by Paula Hudson-Lunn
The Alma Street Girls – Vancouver 1974
As a teenager I would roll my eyes and scoff at my mother whenever she headed off for a weekend with the girls. My mother was 45 when I was born. By the time I was cognizant of her having a life outside of me, she was already 60 — an old woman to my way of thinking. She had some nerve to call her friends “the girls.” The girls got together a couple of times a year for more than 30 years. In the winter they’d all stay at one woman’s house, go out for dinner, to the theatre and the art gallery. They’d paint someone’s bedroom or rearrange a living room. They’d go for Sunday drives, caravans of them sometimes, cruising down the secondary highways and stopping at interesting antique stores and museums along the way. In the summer, they’d invade each other’s cottages. My mother would come home elated from her adventures with photos of them sitting in their bathing suits at Donelda’s cottage, sipping gin and tonics from folding chairs parked in the lake. Black-and-white mementos of picnic tables laden with food and wobbly women stepping down from docks into wooden rowboats. How ridiculous, I thought — there weren’t even any “boys” around. What was the point?
Forty years later I’m getting on a bus to go for a weekend with my version of the girls. A Greyhound bus, the classic mode of transportation for wandering youth and visiting grannies. I like to think I’m more the wandering kind, but my greying hair and bag of crochet projects suggest a different story. I had been looking forward to this trip for months. Unlike my mother and her girls, me and mine don’t live close to each other any more. As our kids left Calgary, where we all met, some of us did too. Heather was the first to go, moving nine hours away to the Okanagan. A few years later I blazed my own trail out of town, ending up back in southern British Columbia where I had lived as a hippie “child of the universe” back in the 1970s (or, as my kids like to say, “in the last century”).
Some of the girls stayed in the city but moved to the far reaches of the suburbs, and found traffic snarls and public transit too daunting to keep up regular visits with each other. As our lives diverged we made pacts to stay in touch, to get together and to keep strong the friendships we had come to depend upon. So every so often we finalize arrangements for cats to be fed and dogs to be walked. We pack our bags with vitamins and medications, slippers and flannel pyjamas and photos of our kids and grandchildren. We bring our reading glasses and our books and load ourselves and our stories into cars and buses and planes. Like human homing pigeons, we girls make our way to each other once again.
Like my mother, Ethel, and Donelda and the other women from my childhood must have done, we talk and laugh and cry long into the night. We get silly, we get sad and we record it all with digital photos that we upload on the Internet before the weekend is over. We get together to celebrate, to mourn, to help load moving trucks, to catch up on time that has passed. We make communal meals from favourite recipes and one of us inevitably has to take a picture of the table. We share our troubles and our insights, and although we don’t solve the problems of the world, let alone the ones in our own small corners of it, we passionately debate topics from parenting to politics to the state of health care and what we can do about the environment.
We hold the ones among us whose lives have splintered, women exhausted from caring for ailing parents with Alzheimer’s, those coping with the loss of their spouses or the endless angst of adult children in trouble with drugs. We help each other come to terms with our aging selves, noting how beautiful Donna’s hair still looks and how Angelica’s eyes still light up a room. We celebrate each other’s joys — love found late in life, children graduating from university, successful cancer treatments. We help plant or harvest a garden, stain a deck, put up storm windows. We hash it all through and when the time comes to leave, we hug each other and promise to come together again soon — sooner than later, we remind each other as we silently think of the girls who have died since we saw each other last.
We reverse course back to the lives we left behind — the jobs, the family dramas, the empty houses, the specialist appointments. We have lived intimately with each other for a couple of days and it has made a world of difference. We return home relaxed and refreshed and capable again, having basked in the support and understanding and empowerment of being with the girls. No wonder my mother was happy when she came home. I get the point.
Paula Hudson-Lunn lives in Nelson, B.C.