Last month I joined fourteen of my oldest friends in Vancouver for our biennial reunion weekend. We’ve held these reunions since 1992, which was the year most of us turned 36. We are sixteen women who all grew up in the same small town, went to the same schools, and graduated from Cranbrook’s only high school. Some stayed in our hometown, while others scattered throughout B.C. and eventually Alberta. Being in the military, I ended up furthest away. For eighteen years all of us were busy building families, careers, and lives far afield from most of the others, but we decided our friendship was too important not to nourish. So began our get-togethers. And when the call came about that first reunion, I hopped on a plane home. Every second year since, with one exception, we’ve gathered for a weekend, leaving spouses, children, and work behind to celebrate our solidarity.
The reunions have been held in different locations around B.C., with the notable exception of the year we celebrated turning forty and went on a cruise along the Baja Peninsula. That turned out to be the last reunion for one of our number; she died unexpectedly several months later. We gathered again to say good-bye to her, and mixed with the tears was the laughter that is always such a huge part of our weekends together.
These are very funny women, and the stories of our lives form the architecture of our friendship. One of our group regaled us a few years ago with a tale of menopause-related mania. She and her sons were decorating their Christmas tree. She’d done the vacuuming, and when she came downstairs, she discovered that one of the boys had torn up Styrofoam to put on the tree in order to simulate snow. It was everywhere and sticking to everything. In an unprecedented rage (she’s normally very laid back) she threw the tree out into the driveway in the rain and began to shake the hell out of it to get the stuff off. Though she’d probably rather forget that day, her sons and neighbours (and lifelong friends) never will.
When we’re together, things just…happen. When our fortieth birthday cruise put into port for a day, several of the girls decided to take a bus to a tequila factory. Fortunately one of the adventurers was pregnant, so she couldn’t partake of the factory’s product. If not for her keeping one eye on her watch, the delirious drinkers might not have made it back to the ship on time. As it was, they rushed up the gangplank at the last possible moment, to the scowls of the purser.
One time we rented a houseboat—an adventure that made a cameo appearance in one of my novels, Broken Faith. We still tell stories about the bean salad that hit the floor and was only deemed inedible the third time it had to be scraped up. Apparently the ‘ten-second rule’ was in effect the first two times. That was also when we discovered that one of our friends believed limp, white bacon was suitable for eating. The rest of us declined to taste test her theory, despite her protestations that it really was cooked. Of course that was the same friend who sailed into battle when one of the boat’s toilets was stopped up. She completed the plunging, then jumped into the lake in her nightie, still wearing her rubber gloves. We all applauded, and forgave her for the raw bacon.
Another memorable occasion was on the Sunshine Coast near Sechelt, north of Vancouver, where we rented a house on the beach. There was a small rocky island just off-shore, and one of the girls suggested it would be a lovely spot to read and relax. She and I took a boat out and tied it off to an iron ring set in the stone. We spent several enjoyable hours reading and talking in the glorious setting, quite forgetting (being inlanders) that oceans have tides. By the time we decided to pack up, we discovered that our lovely little island had become two islands. The tide had filled a channel between them, and naturally our boat was tied up to the one we weren’t on. As our friends stood laughing on the beach, a gentleman in another boat kindly rescued us and ferried us around to where we’d tied off the dory. I had to reach down into the water a couple of feet to reach the iron ring and release it. It’s amazing the darned thing wasn’t swamped by the rising tide.
Last month in Vancouver we walked down to the water’s edge and took a water taxi to the markets and shops of Granville Island. After a lovely day there, we returned. On the trek back to the hotel, we stopped into a home and garden store. The friend I had gotten stuck on the island with—who was also one of the ones over-served at the tequila factory, not that I’m alluding to her being a catalyst or anything—decided to buy a five-foot ladder with accompanying decorative baskets. We lugged it through the streets of Vancouver. Two women carried the five baskets and two carried the ladder as we marched along the streets to the hilarity and amazement of passers-by. One spectator asked the women carrying the ladder if we were part of a reality show. I can understand the confusion, but no, it was just us being us.
Of course our lives aren’t all fun and games, not that you’d know it if you eavesdropped on our get-togethers. As a group we’ve faced serious illnesses, the loss of loved ones, and the griefs that challenge every soul. But as one of my friends said recently, our bunch is a “safe place to fall.” When we gather, we can leave our worries outside the door and know that we are loved and appreciated simply for who we are.
We are a diverse group, despite our common blue-collar, small town youths. They’re all straight; I’m gay. Some can afford exotic vacations; some can’t. Some have married more than once; some never married. None of that matters when we gather together. For one glorious weekend every two years, nothing counts but half a century of friendship. It is the kind of friendship that nurtures, sustains, and gives voice to the integral bonds between women. Though we encounter each other in small groups now and then, nothing beats the coming together of the whole. Our friendship has a heartbeat all its own, and in only twenty-two more months, we’ll gather again to celebrate that most vital of connections.
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