Why I Cherish My Old Friends

Days have passed since I returned from a girlfriends' reunion and I am wallowing in happy memories. As we were celebrating our "Medicare birthdays" and are now 65-years-old, the term girlfriend rightfully applies to what we were when we first met.

We were freshmen then, in 1968, at Denison University, a liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio. It was a time of great transition on college campuses, and among our group, various ones of us boycotted classes over inequalities in the lives of the few Black students at Denison; rescinded membership in Greek sororities, and marched on Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Vietnam.

While I did skip a few classes in supposed solidarity with my Black classmates, I mostly sat out the rest of the revolution, focussing instead on a social life, keeping happy the boyfriend whose fraternity pin I wore and trying to sleep atop huge hair rollers made of orange juice cans. At the very least, I worked hard to embrace the straight, long-haired look of the sixties. Two weeks before graduation, one roommate valiantly attempted, in a heart-to-heart talk, to tell me I was making a mistake in committing to a June wedding. She was, it turns out, absolutely correct, although she has never said she told me so.

How grateful I am that these friends didn't give up on me then, but have continually included me in our occasional reunions over the years. We live in all parts of the country and the group includes two psychologists, an attorney, a college professor, an office administrator and one stay-at-home mom with serious volunteer credentials. We offer one another unconditional acceptance, at the same time holding ourselves to special personal standards. After all, we began at the same place.

We have experienced three divorces, the death of one husband, three battles with cancer. We have raised 10 productive children and are all grandparents. Of the six of us, only one still has a living parent.

What made this reunion better than any before is the sense of satisfaction -- or acceptance, at the very least -- of the lives we're in. There were years past when we were still grabbing at the next bar, if not for ourselves, then for our children. We were more acquisitive then, and far more concerned with outward appearance. There was talk of job promotions, children's SAT scores, weekend cottages and botox. No more.

One woman reflected over dinner the first night, as we'd all filled in the immediate blanks about our children, "I no longer have the emotional energy to take on their problems." No one disagreed, although we admit we continue to try.

I think the same can be said for a lot of things that used to consume our lives, from social expectations, to politics to physical appearances. The fire-in-the-belly has dissipated and that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it leaves lots of space to enjoy the present.

As we sipped clam chowder on the windy wharf of post-season Martha's Vineyard, we wondered facetiously if anyone had any new beauty tips. The only one offered was "Oil of Olay", which, when you think about it, is pretty simple. We decided that collectively we probably own a hundred pairs of black pants and that as a general fashion rule, longer is better.

A couple of us are adjusting to retired spouses, which in the words of one is "a whole lot of husband." Both retired men, it seems, are obsessed with the daily arrival of mail. We all agree there is a certain wistfulness associated in going to our children's homes for holidays but that it's more than assuaged by not having the pressures of creating the perfect Christmas. Do-it-yourself ornaments requiring glue guns, five kinds of homemade cookies, neighborhood open houses, what were we thinking?

But life on the whole is good. One 14-year cancer survivor chooses to keep her chemotherapy port in place as a talisman against a recurrence. It has never interfered with her competitive rowing. Two are anticipating their daughters' weddings this fall. Another gets multiple "pictures of the day" highlighting a new grandson's achievements, and seriously uses the term "grand dog".

Another is spending her free time helping her daughter-in-law cope with chemotherapy and the care of a two-year-old. We are discovering the pleasures of delivering meals on wheels and reading books to underprivileged children. One of us is writing the too-short life story of a friend with ALS, so that the woman's four-year-old son will someday have her history. Loving, accomplished women all. This is what 65 looks like.

We promise to do this more frequently, now that we are of an age without so many outside obligations. "Don't fall," we laugh as we hug one another goodbye, referencing conversations about friends who have taken a tumble and been laid up indefinitely.

At home again, I unpack my memories. My husband reads the mail. Yes, I tell him, it was a wonderful time. Which doesn't begin to say how grateful I am for this handful of women who knew me when, before I knew myself.

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