Mr. Frump and I recently got together with two old friends. They started out as Mr. Frump’s coworkers, but they soon became friends in earnest. But things changed, as they often do: first the job, then our residence. Even though we all still live within an hour’s drive, Mr. Frump and I are now firmly over the state line in what feels like a different world.
We’ve known these women since we were in our twenties, just establishing ourselves as independent adults. So my memories of our friendship are inextricably linked with my memories of being young and newly launched. These women were both models, in a way, of the kinds of women that I might grow up to be. They were full-fledged, real-life grownups, with jobs and kids and houses. I think they were just barely 40, but to me they fell into that blurred category of adult that started at age 34 and ended just shy of 50. At the time, I probably perceived little difference between those two extremes.
Back then, we shared various social events — movies, dinners out, parties — with one or both of these friends. One of the two even attended our wedding, with her 10-year old daughter (who, I’m shocked to realize, is now older than we were). We were also frequent guests in her home, enjoying the happy chaos of her family’s life.
The years passed, and though we didn’t quite lose touch, we all became busy with our own lives. Both women lost their husbands — one to divorce, the other to illness. Their kids grew up and moved away. We saw each other a few times, but not many. Until last week, that is, when we sat together for a holiday lunch.
My first thought was: how wonderful they both look! Older, maybe, but exactly like themselves. Now I’m the woman in her 40’s, so it follows that they must be women in their 60’s. But these are not the 60+ women of my grandma’s era! Or perhaps my perspective has just shifted.
The community in which we all met looked like a quintessential small town — Bedford Falls, if you will, or perhaps Grover’s Corners (or Peyton Place, at times!). It was surrounded by mountains and seemed in the middle of nowhere, but the area boasted a famous artist’s colony, several music festivals, and a theater company or two. You could find many artistic, creative people — people from other places.
Seeing our two friends brought it all back. They are both so cultured, yet so down to earth. They talk of theater and opera, yet they both spend much of “mud season” mucking around in rubber boots. Both have dealt with loss and pain and money struggles — being suddenly single is never easy — but they find ways to work for a living and still pursue life. They’re both smart and funny as hell, quick to laugh at the absurdity of life, rolling their eyes at the latest idiocy from the mouths of their supervisors, co-workers, and elected politicians. Neither woman is living through her children. Both are active and engaged, loving life and art and beauty, wherever they find it.
And did I mention that they both look fabulous? They don’t talk themselves down, or bemoan aging. One did tell a funny story, though, about a family member who had given all the relatives a curious gag gift — photos of themselves, altered to look older. “They photoshopped in jowls, and wrinkles, and everything,” our friend laughed. Apparently, one of the recipients didn’t recognize herself in the picture. “Who is that?” she said.
It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have to see our own aging in such a sudden, jarring fashion. When it happens gradually, we don’t even notice it in quite the same way. It seems like nothing more than a slight, day-to-day alteration. Something not at all scary, and perfectly natural. Which of course it is.
Sure, looking at old photos can be a shock, when we see several years of changes all at once. But I’m so relieved to know that it’s possible to see friends after several years and be struck not by the aging, but rather, by their essential sameness. “Yes! They are still themselves! ”
So we laughed, and lunched, and visited. At the end, we vowed to get together more often. I hope this isn’t just one of those empty promises that people make. I don’t think it is. We’ve identified several promising meeting places — a music club, an old movie theater — that are convenient to all of us.
I’m looking forward to watching our friends move through this new stage in their lives, and on into the next one, whatever that is.