I’ve just said good-bye to my three closest college friends: Mary, Tina, and Gloria. We gathered in Gloria’s home, State College, Pennsylvania, just to renew our friendship for three days.

L-R Shirley, Mary, Tina, Gloria

L-R Shirley, Mary, Tina, Gloria

This photo was taken next to a pergola covered with trumpet vine. The story of how the vine grew over time, told by Gloria the gardener, struck me as the perfect analogy for our friendship.

We began as twigs.

In 1966, when we first met, we were malleable sprouts, newly separated from our parents, but eager to find new growth on our own.

Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.

Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.

Our twigs formed themselves around the combination of intellectual and spiritual pillars at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Just like these slender stalks, we needed each other and we needed the occasional help from a binding material like the string on the photo above.

Following Mary McCarthy, we somewhat ironically called ourselves “The Group.”

We were a tame Mennonite version of those eight Vassar graduates from the scandalous book we read about but didn’t read. We spent hours telling each other stories and helping to analyze and understand the world around us, the chaotic 1960’s world of rebellion and protest, experienced within a religious tradition that was itself counter-cultural.

The Eastern Mennonite soil fed us, and our environment shaped us, as did the partners we found, and the careers we chose. Eventually, we scattered. Then there were children. All the while, our roots and branches grew.

Now we are grandmothers.

Our vines are full. They put out new roots and branches, offering abundant shade.

The mature trumpet vine. Entwined and sturdy.

The mature trumpet vine. Entwined and sturdy.

The ties that bind us to each other are fused by time, faith, laughter, tears, similarities, and differences.

When we greet each other, we jump for joy. When we part, we sometimes wipe away tears. This time we actually sang the hymn, next to the pergola, arms entwined.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Without the posts that held us when we were young, we might never have stayed in touch. Without the deliberate entwining and binding, we might have grown tall separately.

Do you have lifelong friends? Is there a “Group” in your life, whether scandalous or tame? How did you/do you stay in touch? What binds you to your friends? What obstacles have you overcome? What cycles has your friendship experienced?

Shirley Showalter

26 Comments

  1. Audrey on June 25, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    oh FUN! You all have read The Group ala McCarthy since then, right? Love it!!

    • Audrey on June 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      I should clarify my previous comment: I love your reference to The Group in comparison to your group. From there, one can only guess….!

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Ha! We love it too. But none of us remembers reading the book. I have it on my list to read now. The plot revolves around eight Vassar grads from 1933. I hope someone who reads this post will fill us in on her or his reaction to the book when it was published in 1963.

      • Audrey on June 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm

        Shirley, I was still a relative innocent when I read it and remember being SHOCKED. But that didn’t stop me from reading it! 😉

  2. Laurie Buchanan on June 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Shirley – A lovely and fitting analogy, to be sure! And the supporting photographs are perfect. I enjoyed reading about the ties that bind your friendship: time, faith, laughter, tears, similarities, and differences.

    You asked about any “groups” in your reader’s lives:

    Scandalous or tame?
    The four of us — Kathy, Karen, Jeanne, and myself — are a tame lot.

    Staying in touch?
    Skype, phone, email, snail mail, phone, Facebook

    What binds you to your friends?
    Here’s a tiny snippet from the friendship section of my manuscript that helps to explain:

    “I’m nurtured by a small circle of friends who refer to ourselves as “GNO”—Girls Night Out. I think a more accurate name would be Bella Brigata meaning “delightful gang.” Funny thing is, we never go out. We gather in each other’s kitchens for food, fun, and conversation. We pollinate each other’s minds with original thoughts and creative ideas. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. We agree, and sometimes we disagree. We come together in a simple manner—being our true selves—our authentic selves. The difference in our ages spans decades. We come from diverse backgrounds, have a wide variety of interests, and represent a spectrum of different spiritual traditions. We are women who celebrate, love, and support each other.”

    What obstacles have you overcome?
    One of us (Karen) recently relocated to Indiana. Another one (me), recently relocated to Idaho.

    What cycles has your friendship experienced?
    The birth of children, the death of parents, remarkable “success,” unthinkable loss — the things we call life.

    Thank you for highlighting friendship. I consider my friends among the greatest gifts in my life.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Laurie, having read your wonderful Tuesdays with Laurie posts for many months, I am not at all surprised to learn that you have deep and abiding friendships with women friends. And I love the image of pollinating each other’s minds. Yes!

      My group was formed at a time and place that make us look homogeneous, and in some ways we are. We each love diversity, however, and search for it in other other friendship groups.

      But above all, the most important ingredient in true friendship is trust in the authenticity of self and other. Serenity flows between and among us when we are transparent.

      May you continue to find in your friends the great gifts and joys of your life. I’m so glad I found you as an online friend and hope we can connect in person soon.

  3. Tracy Lee Karner on June 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I love this: “The ties that bind us to each other are fused by time, faith, laughter, tears, similarities, and differences.” Did you write that? It should be a quote on a meme!

