My father loved Westerns. A man with a photographic memory who could quote poets and philosophers with ease, he also loved the simplicity of a Western.
As he explained to 12-year-old me,
“There’s a good guy and a bad guy. A girl. A horse.
There’s a gunfight. The good guy wins.
He’s already got the horse. He gets the girl.
At the time, I should have realized I was learning a life lesson about men. Men, even smart ones, yearn for simple. Women? Women, I would learn later, not so much.
This “simple” lesson came to mind recently. I was all set to travel to NYC for my usual troika of delight – shows, museums, and non-stop food gluttony. But this trip was unusual in one aspect. I was also scheduled to have two separate reunions with childhood best friends, friends I had not seen in decades and with whom I have had little contact in the intervening years.
My family moved multiple times back and forth across the country, causing me to attend 21 schools. College and careers also increased the distance and lack of connection between my friends and me. Time too took its toll. We simply grew distant. Then, happily, unexpectedly, in middle-age, we began – tentatively – to reconnect on Facebook two years ago.
Preparing for the trip and the two reunions, I was in a quandary. How to launch conversations with women I had grown up with, but also grown apart from? Do we start by catching up on the past? That inherently involves so much talk of death. Parents, grandparents, and, in my case, two brothers deceased. Such sadness.
Start with the present? What work do you do? How is your health? Tell me about your husband. Where did you meet? How old are your children? How are they doing? All important, good questions, but somehow that didn’t get to the heart of reunion and reconnection.
My husband and son advised “keeping it simple.” But, for me, that didn’t ring true. I was seeking – indeed, yearning for – something deeper. I wanted a link to my past. Unlike my friends in my new community of Berkeley, Ca, these two women knew – and loved – my family. They knew my history and didn’t need the backstory to understand the present, my present, my life, and life choices.
You can talk about current affairs with anybody. Politics, weather, the last good book you read. That’s the stuff of today. But the past, that’s special. Pausing to provide preamble and context to a family joke or reminiscence is no fun. It kills the punchline or the mood.
Yes, to celebrate the past you need an old friend. An old friend like Janie H. Janie knew my grandmother. She tasted Grandma’s kreplach and chopped liver, remembers her wooden chopping bowl, and her yellow apron. Janie knew my father. She endured his foul cigar and fled the house with me, giggling and groaning, each time he lit one. She knew my brothers, my aunts, and all my cousins. We shared a childhood, The Secret Garden, The Beatles, Twiggy, and Yardley lipsticks. Why would we ignore it? Why would we “keep it simple,” even if it keeping it “real” and going deep would bring on tears?
The same with Diane B. She too knows my family, my stories, and my secrets just as I know hers. Like me, she misses parents gone for oh, so many years. Who but I and a select handful of other old friends can nod sympathetically and share our own stories about her sweet, funny, fastidious mother and doctor father who took care of us all.
The more I thought about the two upcoming reunions, the more I understood. Both conversations would not be simple. Both would be deep and bittersweet. No carefree chit chat would do.
“Keep it simple,” my family had advised. Bah! A good laugh and cry were on the reunion menu, along with a little lox and a schmear.
Shoot-um-up Westerns where they use fake blood may satisfy the guys, but true guts, glory, and tears are the stuff of womankind worldwide.
But it’s OK. We’re strong. We can take it. As was said in Proverbs 31, commonly referred to as A Woman of Valor, “Strength and honor are her clothing.”
Keep it simple? Never!