This post is a tribute to friendship and a testimony to how women’s lives have improved in my lifetime. This year, 2016, I turned 70 and so did many of my friends, including my college room-mate Maxene. She was given a surprise party by her husband who asked all of the guests to write a letter, poem, or story to be bound in book as a gift for her…an appropriate gift because Max is very close to publishing her own book, a memoir. Of course, I went to her party. Flew to Atlanta on Labor Day. This has been a hard year for my friend; she has struggled through many months of health issues, which alone was a big reason to be there for her. But, more importantly, Max and I have a lasting bond, a connection that I share with no one else.
Our college ran on the quarter system. Max and I started college in the third quarter, March 1965, because we both had taken time out to do something life-changing. We had each given birth to a baby that we did not keep, daughters that we gave up to be adopted and raised by other people. Unwed mothers, illegitimate children…those were the kinder terms for our situation and, as was common for middle-class white girls, it was kept secret. We went away to hide our disgrace and returned to start school with flat tummies and deeply buried scars. We quickly discovered our common situation; it bound us together in grief and loss.
We only roomed together for one year — I left to get married, she stayed on and graduated — but we never lost touch. We kept our relationship going with letters, written long-hand and sent across the miles (the old-fashioned way), as she moved to Germany, then Canada, and eventually back to the US where we were able to visit more often. I wrote to her on different kinds of paper, whatever was on hand, a way to entertain as well as inform. I wrote on napkins, toilet paper, and one time on a Playboy centerfold, covering the naked woman with my words. This one in particular amused her and she often reminded me about it.
For her 70th birthday, I wrote Max a letter on a different kind of centerfold, one from the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Olympics Issue. I wrote it (the modern way) in a word-processing program and printed it across an image of beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings.
It was a wonderful party and here is my letter:
Here we are celebrating not only 70 years of survival but also 50+ years of our enduring friendship. What a trip it’s been!! It began with two scared teenagers checking into their dorm room, parents in tow — fathers lugging our stuff, mothers unpacking and fussing — all of us with sad secrets and heavy hearts. But, survive we did, through all this:
- Surrendering a child
- Marriage, divorce, remarriage
- Abusive relationships
- Single motherhood
- Economic hardship
- The sexual revolution
- The women’s movement
- Struggling to build professional careers
- Finding our lost children
- Transitioning to the digital world
- Retiring from corporate life and embracing the next phase
We made it! Today women have better control of their reproductive function. Today single moms can keep their children without becoming social outcasts. Today women can choose careers beyond teacher, nurse, secretary, or waitress; they can lead a Fortune 500 corporation or run for president. Today, if women can’t have it all, they can have a bigger part of it than we ever imagined.
And today, when there is a centerfold of a scantily clad woman, it is about rocking the Olympics, not about male fantasy. It still makes good stationery!
The universe brought us together. May our parallel lives continue into old age…and beyond.
Happy birthday, roomie!