Last evening, my girlfriends and I met for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. We visit about every six weeks and have been doing so consistently since we were rejoined at a grade-school reunion 20 years ago. We have known each other, however, for more than 40 years. During our meal, in a quiet inner moment beyond the chatter of patrons and the clanking of tableware, I looked at my friends and thought, “Wow! We all look really great.” Please understand that I am a very modest person without a conceited bone in my body; but dare I say, it's true! I must have one vain bone somewhere. Anyway, we are all in our 50s, have each lived through a vast variety of joys as well as sorrows, and have come through with flying colors and very few wrinkles to show for it. There is precious history between us. So gathering with these women is always a special time. We cherish each other and are committed to regular visits despite any obstacles along the way.
I met my three friends in seventh grade when my city dwelling family migrated to the suburbs. It was a bumpy time in our family life. That summer, during our first night in our newly purchased home, the area was hit with the heaviest rains ever in the town's history, resulting in a damaging flood. The lower level of our home, where the movers had placed every piece of our furniture until our house could be carpeted, quickly filled with water before our disbelieving eyes. We stood, dumbfounded, at the top of the stairs, and watched every drain gushing wildly with floodwater from the torrential rains. For days afterward, the furniture floated around the room until the four feet of water slowly trickled back into the sewer system, leaving our belongings wet and moldy; leaving us bewildered and practically homeless. We had to move into an apartment for a couple of months until my parents could get the house in a livable condition. We moved back into the house just before the school year began. It was a dreadful, stressful summer; not a pleasant prequel to a fresh chapter in the life of a shy student, the new girl at a huge school, in a neighborhood where she knew no one. I felt overwhelmed and anxious, like a foreigner in a strange country.
Soon, however, a few friendly people befriended me, the school year got underway, and I slowly adjusted to my new surroundings. Three friends became my lifeboats for navigating the waves of change during the awkward, adolescent years of junior high. Fast forward through high school, college, marriages, careers, children, relocation, divorces, deaths of loved ones, and life in general. The four of us are still together and known to each other as the Grade School Girls. Each of us is different from the other in terms of our experiences, our personalities, our family stories, and our interests. It is in the beauty of our differences that we remain bonded to one another, in support of each woman's path, and appreciative of the long history that we share. Our unique stories are deeply respected amongst the group. We realize that the hand of Fate gifted to us this four-way friendship that maintains its strength despite time, distance, careers, and family responsibilities. A meeting does not go by without recognition and gratitude, spoken or unspoken, for our special alliance.
Between the four of us, there is reach into diverse and interesting fields of life. We are a conglomerate of experience, knowledge, culture, and talent. Our depth of character as a foursome makes me aware, each time we are together, that there is richness in age. We are wise in our reverence for this friendship that we have sculpted over many years. Just as an antique increases in value over time, or a cause gains momentum as interest grows, so our bond has solidified over the last 40-plus years of nurturing. We are a melting pot of wonderful diversity. One woman is a career ICU nurse who loves to travel, ski, and hike; another is a math teacher turned food-bank manager who loves long distance biking, cross country skiing, and decorating; another is an interior decorator and professional florist who loves the outdoors, bowling, and crafts; yours truly is the career businesswoman turned stay-at-home mother who loves writing, volunteering, and yoga. That's just the tip of the iceberg of who we are as a team.
Fate brought us together as youngsters. Fate separated us for a while after high school while each pursued her life's callings in marriage, family, and career. Fate brought us back together 20 years ago at a grade-school reunion, and we have locked into our connection ever since. While one of the group moved to a faraway place for some time, we kept in touch by calling her, or sending menus with notes, from the places where the other three of us met. While I became preoccupied with giving birth and raising two more children, we scheduled our visits around feeding and bedtimes. While two women's marriages dissolved, we supported them through their stress and pain, and then rejoiced with them in their happiness when love blossomed anew. When one woman lost her dear son in a tragic, unexpected death, we wept together in devastation and now hope for our friend's healing through her palpable grief.
Life goes on, and we will go on, together. During the years from grade school until now, we have grown individually and as a group. Middle age has brought us to a new place in our lives and a deeper connection in our friendship. Perhaps we look a bit different now, too. Together we marvel at the unwelcome changes that are happening to our bodies as we age. With humor, we marvel at the great shape we are fortunate to be in as middle agers, save for some aches, pains, and hormonal fluctuations. We are learning to accept this new phase in life by talking about it, laughing about it, and dealing with it. Apparently, there isn't a whole lot a girl can do to halt the aging process, so we take care of ourselves and make the best of what we have been given. By the looks of us (and once again, here's that vain bone), we are doing a fine job, individually and collectively.
I felt inspired to write about us girls today, after we spent last evening together. Our gathering was a typical and comfortable visit during which we got caught up on each person's news —adventurous, mundane and otherwise. We shared about our ups and downs, our hairstylists, our enjoyment of good food and a great martini, our jobs, our family tidbits, our opinion about the waiter/waitress (last night, he was very young, very tall, and very sarcastic, but cute), and we enjoyed our usual comedy while trying to figure the tab. Unfailingly and laughably, four intelligent women struggle to do the math when it comes time to tip, split, and pay the bill. Most likely the wine or the martinis are to blame. It never fails, too, that, at the end of our visit, we part ways feeling uplifted, even in times of difficulty; grateful, even in times of loss; energized, even in times of fatigue; loved, even in times of personal struggle; and always, happy for each other's successes in life and for our friendship.
The Grade School Girls are in it for the long haul. To us, I lift up a glass and say: Viva la GSG's!