    I never had a “group” that stayed together for 4 years (I moved and changed colleges too often in my life–one advisor told me the name for people like me is “swillers” –whew, that was difficult to type, auto-correct insisted that I must have wanted to saw ‘swillers’!) I don’t have a life-long “group,” but I do have life-long friends. We stay in touch via mail, email, phone calls, and visits. I find that I’m often the person who reaches out first. Friends are very important to me.

    Blest be the tie is one of my favorite hymns. Having learned it in elementary school likely shaped my value of friendship–it’s spiritually important.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      You made me chuckle, Tracy. Feel free to make a meme of those words of mine. And keep on swillin’!

      You were a wonderful friend to me this week. You surprised me with a whole blog post about this blog and about my memoir BLUSH. I haven’t had the chance, yet, to get to know all of the wonderful people following you, but the few I’ve been able to read about seem like kindred spirits.

      Thank you so much. A true friend shares friends!

  4. Elfrieda Schroeder on June 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Hardy and I are part of a group we sometimes called “the Africa connection.” We found this group already existing in Kitchener/Waterloo when we moved there after being in Africa for almost 20 years. We had all experienced culture shock when we went to Africa and reverse culture shock when we returned. This group took us in with open arms when we arrived, even though we only knew one couple in the group. We were all approaching mid-life, trying to fit back into the North American way of life with our half grown children in tow. We celebrated our children’s graduations and weddings and the birth of our grandchildren. Three of the men in the group have passed away, and we wept together. We have now moved away to Manitoba to be closer to our families here, but return once a year and always get together at that time. We are blessed to have these friends in our lives!

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      “The African Connection” seems to be made of strong stuff, Elfrieda. You must identify with that sturdy trumpet vine.

      The people who experience second and third cultures together have so many entwined connections. I saw that same phenomenon as I got to know college students who grew up abroad and were now trying to make sense of who they were as Americans. Only another person who has walked in your moccasins can truly understand. I’m glad you have these friends. I’m sure your gift for empathy and honesty makes a huge difference to them also.

  5. Marian Beaman on June 26, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I love your title and all the connections you illustrate both from the human and the natural world.

    As you know, I’m strengthening connections up in PA just now: seeing some friends from Bossler’s Mennonite I haven’t seen in decades, re-connecting with cousins around the dinner table, accepting hospitality from my family. Even finding more artifacts.

    My post yesterday speaks of a unique connection with a high school classmate you died quite young. Connections can cross the line from the mortal to the eternal you know.

    I could write another post answering all the other questions you pose. : ) Timely topic, choice photos, and of course the apt metaphors. I especially loved the grandmother section with its images of vines, roots, branches. Thank you! “Blest be the Tie that Binds” meets “Trust and Obey” – ha!

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Ha, indeed! Marian, you and I go “Deep and Wide” together.

      I’ve been traveling and have finally arrived home — in order to prepare for the BIG trip of the summer. I’m off to read the latest chapter in your life story.

  6. Jane Pinel on June 26, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Friends, and groups of friends, have enriched my life always. However, almost all of my original friends have died, most recently my very best friend of 70 years. Now my groups of friends are the age of my children, in their 60’s.

    My mother, who lived to 98, made new friends throughout her life. They kept her young.

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Jane, what a wonderful tradition of longevity you have.

      The decision not to let go of friendship itself even though you must let go of so many friends seems so wise. You also had the benefit of a great role model in your mother Dolly. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with many more of us in our sixties now.

      Lesson: If we have made friends with people of all ages before our old age, we should be able to continue to do so. A good word!

  7. Kathleen Pooler on June 26, 2014 at 11:49 am

    This really resonated with me, Shirley! It is such a lovely tribute to the power of girlfriends in our lives. In fact, I just completed a post for Monday on this very topic. I discovered in writing my memoir just how much my girlfriends helped me find my inner strength. This is not the first time this has happened between you and me…I think we have ESP in the best of ways. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Let’s hear it for girlfriends — and ESP!

      I look forward to reading your post on Monday and hope to do so right before my final event in Harrisonburg and our big trip starting early Tuesday morning.

      Guess who I’ll be seeing on the West Coast and all across the US? More girlfriends (and some male friends also). 🙂

  8. Susan Neufeldt on June 28, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Shirley–
    I have been fortunate since I and some of my closest friends from my youth and adolescence remain friends. We keep in touch with some regularity. In response to your question about groups, three of my friends from high school and I (class of 1959), along with spouses and partners, have been getting together in Bend, OR, for the last 5 years. One person has a vacation home there that accommodates all of us. My husband has come to love this group as well, and we always have great time talking not only about personal things but also about news and intellectual things–the benefits of having 4 friends who independently read the New York Times, the NY Review of Books, and the New Yorker. We have even instituted in the last 2 years an opportunity to do a kind of Renaissance Weekend series of a few talks. I spoke on wisdom, someone else on computers (in a depth that left me a bit lost), someone else on medicine, last year. This year Max is speaking on his observations about art, and I don’t know who else is presenting. That happens on one afternoon and evening of the 3 or 4 days we are together. I value these friends and am delighted to discover how much we still have in common!

