The earlier essays in our series on summer reunions focused on family get-togethers. This affectionate reminiscence, which our author wrote in June, is a paean to a spicier sort of gathering—the “we-union” of old friends.
For those of us who once proudly identified as renegades, no reunion beguiles like a get-together with old friends. How pleasurable the anticipation of shared like-mindedness . . . the knowledge that, among other things, your wardrobe or bank balance won’t matter. These are just some of the reasons why a group of my college friends have gotten together again and again in various seasons from 1970 to the present. We identified as rebels when we met, and we revel in revving up that old identity when we reconnect. There are guys who’ve shown up to make guest appearances over the years, but by now we’ve boiled our we-unions down to the women. It turns out that we’re more flexible about where we’ll go, when we’ll be there, and what we need around us—we’ve still got that Whole Earth Catalog gene.
Oh, it’s gotten tamer over the years, to be sure, but even recently, when each of us can only be called respectable, we’ve found humor in something like running a houseboat aground (2007) or having to track down a traveling handyman when the water pumping system at our lake house was in stand-by mode (2008). (We’d bucket-brigaded gallons of water up the steep 100 yards from the lake by time he could be reached.)
Of course, these adventures have nothing on the Fourth of July (1975) when there were just too many of us for the house, so some camped in the backyard in a downpour—with our dogs in the tents, of course. Or the time in the eighties when six of the “girls” found a bar in Florida with a great jukebox and trays of iced Apalachicola oysters served with pitchers of equally icy beer. We could have done without the trucker-hat guys at the bar stage-shouting comments about our bivalve-enhanced libidos. Still, we went back every afternoon of our stay. The music was just too good, and the safety in numbers rendered even the seedy aspects of the place delicious. By the time we left, we were calling the bar our clubhouse.
There’s been drama (divorces, primarily, in preview and aftermath—one precipitated on-site by a game of charades), and sadness (cancer, the loss of parents and professors, financial reversals) and inevitable disagreement (Why is she always the first one in the shower? If he asks to “borrow” my sunblock and returns it empty one more time . . . Tell me again why you need to have a green vegetable with every meal?).
There have been shocks: The time one of the early-marrieds came solo because she had fallen in love with a woman. And the time a few years after when she announced her upcoming marriage—to a great guy. There was the day we found out the friend who always pushed the envelope was pushing cocaine, and the time when we learned the truth about someone’s age (five years older than we’d believed—for 40 years).
More than anything else, there has been that palpable, almost-guilty feeling that there is nowhere you’d rather be than this particular here at this particular now. This was and remains true—even the year we were at the truly tacky place in the Georgia mountains that offered chicken as the only protein at every single meal. We never complained. We were just a few miles from where they’d filmed Deliverance and didn’t think it was a good idea to express displeasure.
Lots of us got drunk. Some of us have gotten sober. Some are in the best part of their careers. Others have retired. One has gotten three different degrees and worked in four different fields and has hit a home run every single time. She was the one we thought needed us the most, and it turns out that she’s the one who has taken the best care of herself. All of us have grown up. Most of us garden.
We till the soil of these friendships with every reunion—whether by bringing books we think everyone should read, or making earrings everyone would love, or bringing the ingredients for blueberry cobbler and preparing it on a houseboat stovetop that had seen better days. (It was delicious.)
Many of us bathed in the lake on that houseboat trip. Each night we’d strap on life vests, put our shampoo on the back step of the boat, and swim around, talking and lathering and rinsing as the sun went down, turning the air from steamy to chilly and the light from pastel to steel.
I can see us climbing back into the boat and drying with the pathetic “provided” towels. The grill at the front of the vessel was putting out that relaxing-night-ahead aroma and we were laughing about where we found ourselves—pretty much lost in the middle of Kentucky.
Found and lost. In the company of old friends, the latter can be the source of the former. Each get-together with this family of my choosing has been a case of losing my protective casing or my reluctance to show weakness or despair in favor of finding again and again the comfort of compatibility that is really much more like soul-matching. It soothes when we are apart and cures when we are together. It’s what true reunion should be—meeting yourself in the company of others you trust and love.