I opened the front door of my red Jeep this morning expecting to see Old Dutch Gourmet White Popcorn all over the seat, but there wasn’t even a kernel anywhere, which surprised me, knowing the “grab and shovel” speed of intake that had occurred alone in the dark the night before, my mind clicking twice as fast as my jaws were chewing, reviewing the details of the evening. I’d pulled into the SuperAmerica station in Cotton, on Highway 53 north of Duluth, for a snack before heading back home to Soudan following a rare, thought-provoking get-together with old friends.
It’d been about fifteen years since we three women had been together, much longer since the early 1980s when we all married mutual friends and traveled to Alaska together. I’d been best friends in high school with one, the other was Canadian and I’d met her at Bible School in Bemidji. Through the years following marriage, the other two women enthusiastically each had four children, both electing to homeschool. They were both involved in Evangelical Christianity, partook of non-destructive habits, and remained with their original husbands. That’s a good way to put it. One of the women still lives in Alaska where her husband has recently retired from the Alaska State Troopers...(wince and squirm, just imagine, living right under the nose of the law all those years!) But then there was me, the “purple”, not black, sheep of the group (as I do not lack color)...never having the desire to rock and burp babies. I see now, looking back, that I married my “husband-choice” among the group of friends for adventure, largely to travel with to Alaska. Then after eight years of conflict and being told I’d never be the mother of his children because I swore too much, I’d had enough. I put men’s interpretation of the Bible...as it had governed me…up on the shelf, dumped the calico dresses, got a divorce, and decided to bust out, explore life and swing from the lights. I AM so glad I did. There was the dancing, drinking, gambling stuff as you’d expect, but I never went completely over the edge.
The reunion setting on this warm night was down a long curvy lane back in the woods off Bug Creek Road in Cotton. The house, belonging to one of the two couples I was visiting, is surrounded by trees and flower gardens with patches of mowed grass that allow room for bird feeders, a weathered picnic table, and animals to contentedly graze in front of the full-length windows. Each time I visit there, peace finds me after re-connecting with these friends, a part of my treasured past I have kept in touch with, while so many other people, places and things are off in the mist somewhere. It’s just the way time passes, I guess, with the once very familiar coming into view, then receding like the lace curtains in my dining room window as the breeze moves them towards me, then away.
It hasn’t been easy at times to remain friends, when changing beliefs and values have challenged the once common ground of our early connections. I wondered as I drove to meet them, if continued friendship would be the outcome on this occasion? As my Jeep jostled around the last curve of the grassy lane into this garden-surrounded setting, I admit I was a bit more uncertain about the acceptance level this time, knowing I am with my fourth husband in our first year of marriage…just annuals…while these two women friends are perennials with nearly forty-year roots!
There were many years when I felt nothing much in common with these friends. Emotions aren’t everything, however. I’d head to the wooded setting where the trees were smaller then, feeling so out of touch with their sheltered lives, yet I chose to invest in them. It is the word that describes it best. After all, I was godmother to one daughter and even sewed matching Kelly green calico and lace dresses for her and a younger sister. Many would have cut them loose having decided there were too many differences, but I didn’t. We’d had great meaningful talks years prior, shared school experiences and creative times of sewing, music, learning to cook and more. We had our own roots, I guess, but were they still strong enough to hold?
On this late summer night it made my heart happy to sit in candlelight with these two women friends, reminiscing through all the years. It was just us; the guys had gone off into the nearby woods to take a sauna and visit. There, in a circle of golden comfort, we relaxed, underarm bulges easing from one gauze sleeveless shirt, my muffin-top not really hiding under my hand-dyed blouse as I rocked in my chair sipping iced tea. Wrinkles were not too prevalent, however certainly accounted for! Stiff hips and knee joints made themselves known when rising for beverage refills and there was plenty of talk about our medical issues as you might expect, with each of us taking her turn.
What really made my eyes twinkle was the two of them finally admitting motherhood was HARD WORK, really-nod-your-head HARD! Nearly like a hostile take-over of one’s life by small creatures known as our flesh and blood children. I always knew it had been, but I wasn’t the maternal type and had largely been a single parent. They were often defensive in years past, or irritatingly offering advice, when I would complain or get too real. So now, I was in awe, sitting up straighter to take it in....pressing my back into the cushion behind me as I listened to one of them say she’d “burned out” trying to control too many unimportant details while homeschooling and raising her daughters. She gingerly confessed she still remains burned out, even with her grandchildren, electing to enjoy them in small doses. She said if she had it to do it all over again, she would be much more relaxed.
“Shock and awe.” These words finally meant something to ME. I had to remind myself to blink my eyes and hoist up my jaw from completely covering my décolletage. That tight band of elastic that had somehow held us together as friends for all these years had been cut loose. I swear, I nearly heard that old elastic snap, slap the wall and fall to the floor, somehow avoiding any of us getting whiplash! God it was great, and inside my head were the words, “Man I’m so glad you finally loosened up, before we’re all dead!” We continued our exchange for hours, me speaking about my new marriage and all topics that bubbled forth.
As the night wore on and we had a second helping of apple dessert, confirmation about our friendships that evening came to me; “young women friends cannot have this,” I thought. They don’t have the longitude that only moving through time, hardship, joy and experience can grant. The process cannot be rushed or bought or learned in any crash course. Young women may have firmer skin, fewer bulges, and high-gear sex drive but that’s not as meaningful as this was. Thick ‘n rich. As we look ahead to attaining deeper wrinkles and grayer hair we will acquire more depth, not yet unattainable on this given evening.
All good visits come to an end; ours did when the noisy, half-clad men returned from the sauna. We were exchanging goodbyes and sincerely talking about meeting up in Palmer, Alaska, for the next visit. These are the kinds of hopeful intentions that come out of our mouths after heart-to-heart visits with relatives and old friends. I know it…you know it too. I hope we do meet again on this earth, north or south, in a garden or this same candlelit cozy house down the Bug Creek Road. I’ll plan to be driving a Jeep and “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”... I’ll still have teeth to enjoy the gourmet popcorn while I drive back home, thinking about my old perennial friendships.
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