We graduated from high school and started college 51 years ago.  We graduated in the 60s and now we’re in our 60s.  When we get together, we begin finding out what’s going on with our kids, our grandkids, ourselves, passing photos, usually on our phones these days.  That’s the pretty standard ice-breaker, although we really don’t need one.  Yesterday was typical as I went to brunch with five women I knew from high school because one of them was in town for the holiday and this  group showed up when an email was sent to the class.

It’s said that men talk about things or ideas and women talk about people.  Pretty true, really, although I think it’s more about the fact that women get right down to the personal and men may never do that.  At our age, women are nicely outspoken, at least the women I know and want to be with.  By now, we’ve all been through things we never envisioned and our views on what’s right and wrong have been shaped by what we’ve lived as much as by what we were taught.

Our conversation yesterday veered into a story of one of our classmates whose life would make a terrific novel.  Briefly, she was in a major car wreck in high school, suffered brain and other physical injuries, was in love with a boy who stayed by her side even when her parents wanted him gone, secretly married him, was sent to a Catholic school far away when her parents found out and annulled the marriage, he kept visiting her, they both married others but always loved each other.  Cutting through to the end, she still loved him and they were about to get back together just a few years ago and he died.  She made it to the funeral on her walker and was greeted warmly by his second wife.  We don’t know if she’s in assisted living now or not.

That story led us to a discussion of our lives in the early sixties.  Of course, there were some more adventurous than we were, but this was a table of what were then considered “nice” girls.  The girl in the story snuck off to be married because you didn’t have sex before you were married.  We talked of another girl in our class, a close friend of mine, who committed suicide at 15 when she found out she was pregnant.  Besides the sadness of the story, there were those who didn’t know she was pregnant until our brunch.  I didn’t find out until over 45 years later.  We discussed the fact that children, even teenagers, weren’t supposed to hear about “adult” things.  I have a feeling that my parents, and the other parents, knew what happened and didn’t tell us.  Everyone agreed.

The sixties were a time of experimentation later on, but, for those of who who were one of the last graduating classes in an age of somewhat innocence, it was a time when you jumped from the shelter of your home into the reality of the world without much in the way of preparedness.  We had strict curfews in college and had to check out in writing to let the adults know where you would be.  One of my friends even had chaperones at the girls’ college she attended.  When I was in school, boys could live off campus from the moment they arrived, but girls couldn’t live off campus until they were 23, unless they were married.  No wonder people married early!  Between the draft exemption for married men and the restrictions on the girls, many chose to jump into marriage and the “freedom” it offered.  I will note that, while some of those marriages ended in divorce, many are still intact, proving that marriage is a tricky business with no guarantees.  Since most women jumped from being supported by their daddies to marriage, many women, even with college degrees, were thrown into the real world only after divorce or death forced them to cope.  No wonder the Women’s Movement was such a huge part of our lives back in the day.

The women I know, respect and love have mellowed and adapted, not because we don’t believe in the lessons we were taught, but because the realities of life have been laid in our laps.  We don’t give up on our kids and our grandkids when they don’t do things the way we did or the way we wanted them to, we face each new adversity and challenge with strengths we didn’t know we had, and we lean on each other to understand.  No matter how close you are to your children, no matter how many older and younger friends and relatives you have, there is nothing like your peers, those who started with you and have traveled the same decades.  We understand things about each other that others don’t quite get because we’ve been there together, have the same context for facing the world.

The other wonderful thing about friends is that you don’t always have to be together in person because you can pick up right where you left off when the conversation is opened.

The best part is discovering how friends have grown and changed through the years and being able to laugh at it all together.  We’re grateful for every memory, every lesson learned, and every day we have left.  Personally, I love the twinkle in the eyes of my friends as we oh so quickly approach our seventies.  Watch out world – we’re still comin’ at you!photo