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Learning the value of connectedness
RILEY WAS JANE’S DOG when she moved into the area 19 years ago. At first, Jane didn’t know very many people, and lived in a cabin without a phone, so Riley was a big part of Jane’s social life. Now, Jane has a landline, a cell phone, and lots of friends, but she’ll always remember Riley fondly. - photo by JANE SCHMIDT

VIOLA - When I first moved here, I’d often take a hike in the woods with my faithful yellow lab, Riley. Afterward, I’d curl up in an old wicker chair on the porch of the cabin I was renting. Soon, Riley would be snoring at my feet and I’d start paging through the phone book I’d found on my doorstep. I was new to the area and hadn’t yet made any connections.

The year was 2000 and the phone book was organized by the area in which people lived. It was impossible as a newbie here to find the number of anyone I had met. I’d usually forgotten to ask where they lived, but even if I asked, I’d still be clueless. Locals gave directions that were useful only if you already knew where you were: “Over on Paterson's Road. You know, where all the goats are.”

I lived in that cabin without a phone for four years. Living without a phone made me realize the value of being connected—and just how disconnected I was. My friend, Pat Martin, thoughtfully stopped over with a Tracfone, explaining that she had lost hers, bought a replacement, and then found her old one. It still had lots of minutes left on it.

Days after our visit, I must have been feeling lonely because I decided to look up my last name in the phone book. In Milwaukee, where I had moved from, there had been pages upon pages of Schmidts. Here the Schmidts fit on two lines.

I decided I’d call both Schmidts to say hello. A man named Dick Schmidt answered one of those calls. It turns out he had owned (and was recently retired from) a car dealership in the Viroqua area. We had a great chat and I ended up meeting him at the Wellness Center, where I worked part time. He gave me a T-shirt from his car dealership with our last name on it: Schmidt Motors.

Talking to Dick made me feel more connected, more at home living here. Many afternoons, I’d look through the phone book and learn something new about where I had come to roost. Even then, we had an abundance of massage therapists and chiropractors, not as many doctors, and lots of handymen and carpenters!

Nowadays, I no longer use Pat’s old Tracfone. I use a flip phone when I’m away from home, and still cherish my landline. I rarely have the luxury of paging through the phone book, preferring to read a good book, when I have the chance. After 19 years of living here, I feel more connected. I work locally, shop locally, and attend local events. I have an exercise program on a local cable channel and teach in the community. I have good friends and neighbors and I date a local man.

Recently, I had to break out the phone book. I needed to call the Johnsons to see if they had time for Dane and me to stop by after taking my dogs for a hike. I dialed a wrong number and made a new, unexpected connection.

"Hi, it's Jane Schmidt. I'm wondering if Dane and I could stop over today after our hike with the pups?"


"Jane Schmidt."

"Oh, I exercise with you every day."

"Huh? Is this Donna?"

"No, this is Jan.* I had cataract surgery so I stopped coming to your class. Then I had heart surgery. I exercise with you on TV. I don't do that one, you know, where you cross your leg over."

"So this isn't Donna Johnson?"

"I won't do the ones where you lie down on the floor, but I do the other ones. When you say, ‘Get outside for a walk,’ I don't listen to you. I'm 92 and I shouldn't be outside walking in this weather. My husband had knee surgery in 2016."

"I'm glad you're exercising daily. It's important."

"At the funeral luncheon, I don't know what happened but I fell, lost my balance. I broke my pelvis. I know all about exercising. My daughter doesn't like me driving and I'm not going to drive for an exercise class, when I can stay home and exercise with you. I like your stories, but those birds of yours are too loud."

"I'll keep that in mind. Say, do you know the Johnsons? Because I really need to talk to them about an appointment today."

"Yes, that lady who exercises with you in that one video. I can keep up with her. I mean I'm not saying I can do better than her, but I keep right up with her. I'm not going to do anything you do on the floor."

"The next video is all about back care."

"I said I won't go on the floor."

"You can do it in your bed!"

"I can't see you in my bed."

I laughed. "Okay, I need to find the Johnsons’ number and call them. Ron made my ring and now we're having Dane's made."

"Oh, congratulations. You're engaged?"

"No, no, just getting rings made with Michigan greenstones."

"I have green stones. I had gall bladder surgery..."
Twenty-two minutes later, I hung up with a smile on my face. I told Jan I'd shout out to her in the next exercise video. 

"Don't do that," she responded.

After saying goodbye to Jan, I located the correct number for the Johnsons, set a time to meet up with them, and headed out the door with Dane and my three pups.

Thankfully, these days the phone books are organized alphabetically. The 2018 Vernon Communications book has a whopping 13 Schmidts listed, and Dick is still one of them.

It seems ages ago, when I reached out to another Schmidt in order to feel connected. Whenever I have spare time, though, I call Jan—she said I can call anytime, just to connect.

* Jan isn’t her real name.