Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

16 August 2014

Summer of Feminista: Four Friends

Today Summer of Feminista is proud to welcome back, Linda Garcia Merchant. Linda Garcia Merchant, an award-winning filmmaker and Independent scholar, is technical director of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Project, a community partner for the Somos Latinas Oral History Project and the Chicana Chicago/MABPW Collection Project, a member of the LGBT Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women and a board member of the Chicago Area Women's History Council. Watch the trailer for Linda's latest production 'Yo Soy Eva' , being released this fall.

Every year for the past thirty years I get together for a weekend with three women I have been friends with since college. We make it a point each year to get together at one of our homes, catch up and hang out. I first wrote about this weekend fifteen years ago for my own blog site, twotightshoes. At that point it had been fifteen years of getting together; our children were small or teens and not all of us were divorced or orphaned.

At fifteen years there was enough measure of time, change and difference that had occurred that made writing about this important. Important not just to me, but to newer friends I would tell about our weekends.

I never thought it was a big deal to have this weekend, but when I would tell people we did this, they found it fascinating that we had kept doing it. Our careers and relationships had managed to move us to different parts of the state or the country. Our lives should have drifted apart but we managed to stay in touch, to stay together, to show up every year. Why is that?

It is because we love each other like sisters. It is because we have always accepted one other at face value. We have never been judgmental about our shared experiences, personal events or choices. We trust each other; love and respect our friendships. It is hard to find a single person this genuinely motivated to care and give so it is incredible to have found three other women that think this way.
Like sisters, we call each other for the holidays, on (or around) birthdays or in preparation for our annual get together. We don’t spend time as a group, except for that one specific weekend each year. When we do get together, it is as though we haven’t missed a step in each other’s lives.

We didn’t start out agreeing to do this. In fact, every year it is me grousing about my awful schedule and how problematic this next year would be. The more I would complain the less I was heard. Every year at some point in our conference call, my grumblings would become ‘brown noise’, I would give in and get with the plan.

At first, it was at the insistence of one woman, Michele that we make it a point to check in with her in Peoria at least once a year. We all live in different cities; I’m in Chicago, Glenda is in Davenport, Michele is in Peoria and then there’s Trish who we all believe lives on the path of one of the four winds.

Trish has always lived her life on the wind. Even in college Trish followed her own path, separate and apart from the teenage fold. My favorite Trish memory from college was the first time I walked into her dorm room, decorated in what I can only describe as a Stepfordian White French Provincial motif. Missing were the bunkbeds, bolsters and Prince posters. In their place, Trish had knick knacks, fresh flowers and a white wrought iron table and chairs for two with matching tapered candles. I imagined her studying at that table, sipping tea. Trish was and is from another time and I believe, just enjoys our company when she lands in our weekend space. Trish doesn’t always make the weekends, but when she is there, the circle is complete.

Our relationship over the last thirty years has changed as our lives changed. Where once we would get together for weddings and showers, now we gather for the funerals of parents and contemporaries.

In the late seventies early eighties (when we were all young, childless and single) the conversations were exclusively about sex, shoes, boys, shopping for shoes, romance, dating, more sex, bad boys and bad dates. At some point on a Saturday night, we were headed to the nightclubs be it small town or big city. One of us was always lagging (usually Glenda), not wanting to go—the other three of us dragging her along.

The late eighties and early nineties saw our conversations switching to health plans, mortgage interest rates, bad boys, shopping for shoes and furniture, cooking at home, and renting movies with Denzel Washington in them. We seldom went to bars, preferring the cost ratio (to degrees of sobriety) of the home-based mixed drink. At one point we were all married so our spouses were included in some of our weekends.

The end of the nineties and the turn of the century came and went and our conversations turned to health plans, flossing, osteoporosis, boys pretending to be men, challenging partnerships that involved children and ailing parents. Our social forays included at least one conversation reintroducing Glenda and I to the world of popular black culture that always ended with a trip to the local record store. Friday nights were spent doing home mani/pedis and elaborate dinner preparations, then switching between the food network and HGTV. Three of us were divorced so Saturday nights, we still went out.

In 2014, we did something a little different and shared our weekend with one of our children, Michelle’s daughter, Taryn Dior, an adult now, working and living on her own in St. Louis. These days there are quiet moments more than anything. All four of us have been married and divorced. We all have children, one a grandchild, one a mother of three, one with a masters degree, one a teenager and two in college.

We still catch up with each other’s lives, the lives of our children and share photos and stories of their lives. Each year one of us in the middle of some great trauma, usually elder or child care issues. All of us have cared for elder parents, nursing them through a variety of debilitating and ultimately, terminal illnesses. Whatever the situation, we are always there to listen and love and frequently hug the one of us struggling to answer the impossible questions that come with death.

Over the years, we will sit around the kitchen table, the patio table or the fancy restaurant table, catching up on the journals of each other’s lives. We learn things about our own childhoods, our siblings, our mothers and fathers. We give each other advice about houses, spouses, parents and God. God is always there in the middle of us—filling our mouths with the right words and sentiments that each of us needs to hear at the moment that we need to hear it.

To keep up with the people that ‘knew you when’ helps you to know the ‘you’ that you have become. It is sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees and being friends with three vigilant forest rangers. I like getting together with these women because being around them reminds me of what I have become, where I have been, and where I am going. As four friends, we are the most honest and vocal guides to each other’s lives steering each other back to our own truths.

If in a year I have altered my course, compromised my direction or lost site entirely of some personal focus, I will know this. I will know five minutes after I've walked in the door of wherever we are meeting. I will know when one of them hugs me and I don’t hug them back as hard as I should. I will know this because I will look long and hard into a pair of eyes that has seen me at my personal best and worst and that I will not be able to deceive. Friends that will check that ‘faux’ hug with some snappy retort squishing that pretentious moment, then hugging me harder until I hug back just as hard. There are no secrets from old friends; no hidden agendas or realities those old friends miss.

So there is the beauty of having three close friends for over thirty years who make it a point to glue themselves together, once a year, for at least 48 fun and loving hours. I am hoping that by reading this, you will pick up the phone and reconnect with those that you knew and loved 5, 25 or 50 years ago. Those who care about, and know, the real you. The ‘you’ that existed before the world compromised you. The friends that knew you when you still cared about tolerance and understanding.

If you’ve never gathered with your oldest friends, do it. Make it a point to connect with those people that know you best. This year in St. Louis we kept it simple. We caught the James Brown movie, looked at apartments for Taryn, visited the Arch, put up with my ranting about the ‘Westward Ho’ exhibit at the Gateway Arch, enjoyed a decent meal and some R&B at the Rustic Goat then spent half the night talking, catching up and watching the Game Show Network. Every minute of this last weekend has filled my soul and will hold me together for the next 363 days until we meet again.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.


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