One joy in reaching midlife is that I know my friends and I are still pals after all these years not because we are bound by PTA or corporate meetings, but because we have all thrown every possible foible onto the table along with plenty of glasses of wine. And while that surface can get a bit crowded on occasion when heaped with the emotional servings of six ever-changing and diverse women, we wouldn't trade seats with anyone.
Beth, Denise, Polly, Lisa, Boots (Beth C.) and I have known each other since the mid-1980s when we were newly conferred college graduates working at a multimedia company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While we all left to pursue other things, we have remained "the board" for nearly 30 years.
We even have a friendship ball. You know the kind where you pass it on to the next person on the list. At the subsequent get together, as if showing up for dinner isn't enough of a refresher, we must remind each other of our bond with a piece of chocolate, a poem about friendship, a coupon for half off a pedicure, or a packet of duck sauce from China Wok.
That's what I got from Boots about two years ago -- a condiment for an egg roll.
"It's all I could find at the last minute, y'all," she huffed as she tossed the ball across the table when we all met for dinner.
Over the next two years I've lobbied to stop this whole torturous display of affection or affliction. We're lucky these days if we remember when we agreed to meet and where.
My plea has fallen on deaf ears each time we get together as everyone enjoys reliving that moment when I thought I might find a delicious gourmet nibble, but instead was told nothing says "I love you girl" like a sticky packet of Chinese jelly retrieved from the back end of a kitchen drawer.
And that's midlife friendships summed up from the inside of an F-ball (as Beth T. so aptly has now named it). A futile pack of sauce works its magic by rendering six women useless with tears from laughing so hard. Our long-standing friendships with one another run on foible fumes.
We rejoice in the fact that we have been there for one another through our whole adult lives. We've lasted longer than four of our marriages.
Almost 30 years later, between the six of us we've birthed 11 children, welcomed four stepchildren and three grandchildren, suffered through six miscarriages, four divorces, two bouts of cancer, one heart attack, and the deaths of eight beloved family members. We've celebrated three weddings the second time around, 20 job changes, the discovery of a birth family, and it still all boils down to duck sauce and the utter joy that story, among so many others, brings to us time and time again.
We got together last week and yes, that F-ball once again came around to me via Boots. I opened it with trepidation. Inside were "diamonds" from Walmart and a pretty bracelet from a fancy boutique.
But I still held that ball defiantly in the air and said it was time to retire it. From the looks on their faces I might as well have said I was surrendering my dog to the shelter.
At that point Boots reached across the table and grabbed it out of my hand as if rescuing my beloved pup from certain death. When she wasn't looking I had Lisa steal it out of her purse. Boots went full body under the table and grabbed my ankle.
Our infirmities were spilling out all over that table as well as our laughter. But there we were steadfastly in our seats - at least five of us were seated. One was on all fours.
We shared our pizza and we heard about yet another joyful milestone - Denise is engaged to a lovely man.
But our F-ball melee continued in the parking lot as Boots chased me around my car while I bogusly howled that I was being accosted. None of us realized we had all parked next to the police station.
I have no doubt if Boots and I had been arrested for misrepresenting a crime, the rest of the board would have tried using that F-ball as bail money. And they'd never let me forget how it ended up saving the day, not to mention our friendship.