My Aunt Margaret had a posse. Those women, all born within the first decade or so of the last century, wouldn’t have thought of themselves that way. They were friends, or maybe bosom buddies, or just “the gals.” I saw them as reliable sources of card-game rules, egg salad sandwiches, arithmetic tutoring, and models of how to be a grown woman.
Five of these six women were born in El Reno, Oklahoma. Billie moved to El Reno from Virginia as a young bride. Two of them, Margaret (not my aunt) and Martha, never lived anywhere else. Those who hadn’t stayed, “came home” at some point in their lives because of divorce, broken health, economic necessity, caring for an elderly parent, or retirement. By the time I was a teenager, they were part of the fabric of my summertime life.
When I was old enough, say 13 or so, I would join their card games. Canasta, Spite & Malice, and some weird kind of poker are the ones I remember best. There were glasses of iced tea and glasses of bourbon on the card tables. Little bowls of salted nuts and those semi-soft white mints that melt in your mouth. I don’t know what the conversation was like when I wasn’t around, but I suspect it was neither profane nor sanctimonious.
These were well balanced women, who had seen a fair amount of life (except maybe Martha, who always seemed to be slightly somewhere else, somewhere sweeter) and understood that expectations and resentments were first cousins. They had all worked for their livings for decades. They were teachers, a social worker, a nurse, a businesswoman.
I remember their laughter and that they always dressed up (at least more than my friends and I do) and smelled good. I’m sure they had sorrow and disappointment with husbands, children, jobs, but it wouldn’t have occurred to them to share those stories around me.
I don’t know what bound them together; if longevity of friendship was the secret, or if it took a tightly knit culture and more shared than singular experiences. Just being friends wouldn’t have been enough, though. I have a social set, some dinner companions, a few fellow card players, and a handful of good friends, but I don’t have — have never had — the closeness these women shared.
So here’s to Margaret, Margaret, Martha, Lois, Billie, and Virginia and their 80-year-long posse.
It’s this kind of story that makes me wish you’d write a book.