When he came home announcing it was his month to host the poker party, I cringed at the vision of eight grown men, smoking cigars, drinking beer, talking at high decibels and swearing like drunken sailors over a deck or two of cards.
I’m not even sure I knew he liked poker, but then again, I got to thinking about all the times I had invited my “besties” over to the house, taken over the kitchen and living room, and asked him to conveniently work late or stay at arm’s length while we “girl talked” the night away.
He had survived the “Wicked” party, the “Life is a Cabaret” evening, and even my mother’s milestone “Up the hill but not over it” party when I chartered a bus and took her friends to Table Mountain to play slots, celebrate her birthday and return to our place for dessert, gifts and memorable senior moments.
Now it was his turn. I was admittedly relieved when he said they’d be outside — ashtrays, poker chips, crude jokes, belly laughter and all. Aside from putting out lunch and ample amounts of pistachios, I would have the house all to myself, give or take a dozen or so bathroom flushes throughout the day.
While I worked upstairs in my writing studio conjuring up content for this column, my ears picked up their faint chatter accompanied by husky laughter every now and then. I couldn’t help but wonder if these brutes were staying on task or occasionally venturing off into no-man’s land to discuss “guy” stuff — prostate health, cholesterol levels, cars, wives, personal lives, the stock market.
I know I’m stereo-typing here, but what I really wondered was whether or not they ever got serious about the real cards that get dealt in this game of life.
A few months earlier, I had been part of a dear friend’s annual get together — a girls-only holiday luncheon that’s been going on since before any of our babies were old enough to have babies of their own.
Carol, our gracious host, is famous for scrumptious tasting menus she swears are simple and no fuss. We all, of course, know better. Aside from her flair for gourmet cooking, her real knack comes in bringing together a diverse group of women and creating the kind of ambiance that welcomes meaty conversation. Nothing ever off limits or censored.
Collectively the group has divulged, confessed, endured and survived. Weddings and funerals. Children, stepchildren and grandchildren. Empty nest and a whole host of unmentionable “syndromes.” Life unraveling left and right. But we’ve also lifted our glasses over newborns, career accolades, milestone birthdays, retirement announcements and book deals.
One constant never fails us – regardless of life’s trials, we break bread, lean in, all the while dishing out equal parts love and support. By the time dessert arrives, everyone has laughed, cried, and then laughed some more. These are our second helpings.
While the poker game continued, I sat upstairs quietly thanking my lucky stars for the women in my world. Some I have known since kindergarten, others a result of work and career, a few simply chance meetings where kismet delivered someone exactly when and where I needed her most.
Of course, some friends had drifted in and out of my life, tethered now only by an annual Christmas letter or graduation announcement, but that was OK, too. People and lives change. So do relationships.
The really good ones always show up and listen to your problems ad nauseum or until even you are bored with them.
As I age, I’m finding myself growing more reliant on these old friends, touchstones to my past. They remember my parents, my first boyfriend, my hippie days, and the way we used to call at a moment’s notice to throw together potluck dinners serving chicken breasts drenched with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Back then it was gourmet. Although it hardly mattered. What was on the table took a back seat to who was in the chairs. Some things never change.
Turning my ear back to the sound effects coming from the card party, I sensed the makings of a divine brotherhood – one equally cherished as my own Ya-Ya Sisterhood — only with the volume amped up and more calories and cuss words per capita.
Later that evening, when the house returned to the usual duet of husband andwife, one of us washing, the other one drying, we sang the praises of friends. Good friends — the kind who show up at a moment’s notice, lend you their shoulders, listen to your rants and love you as is — bumps, bruises, baggage and all. No matter what’s in the cards.