Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Old Friends

Stephen Sondheim nailed it in his lyrics to a song from "Merrily We Roll Along" called "Old Friends."

So, old friends
Fill me in slow, old friends
Start from hello, old friends
I want the when, where and how

Old friends do
Tend to become old habit
Never knew
How much I missed you till now

It was a warmish day in late September when I moved into the dorm at Michigan State University to begin my freshman year. My roommate was a friend from high school and the rest of our floor was filled with strangers. Strangers, I might add, whom we would come to know well in the communal bathroom/showers located in the middle of the floor.

It was the fall of 1969 and for the next four years we would see tremendous change in the world. Maybe it always was changing -- but now we were aware, although I don't think so aware then as to understand what all the things occurring in our lives meant than in the way we can from the perspective of hindsight.

During our time, there were protests for the Vietnam War, peace rallies, Kent State, Watergate, Women's Liberation. Things that we look back as pivotal now were just the nightly news back then.

LeAnne and Jeanie in wigs, Barb and Carol

It wasn't long after moving in that I met my next door neighbor, Barb, and made new friends down the hall, including Carol and LeAnne. None of us had known each other before and only Carol and I had the same major, theatre, one she would eventually change. I was an only child, unused to living in a crowd. All the others had siblings. We were from Kalamazoo and Detroit and Lansing. We were all naive and we were all OK with that. Not that we didn't do fun college things, but we weren't the rowdy kids. I don't think any of us wanted to disappoint our families.

We spent two years in the dorm together and by junior year, moved into an apartment, an arrangement we would continue as seniors. And yes, we had jolly good times as most college kids do. We ate on the cheap (my mother was horrified when we ate for $5/week each that first semester in our new apartment. We discovered macaroni and cheese. So did our hips. Well, mine did.) We went to football games with "hot chocolate" -- a mix in a thermos that I don't recall had any chocolate included. We saw each other through boyfriends, bad times and good times. We weren't nerdy but no one was going to make us homecoming queen (though Carol could have won it hands down, as nice as she was beautiful).

Jeanie, Barb and LeAnne with Carol behind us.

We never had a fight. Imagine -- living in close quarters, two of those years in apartments together, and never fighting. We had our own friends and our together friends. Sometimes they mixed, sometimes not. But it didn't matter. We were happy and living a wonderful life.

And then we graduated. Carol got married senior year, Barb after graduation and LeAnne not long after that. We moved to different cities (Well, they did. I stayed put.) We had families and lives and careers. Some kept in closer touch than I did. We were living our lives and paths didn't cross so easily for most of us, despite promises that we would "get together."

So, old friends
Fill me in slow, old friends
Start from hello, old friends
I want the when, where and how

Forty years later, we did. LeAnne organized a weekend at her home in Grand Rapids. She had been in touch with Barb and Carol. I hadn't seen them in years. At least thirty and for Carol, the full forty, I think -- or close to it. Would we all still "fit" together? Would we like each other now? Would we look different? Be different?

Where do you start? For us, I think the first reaction was close to awe. We are finally together. After all these years. I just kept looking at them. They were the same. Sure, we're all a little older (OK, a lot older.) And we all love our hairdressers.

We brought photos of families and kids and shared stories about them and about our lives. Things changed for us. Carol had divorced the guy she married senior year and sometime after found the love of her life, remarrying about 30 years ago. Her son is grown and incredibly handsome. LeAnne was widowed several years ago and is finding her way back into the world with new interests, her sons having moved to the West Coast. Barb is married to the guy she married years ago, her kids scattered. She's fully retired, Carol and I are retired but working and LeAnne is trying to make that decision. In other words, we are all experiencing some of the same things but coming at them from the different perspectives that our own life circumstances have brought to the table.

"Our gang" was joined by Buzz (in front) and Pam at right for a game of Pit.

Then it was time to look at the College Days photos I brought. I am in precious few -- I was the only one with a camera. (Some things start at an early age!) We laughed until tears were streaming down our faces, remembering all the details, the minutiae of college life.

We were young and naive then and the world was a very different place. Within a few years, attending a Big 10 university would be an entirely different experience socially. And now, I sometimes barely recognize it. But back then we were on the threshold of a new social order. Vietnam would change how we looked at war, Watergate would influence politics and media coverage, women's liberation would affect us all.

But we still danced to Broadway musicals in our apartment, went to football games on crispy autumn afternoons, studied in the midst of the living room while chaos was going on about us, listened to Carole King and Cher and Richard Harris records, drank cheap wine that would disgust us now, went to the campus movies and played cards. They came to my plays and during a pivotal moment in "Wait Until Dark" screamed to "Close the refrigerator!" We were kids living with people not our families for the first time in our lives. And we were very happy.

And we still are.

 Old friends do
Tend to become old habit
Never knew
How much I missed you till now

We took a break to go see a production of "South Pacific" and returned home, talking till the wee hours, revisiting photos, recalling weddings and those moments that will never occur again because we were young and it all was new. We reluctantly went to bed and resumed the conversation at breakfast and after.

One by one, we headed back home until it was just me and LeAnne. At a visit to the Grand Rapids market, she shared the journey of being a widow and starting over. It's something we've all done in a way -- whether as a career, new relationship, new ways of looking at the world. But no way, I think, could be more poignant nor more challenging. It was the kind of talk  you want to hold close to your heart, to remember and to honor the courage that goes with loving, losing and beginning once more.

We left with the promise we would do this again in the summer when our junior year roommate, Terry, could join us. We left with memories revived, big smiles, and Barb's raspberry jam. And mostly, we left with the thought that this time lapse should never happen again.

