probably reading the part about Aunt Louise taking to drink when her old dog Blackie died: “Blackie’s stupid spaniel face / Gazing up / From the bottom of her empty cup.”
Reading the opening chapter of Telling Sonny.
Q & A about writing and nontraditional higher education. (Give me a pulpit, and I will preach!)

The Connection to the P.EO. Sisterhood (Saving the best for last!)

The mutual connection Cousin Anne and I have to the P.E.O. Sisterhood is our grandmother, Velma Moore Brown, who was very active in the organization for over thirty years, rising to the position of Massachusetts president. Velma is second from the right in both pictures.

88 thoughts on “A Trip to Vermont: Connecting to the P.E.O. Sisterhood

  1. Oh, my, oh my, I can relate to the trip! Radically geographically challenged here! My new app, WAZE, has been good, but tends to like major highways when I’d prefer back roads…but not quite so back as you found!! And, how lovely to hear from a sister P.E.O.! I just joined three years ago and an encircled by amazing women! I would have loved to hear your presentation!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I held my breath as you drove those dangerous roads. GPS has a way of sending you places where angels fear to tread. What a wonderful community – P.E.O. I especially appreciated your archive photos, a testament to the enduring work of dedicated women committed to giving back to society, to encouraging the next generation to continue, to build resilience, to take their place on the worldโ€™s stage..

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, Shayne! I’m not thinking about joining the P.E.O. at present. I’m starting a new job next week with Champlain College Online. That, and my writing, will keep me plenty busy for the foreseeable future!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That Spirit of Vermont sure has a knack for stating the obvious, heh? Sounds much like my recent experience in Idaho, where I gave a talk on my (not only unpublished, but unwritten) biography of E.D. Pierce. Iโ€™ll bet it was fun!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. How wonderful! I now know about the PEO organization. You must be very proud of your grandmother. I have heard many stories of that drive over Bethel Mountain to get to Middlebury! Were there any aspiring writers in the audience? Such an honor for you to be the guest speaker, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, there were a few aspiring writers in the audience, so it was fun to talk writing process with them. I am very proud of Velma, but she definitely was one to hide her light under a bushel. No one in the family knew the extent of her accomplishments until thirty-five years after she died, when her diaries and private papers were unearthed from my aunt’s attic.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think back then it was considered tacky to boast about oneโ€™s self, or even to talk about accomplishments. Proper people just didnโ€™t do that. That sounds just like Velma. ๐Ÿ™‚ Iโ€™m glad there were some aspiring writers in the audience. That must have been fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s the thing with Post Notes – You have to actually use them. I am famous for leaving them on my desk which is why I have a written list of everything with me at all times when I’m out of the house and even then I seem to ignore what is on the list. I call it “getting older.” ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

    Liked by 4 people

    1. So true! There is nothing like, ‘the list’! I write lists for many things, and I always have…even in the days of my youth. My sister in law teases me about my numbered food shopping list. Yes, most important items on top! It is hard to cover everything in life, but a list is like a little insurance in case you forget something…so easy to do at any age!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I too have to constantly ask my wife what I wrote down in a hurry. I am always asking “Is that an A or an O?” When I was a budding playwright in the early 1970s, I had a secretary for such things. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I so enjoyed this post! I love the pictures! I feel like I was there in the room. I wish I could have been. I would love to listen to your story as you spoke in your own words. And I love to hear people talk about writing and their ideas. I am from New York originally and I skied in Vermont in the winters. Vermont is a beautiful state, with many wandering roads through the mountains! What a beautiful full-circle moment connecting you with your family. I have just turned sixty myself. By the age of sixty, we do have some stories to tell, Yes? I am so glad you are telling your stories and sharing them with others!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Chris! I didn’t get a GPS for that very reason. When they first came out, I read a news story of a couple who drove into a river following their GPS. My brother bought me my first one after my mother and I drove were very late for a family gathering after driving around Arlington, Mass. in circles for over an hour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t use them except on very rare occasions… I have a pretty good sense of direction, so if I don’t know the place, I look it up beforehand and head in that direction. Haven’t been lost as yet..

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful story, with great photos! It gave us such a strong feeling of connection with your life and your writing. And it gave me a smile because I learned something that doesn’t surprise me: we’re the same age. I’m glad one of us is maturing into the life of a published author! I might get there in another decade or two . . .

    Liked by 3 people

        1. It sounds like a wonderful trip! If you don’t mind a word of advice, whatever you do, don’t attempt to drive a car in Boston! It’s all one-way streets, and the drivers are, shall we say, not particularly courteous.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. A worthy cause indeed! Thank you for all your efforts.

    Alas, you broke one of the rules. GPS systems are not to be trusted. It is a bit like trusting that now ex-husband and some family members, his and mine…

    When I worked in Child Protection, I tried printing out directions from the internet a few times. My trusty old map was much more reliable. The old adage about when you want something done right… often applies.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! (I apologize for the delayed response. Your comment went into the spam folder. I need to get into the habit of checking regularly.) You’re right about the trusty old map; however, my lack of directional sense extends to having difficulty reading a map, much to my husband’s consternation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is no need to apologize, I am often at the mercy of spam folders, not to mention a fragile connection here…
        As for directional sense, I do get lost but rather enjoy the experience. It is amazing the things one can find that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve heard similar stories to yours of GPS failure. How nerve-wracking before a speaking engagement no less! On the opposite end of the emotion-spectrum: how delightful to share the P.E.O connection with your cousin and especially your grandmother–an admirable woman, no doubt!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. How peculiar that the ladies in the news articles were referred to by their husband’s names (Mrs. Ronald Brown, etc.). I wonder how that would affect a person’s perception of self. Times have changed!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, it’s quite disconcerting to our 21st sensibilities. I remember once addressing a letter to my grandparents as “Mr. Ronald Brown and Ms. Velma Brown” when I was in high school. That did not go over well at all, and I was duly reprimanded.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Phew! Glad you made it to the meeting of the sisterhood. What an inspiring organisation. And I am sure you inspired a few with your story of publishing your first novel at 62. I laughed at your “Give me a pulpit and I will preach”. Were you channelling some of your father’s talents? ๐Ÿ˜‰ How is your new work going? Is it all year round or do you get a break over the summer?

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You are a successful woman Liz, it’s nice to be recognized, and it’s comforting to know that you never published your first book until 62! I think that just goes to show that it’s never too late, and that sometimes those novels don’t happen in a hurry.

    I’m looking forward to picking your brain ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

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