Fifty years ago fourteen tenth-grade girls carved their names into a wooden booth of McGuire’s Drugstore. Mac’s had been our hangout since junior high. Like a scene from Happy Days, the small pharmacy featured a soda fountain, half a dozen booths, a counter with stools; sold nickel cokes, fifteen-cent sundaes, and apparently filled prescriptions. Aside from Mr. McGuire, the pharmacist, I don’t recall seeing an adult in the place. However, teen-aged boys and mostly girls congregated there regularly after school and on Saturdays. Mr. McGuire, always grumpy, directed loiterers to sit down, move out of the narrow aisle, and give up a seat so someone else could order. That routine went on for years. The news that Mac’s would soon close compelled us to engrave our names as part of its nostalgic history. Who knows whether the booths survived? But the friendships endured.
A Full Circle
Last weekend I met many of those friends at a cottage on Chautauqua Lake, NY. Edana flew into Cleveland from Nashville, and then rented a car. Carol flew from St. Petersburg, Florida. Cherie would drive to Pennsylvania from Columbus to carpool with two others. I drove southwest from northern New York. The others would drive north from western Pennsylvania. Any travel is worth the chance to reminisce and reunite with life-long friends. Dee, whom we hadn’t traveled with in years, joined. Candy, our host, had obtained tickets for us to see Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. A capacity crowd swayed and sang along, as did we, to all the songs of our youth. Naturally, he sang to our Cherie, “Sherry, baby!” Most of us had seen the Four Seasons in the 60s at a nearby high school. Five years ago in Las Vegas, we enjoyed the musical Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons. We had come full circle.
Our girlfriend weekends are a standard. When we all worked, vacation-time was preserved to accommodate our trips. As we transition into retirement, our options expand. Our fun, and highly therapeutic, visits will be even more valuable as we navigate big changes. I’ve observed that our time together unfolds as a balance of past, present, and future. Maybe that is the key to the longevity of our group. I’ve often wondered how many of us would choose to be friends if we met for the first time in the present. Our collective history, some going back to elementary school, links us like sisters. We’ve shared life’s passages with these women. When dealing with personal crises, we don’t see a professional. We wait and talk it over with the sister-friends. Loss and grief of all sorts have been counseled over the years. Likewise achievements and joys celebrated.
I recall a teary get-together in 1971, our senior year, when most of the original fourteen met to write heart-felt messages in one-another’s yearbooks. By then we had a common experience of teachers, dances, Broadcast performances, young loves, breakups, and adolescent adventures. We vowed to maintain our bond despite each separate plan for work, family, or higher education. Many of us remained connected with letters, visits, and during holidays. The socio-gram of our relationships shifted every so often. A few friends left the area, but a core group of eight remained steadfast.
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Brown, Blue
As we entered adulthood, we declared ourselves a “card club.” Monthly gatherings rotated from house to house, and in those early days we really did play cards, not bridge as our mothers, but hearts or five-hundred. Vats of M & Ms, Bridge Mix, and snacks evoked slumber parties. Weddings occurred, babies arrived, but we persisted in our pledge of friendship. Our tenth high-school reunion approached. We chose to celebrate the decade with a girls’ get-away. Most of us had children by this time, but our spouses would have to assume full responsibility. Eight of us headed to Sandusky, Ohio on Lake Erie, the destination of our senior class trip. Candy, unknowingly expecting for the first time, would ride the Gemini, a double roller coaster. She would give birth to twins in eight months. Just the first of hundreds of hilarious and preposterous stories we have to tell.
The girlfriends helped me navigate the complicated role of wife and mother. Because of our history, we had no pretenses with one another. Advice given frankly. Laughter dominated our get-togethers, and our similar challenges consoled. As we all know, just having sympathetic listeners eases all sorts of minor problems. Major loss was inevitable. Sadly, Carol became a widow with a two-year-old daughter. I hope our love eased her grief in some way. Before long Kathy’s young son was diagnosed with cancer. I recall that Steph helped her in a myriad of ways. We all offered what support we could. I benefited the most from those who first experienced childbirth. Leaving a big wet stain, I went into labor on Kathy’s sofa. Candy had to drive me home in my stick-shift Chevette as contractions came one after another. My son was born within two hours. Talk about a support group.
Through the eighties we continued our monthly “card club” meetings, plus took an annual trip not far away. On several occasions, someone’s obligations interfered. Once, it was Carol who had to miss. We simply could not have fun without her, so we fashioned a look alike. Carol’s clothes covered a pillow, we stuffed pant legs, and a rubber hand held her cigarette. We took her everywhere that trip, to the restaurants, on the paddle boats, and introduced her to the bartender, who played along, and served her a beer. We laughed till we cried. Steph videoed and Carol eventually appreciated what a great time she’d had. In that decade marriages fell apart and babies died, but if you look at our picture all you see is joy. That’s how we survived it.
As we established our adult identities in the nineties, our roles in the group emerged. Clearly, Kathy’s role was queen. Steph always had us laughing with her wit and hyperbole. Cathy became our life coach. We had the practical ones, the nurturers, and the opinionated. The group became a rock solid support system. I felt confident in myself, and a great part of that sureness came from the pool of strength I had to draw from. By now, we had given up card games. We had way too much to discuss, so we shared stories, worries, advice, caramel corn, brownies, chips and dip. Life’s losses kept coming: Kathy’s son, Edana’s sister, Steph’s husband, Carol’s father. Our children grew up and needed us less. We turned to one another.
Eventually, careers, grandchildren, and elderly parents required more of our time. We scheduled bi-monthly dinners at one of our homes or a restaurant. Kathy’s bout with cancer underscored how incredible that we have one another after fifty-plus years. So we relish our time together and bemoan aging. We thrive on the mutual rewards of grandparent-hood. Two new trusted friends joined us, Mara and Barb. We do our best to bring them up to speed on the stories.
What Lies Ahead
Those who can, gather in December to exchange gifts. Talk of next year’s trip, always on the agenda. I’ve hosted the sister-friends in the 1000 Islands. We created a wish list of places we’d like to visit. We’ve already done Nashville several times, Las Vegas, and last December, New York City. The anticipation of what lies ahead for us as a group is exhilarating; we might visit Chicago, D. C., or Prince Edward Island. No matter the setting, we’ll value our communion most.
As we relaxed around the fire ring at Candy’s cottage each one relayed her retirement location plan. Of course, we all did a mental map-quest imagining the most efficient way to travel within reach.
We have a group jingle (related to M & Ms) that we coined in Nashville. Now, thanks to Frankie Valli, we have a theme song!
Let’s Hang On
There ain’t no good in our goodbyin’
True love takes a lot of tryin’ oh I’m cryin’
Let’s hang on to what we’ve got
Don’t let go, girl, we’ve got a lot
Got a lot of love between us
Hang on, hang on, hang on to what we’ve got