    • shirleyhs on June 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Sounds like a lovely group united not only by memories and place but by curiosity and the desire to learn.

      What you have is precious and unusual. I celebrate it with you!

  9. Jenn on June 30, 2014 at 8:20 am

    I have 3 friends that I met in High School, and we all live in different states now. We are rather tame now, but were known to have a good time when we were all together.
    We stay in touch now on Facebook, email, and texting…each time we talk it is like no time as passed. I am trying to find more creative ways to keep in touch with them, and wish there was a way we could all be together for just a day or two.
    I love your descriptions of how your friendship started and continued to grow, I think the best of friends just need a little nurturing and it will continue to blossom for as long as you all want it to.

    I found your blog from a reccomendation by Tracey Lee Karner. I look forward to your Magical Memoir Moments.

    • shirleyhs on June 30, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Jenn, I’m glad you stay in touch too. And that “We are rather tame now, but were known to have a good time when we were all together.” Ha. Good times and tame times are in the eye of the beholder. 🙂

      One thing I failed to mention above is that there were years when our only contact was Christmas cards and letters (while we were raising kids). We started to get together regularly in our fifties and now make the practice regular. We choose a place we all want to visit like Cape May, Philadelphia, Ocean City, or go to one of our towns. Last year we did a driving tour of Lancaster County, PA, the place all of us come from (but we never knew each other until college).

      So glad and grateful that Tracy helped us find each other. Hope you find inspiration in the MMM’s!

  10. Audrey on June 30, 2014 at 8:54 am

    One of my best “Wimmen” friends here was a classmate from first grade through twelfth in PA. She and I are part of a group of six (originally seven) who graduated together; we keep in touch via email. In fact, all but one were at my wedding reception in 2012! Another classmate was there, but he cannot be part of our circle by virtue of being a “he”. Sorry, Sam! But we all count him as a friend – and always will. Another, part of the original group, died of pancreatic cancer later that year. Our photographer caught Eileen on camera as she stood and had some words of humour and advice for us. She was a woman who exuded courage, grit, and an astounding lack of self-pity all during her illness and final days. She was also a woman who participated in putting a dead mouse into my desk drawer when we were roommates at EMC! I remember her with pain that she’s gone, but with a grin at all the fun and crazy things we did together!

    Another set of friends – three women – learned to know each other when we were all part of an email list called MennoLink. Living in three different States, we had never met in person up to that time. We have been close friends ever since and try to get together at least every other year. This is one of the years we are planning to do so.

    Sorry this is so long!

    Audrey

  11. shirleyhs on June 30, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Never apologize for sharing your stories, Audrey! I enjoy reading all of them, and I’m sure my other readers do also.

    Your mischievous streak is clearly one of the qualities that attracts many friends and keeps them bonded to you and to each other. Laughter is a great glue and even defeats time.

    Have a wonderful time with your MennoLink friends, and I am glad this post caused you to give thanks one more time for the friend who is gone. To be friends forever is to carry them in our hearts wherever they are.

  12. Elaine Mansfield on June 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Ah, the joy of old friends. I am close with a group of women I met in the early 1970s. I was out of college but involved with a meditation and philosophy study center. We went to meditation and classes together and shared babysitting duties with each other, our husbands, and a few trusted high school girls I still know.

    Many of these friends drove or flew to North Carolina for my son’s wedding last summer. Four of us spent three days together, cooking, setting up banquet tables, and laughing.

    I love seeing your loving friends and the intertwining branches of the trumpet vine. Thank you for sharing the love.

    • shirleyhs on June 30, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      What a delight that your friends would help your son celebrate his wedding over several days. That’s an inter-generational benefit that often goes unnoticed.

      First, our children observe the joy that friendships bring us and want to find their own lifelong friends.

      Second, our children and our friends are friends also! Why hoard the love?

      Thanks for stopping by again, Elaine.

  13. Sherrey Meyer on June 30, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Shirley, I loved this post about girlfriends. I’m fortunate that someone in my high school graduating class took on the task of creating a Facebook page for our class of ’64. Living 2200 miles away, I have been able to reconnect with many of my friends from those days. My closest friend is a friend made through work in the 1990s and after she moved home (and outside OR), we have managed to stay in touch via email almost every day and sometimes multiple times each day. And, of course, there are my “wimmen” friends at church. Treasured friends for certain.

    What loveliness is found in the beauty of friendships tried and true. And this weekend I’m meeting for the first time one of my online friends. I understand she’s preaching in my town Sunday morning and I intend to be there!

    Blessings as you travel,
    Sherrey

    • shirleyhs on July 1, 2014 at 5:06 am

      My last task before shutting down my computer as we head out the door is to tell you how my heart sings when I think about seeing YOU and yours at Portland Mennonite Church on Sunday. What a wonderful time to be alive, when we can make new friends and keep the old. Some are silver and some are gold! See you soon, girlfriend.

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