Just True-Blue Friends

Friends for 50 years, five women share their secrets to “living in each others’ feelings.”

Excerpted from Homemakers Magazine, Aug/Sept 2006 (original article 2180 words)
© Deborah Carr

The lunch crowd has thinned at the West Main Tim Horton’s in Moncton, N.B.; only a smattering of people remain while staff prepare for the next rush. Some lean close, obvious friends, others exhibit a more formal posture – perhaps they’re business associates? One group stands out, with conversation relaxed and easy as a lingering autumn twilight. They are the mothers from my childhood – the matriarchs of a neighbourhood that still feels like home because they remain as reminders.

Ranging in age from 73 to 84, Evie Wadman, Helen MacArthur, Betty Lockhart, Margie Kay and Mildred Steeves are the very best of friends and morning coffee is a ritual shared for close to half a century. For years, they gathered in kitchens and on patios, but since Tim’s opened down the street seven years ago, three or four times a week the phone rings and a familiar voice sings out, “Leaving the ‘bus stop’ at 10:15.”  That’s the signal to convene at Margie and Mildred’s combined driveway for the short drive to the coffee shop. “We used to walk,” says Helen, “but since Evie had a hip replacement and Margie had knee surgery, we drive.” They order coffee or hot chocolate and sometimes share a single muffin, cut five ways.

In the fledgling neighbourhood of my youth, before trees grew and fences merged, mothers called out to one another from their clotheslines. We kids played tag and hide’n-go-seek while the women shared coffee breaks and recipes. “Evie moved here first . . . , “ remembers Helen. “. . . in March 1959,” picks up Evie. “Then while she was waiting for her house to be built, Betty would come over and have tea in my kitchen. Then Margie came in October and Helen moved in December that same year…”  Mildred was the last to arrive in 1962.

Somehow their friendship took on a life of its own, intertwining in the growth of the family life each nurtured. Through the years, the endless conversations about home and family drew them ever closer and, with the respectfulness of their generation, they matured around each other, like trees closely planted might wrap together, one supporting the other.

As a child, I wasn’t aware of the undercurrents of love at work here, but as I grew older, I often admired the perpetual closeness of these women. There was comfort in seeing the constancy of their friendship. They still celebrate birthdays with a single card, signed by all. They aren’t about giving gifts; their friendship is gift enough. Christmas deserves a special dinner out, then it’s back to someone’s house for dessert. They thrive on fun. When Helen bought a new car, the salesman asked what she was looking for.

“Something to hold all five of us,” she said.

Although rifling through the emotions and mechanics of relationships is an unfamiliar chore for their generation, the five friends agreed that morning to discuss the inner workings of their friendship with me and two younger women. Nina Vanderpluijm, a public health inspector, and Tammy Betts, a physiotherapist, are 30something career women who met casually three years ago, then grew closer while training for a marathon. Now, though, Nina and Tammy see each other less and fear their friendship will fade.

What, we three “outsiders” wanted to know, are the secrets to the longevity of the older women’s friendship? How do they ignore or resolve individual differences or clashes?  How did they support each other throughout the twists and turns of their individual lives?

What we learned were profound lessons in intuitive boundaries, the power of respect and patience, and the nature of truly selfless support, companionship and love. A wise friend of mine said once that when trust is achieved between women, they can speak of things to each other that might otherwise never find voice. I discovered from these five that the flip side is also true: between women who have achieved mutual trust, many truths pass unspoken.

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