Monday, April 28, 2008

Arbor Day Friends

"Friendship is a sheltering tree..."
Another Arbor Day has come and gone, providing a few more memories for a group of old friends. As I explained in my last post, many years ago a group of my fellow teachers were meeting for a Friday afternoon social hour when someone toasted Arbor Day. From those murky beginnings a tradition began. For several years we got together every Arbor Day, using it more as an excuse to hold a party and release the tension that inevitably built up as we neared the end of another school year.

The first few years we would try to top last year's celebration. One friend who truly loved Arbor Day even dressed up as her favorite tree--the redbud--for school that day. (I can only imagine the strange looks she got from her students.) She has since moved away, and unfortunately no one has heard from her in awhile, but I can still hear her laugh and I think of her whenever I see a redbud tree. Another year the art teacher designed special T-shirts commemorating Arbor Day for all of us, which we wore to school. I recently found this picture of us that year, toasting Arbor Day with mint juleps. (I'm the taller blonde with the bad hair near the middle.)

One year we met at the house of another friend who had just moved to a rather upscale new subdivision in town. We pranced around her yard, toasting every newly planted tree and taking silly pictures, only to realize we were providing entertainment for a couple construction workers working on the roof of a nearby house.

Over the years, many of those pictured above moved away or changed careers. Our Arbor Day celebrations became fewer and less elaborate. There are eight or nine of us, though, who have stayed in the area and remained good friends. Several of us are retired, a few are semi-retired, and a few are still teaching full-time. We try to get together several times a year, but this past year we have made more of an effort to meet more regularly. When we decided to revive our Arbor Day tradition this year, I decided we needed a little of the old silliness and made name tags for everyone of their favorite tree. At the end of the evening, the name of a tree was drawn, and the winner went home with a new Weigela shrub. Kind of silly, yes, but they were all good sports and wore those name tags all evening.

Yes, we've become a much "tamer" group than the days of our youth. No more mint juleps; less alcohol is consumed, many of us opting for coffee or Diet Coke instead. But we can still burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter as we remember funny stories from the past. Someone inevitably brings up the infamous pantyhose story, when I discovered, to my horror, I had the foot of an extra pair of panty hose sticking out of my pant leg while standing in front of my classroom. (I'm not going to explain that one, other than to say I was a young mother with two boys and a new baby to get ready every morning. To avoid baby spit-up spills, the last thing I did before leaving for work each morning was to get dressed. Obviously, I didn't always have time to check myself in the mirror.) This story has been repeated so many times that anyone of us can tell it in detail, and we still laugh hysterically whenever anyone tells it.

Then there's the story of the time I asked one of my freshman students out. (No, it was not something perverted--it was just an unfortunate choice of words spoken out of frustration at a misbehaving student!) Or someone brings up another friend's experience, the time she was on her first trip to Europe visiting a famous cathedral. Not knowing what was going on and not speaking the language, she suddenly found herself seated with the family of a young priest who was being ordained at the time. She had to feign being sick in order to excuse herself and leave the cathedral before missing her bus back to her hotel.

All our reminiscing usually brings us to tears of laughter, but we don't need to discuss the "good old days" to evoke a giggle. These days we can laugh at our tendencies towards mid-life memory lapses. Trying to talk about someone, perhaps a student, from the past becomes a guessing game that goes something like this:
"Guess who I ran into the other day? It was....uhmm..I can't remember his name. He had a sister a few years younger with red hair."
"Billy Smithers?"
"No, he had Mohawk haircut and ran track, I think."
"Oh, I know who you mean. Um...his name starts with an R."
"Randy Rogers?"
"Robbie Jones?"
"That doesn't sound right..."
This goes on for several minutes until someone finally remembers it was Roger Something-or-other, and we all laugh again about how our stories all seem to turn into fill-in-the-blank exercises.

One friend, who is the master at making a simple story sound hilarious, tells us about her recent experiences taking a "memory class." It's actually a study being conducted at the university for people over a certain age. She's told us before about the activities they've done and little tricks she's learned to improve her memory. The only problem is that on the day of the "final exam" she forgot to go!
Of course, we don't spend all our time giggling like silly schoolgirls. We share news of our children, pass around the latest pictures of our grandchildren, and discuss the latest political issues. And we try to provide emotional support when needed. Several years ago, one of us, who had been divorced for a number of years, finally found "Mr. Right," only to lose him to a sudden heart attack. We all went to his visitation, and I remember her smiles and tears of gratitude as we each took turns hugging her. Today, we ask about another one's husband who has been battling cancer for several years. I think she finds our get-togethers a respite from the worries and concerns she faces each day.

We were fortunate that the weather cooperated with us somewhat this year. The storms that had been forecast all day passed us by, and although it was very windy, we eventually moved out to my front porch to enjoy the views of budding trees. Obviously, even though we are all nature-lovers, Arbor Day is not so much about nature for us, but about friendship. Before everyone left, we took time for a new picture, windswept hairdos and all.
And so I raise my cup of coffee to trees and good friends: May they last for many more years!


  1. What a wonderful post. So full of joy, friendships and love! Your stories take me back, also, to all the times we have shared over all our years together. The pictures are great and no one has aged a bit!:) Your red bud tree is glorious. Can't wait to see the crab-apple trees.

  2. Rose what a lovely day you all had. It is wonderful to be with old friends and coming together and spending those special moments. The forgetting peoples names is so true as you get older. I spend ages saying to Mr. Practical "You know that man who wears the funny hat, dark glasses. A friend of that woman with the pink dress"
    Thank you for pleasant and enjoyable post.

  3. Beckie, I was going to say "there are old friends, and then there are old, old friends," but somehow that doesn't sound right, does it?
    Yes, you and I and the husbands can repeat many a shared memory ourselves. The night at the Autumn Tree or the eight of us riding to Springfield in your car...Lots of great memories.

    Cheryl, I used to worry about forgetting names, until I read that it was perfectly normal at this time of life and NOT a sign of early Alzheimer's. But I still don't understand sometimes why I can remember a poem I memorized 40 years ago, but can't remember where I put my glasses one minute ago!

  4. What a lovely day - this sounds like such a great time. How wonderful that these friendships have lasted so long!

  5. Rose, this is a lovely told the story so well that I could imagine myself sitting with you all...maybe it's because I have a group like yours and we just set a get together date! I really enjoyed sharing your laughter, Gail

  6. What wonderful, longlasting friendships! That is so very important isn't it?

  7. Rose, beautiful post about friendship. There's just nothing like nurturing old friendships. Over the years we share so much with old friends, both joys and sorrows. It takes effort to keep old friendships going, and the rewards are more than worth it.

    I have a group of 8 women I get together with regularly. We've all known each other over 20 years. We lived in the same neighborhood when our kids were growing up. We've shared so much over the years, and even though only three of us still live in that old neighborhood, we've kept in contact and have continued to get together once a month for all these years. Sometimes we know each other a bit too well, and some of us have managed to get on others' last nerves, bickering like siblings. Good and bad, joy and sorrow, I wouldn't want to be without these wonderful women in my life.

  8. That was lovely to read. It is great that you all still get together. The company of good friends is such a brilliant feeling!
    Oh no it is hailing here I must dash to cover up the rabbits!!

  9. Good friends (and trees) are as good as it gets, Rose!

  10. THat sounds like a fantastic group of friends. You must have some jaws with all the laughing you do.

  11. Thanks to everyone for your nice comments. I read somewhere that that having good friends is important to living a long life, so apparently we're all not just having fun, but also doing something good for our health!

  12. Rose this was a beautiful thoughtful post. Beckie is certainly lucky to have such a friend.


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