Or, to paraphrase that "South Pacific" refrain we heard the night before, "Once you have found them, never let them go."


Mae Travels said...

What a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends!

Marilyn said...

That phrase from South Pacific so well fits here. How wonderful for the four of you to enjoy this time of reunion and reigniting the friendship. I am so happy for you.

Maggie said...

A beautiful post, Jeanie, how lucky you all are to have each other still after all these years.

Jenny Woolf said...

How lovely! And how lucky you are to have kept a group of friends who still all want to meet up together and have fun.

Victoria Zigler said...

What a beautiful and touching post!

I'm glad you were able to get together again after so long, and hope you're able to do so again soon.

Joanne Huffman said...

What a wonderful gathering. How nice to be able to reconnect and enjoy each other's company.

littleRamstudio said...

What a wonderful touching post Jeanie.
And now we know you have always had that fabulous smile!
Heather :)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

How wonderful of you all to be reunited like this :)

Kitty said...

What fun, and what a joy to be able to get together. I have just found (or she found me) my best friend from high school. I hope to be able to get together with her soon but am not holding my breath since she is in California. Your writing, as usual, is wonderful.

Tante Mali said...

That's fantastic!!!!
All my best to you ladies

psychelyn said...

I was reading along and was thinking where the story of the younger past would go. I was pleasantly surprised to see your recent picture together.

You look great, all four of you. Yes, changes with age are evident but you all do look lovely. Age doesn't matter. What matters is how a person takes care of her age :) And I understand why you love your hairdressers. They're doing a great job.

It must have been a lot of fun reminiscing old days. Tears of joy tells it all.

I've noticed your poster on the sidebar. It was like a flashing reminder. Thanks for that.

Barb said...

I loved this post, Jeanie. I've lost track of my college roommates, and now I'm wondering: Where are they? How are they? I liked those 60's photos - we were so young once, weren't we? Glad you shared this reunion with us.

Tracy said...

LOVE that top photo--look at you all, so shiny and happy! LOVE the HAIR! And don't you all still look so BEAUTIFUL... Gosh, I'm crying! This is so sweet... what a treasure is friendship. So happy for you this, reunion. Oh, yes, never let 'em go! ;o) So glad you shared this walk down memory lane and more with us, Jeanie! ((BIG HUGS))

Bella Rum said...

Oh my gosh! Is there anything more fun than reuniting with old friends. What a wonderful visit you had. I bet you will look forward the the next gathering. All the pics were great! Nice post, Jeanie.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Oh Jeanie! I love this post SO much! I love that you have these wonderful women in your life and that you can all pick up where you left off, no matter how many years have passed. I think there is something so special about those friendships that you make in college. It's really interesting for me to read about all of the world events that were going on when you were in college. There was so many landmark changes and events that happened during that formative time of your life.

My mom has college girlfriends that she gets together with on, usually on an annual basis although they have had phases where they didn't see each other as often. I also thought it was so cool that they all kept in touch, no matter how their lives changed.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I just love reading about reunions.
I saw old classmates at my 50th high school reunion last September, and it was a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

So excited to find your blog! Finally someone from my age group to follow!-though some of the younger blogs are good too. Your college photos brought back many memories-hair and clothes and comments. I grew up in northern Michigan near Sault Ste. Marie and loved it and my brother went to Michigan State in early 60s. I have a dream to go back some day to see how its changed. Found you on Facebook on a post by the Rawsons-so sad... I am looking forward to looking at all your earlier posts.

Retired English Teacher said...

Oh, this just warmed my heart and gave me chills all at the same time. Aren't times with your old friends just the best? I'm so glad you had this time.

As you described your college years, though you were a freshman six years after I was, our experiences were so much the same. We even had the "communal bathroom/showers located in the middle of the floor" in my dorm. We were naive and good girls because we too didn't want to disappoint our folks. I too moved to an apartment with my roomies and suite mates at the start of my junior year.

I think we went to college during those golden years. Much changed about the time you hit college, and would forever change in the 70s. Thanks for sharing this tale of coming to age with a bunch of great girls. They became women of character, depth, and good humor.

Vagabonde said...

What a lovely post. I truly enjoyed reading about your reminiscences with your friends. How terrific that you could meet after all those years, at least you are all in the same country as it is harder when friends are scattered around the world. Your photos were sweet.

Esme said...

How fun-you have made lifelong friends and seen each other through life's trials and tribulations. You are fortunate to have created such wonderful memories.


Anonymous said...

You all are just as beautiful now as you were then. What a lovely post. I'm sure they will all read it and love you even more. Isn't it wonderful to bring back the years of our youth, but also be able to establish adult friendships with our old friends? There's just something about having a history with someone...

~*~Patty S said...

Really lovely post and get together.
It takes work and focus to keep friendships going!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

JEANIE! How did I miss this? I think I saw it, but had to run off to work....

First of all, you are so right; never let go of those souls with whom yours flows....I have many friends but few soulmates and when you see them again, it is such a delight.

THANK YOU for coming to Nowhere to celebrate with us! Many thanks for your kind words and yes, 33 years is a long time in numbers but in a lifetime of joy, so short.


Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

It looks like you all had so much fun, just like old times. I'll bet there was never a dull moment. I do hope that you're able to do it again soon.

Jacqueline~Cabin and Cottage said...

What an amazing experience. I think I would find it completely overwhelming. But what an extraordinary beginning you all had. Wonderful to see the photoss!

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Oh Jeanie, what a beautiful post.
Such a wonderful gathering. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
Friendships are so special, and to have it captured in photo memories great.
Thank you so much for your lovely words about my painting, although I think I need to practice more.
It has been awhile since I have use my acrylics..
Have a wonderful week.

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