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They arrived at noon bearing a perfectly arranged fruit salad. Joycie would have liked a much earlier start, perhaps 7 am, because Joycie is a morning person. But her sister Nancy talked some sense into her.

“But will we have enough time?” Joycie fussed. And for good reason.

These periodic reunions of two sets of sisters who lived next door to one another as Philadelphia children are rare. Joycie lives in Portland now. She’s a widow, so visits back East are rare. Nancy is in the Philadelphia suburbs, but still works full-time. My sister, Ruthie, is not as footloose and fancy-free as she used to be, because her significant other is ailing.

But we managed it this time, and I was hosting. My husband graciously–and I think gratefully–removed himself for the day. Our common denominators, our private jokes, our kaleidoscopic memories, are not really his–or anybody else’s–to share.

Lunch for this group meant figuring out food that would be agreeable to four dieters. But talking was clearly our sacred mission. We have been talking for years. Since early childhood.

We grew up together, smoked our first forbidden cigarettes together and learned the intricacies of applying mascara without blinding ourselves as a quartet. We have been through every imaginable milestone, loss, triumph and test together. Sitting at our dining room table, time stood still. So many of our sentences began with the words “Remember when?”

Remembering, now, is both wonderful and awful. Coming of age has yielded to just plain aging, and one of us noted that we’d spent as much time talking about aches, pains and insurance plans as we used to spend talking about boys.

Joycie, Nancy and of course my sister, would hear about my dates with awful guys, promising guys and ultimately, an older man named Victor who would turn out to be The One. I think they all knew it before I did. Nobody knows me better. I like to think that few people care about me more. And there are no others in my life who would tolerate my musing for long minutes over whether I should level with one of my daughters about her new frumpy look.

We talked about regrets and about the roads not taken.We hashed out Nancy’s career issues, Ruthie’s situation with her guy, Joycie’s coping skills as a new widow in a new place. I could tell my beloved lunch companions how it feels to be the group’s only long, first marriage survivor. And I could listen to them reflect on what they’d learned from some difficult times in the holy state of matrimony department.

We drank decaffeinated coffee and herbal tea and argued about what constitutes joy at our stage of life. And as the afternoon wound down, we remembered our parents with love, delight and regret.

Joycie and Nancy recognized the paintings, now in our bedroom and living room, that had once been hanging in my parents Philadelphia home. Nobody else would ever have that memory.

Nancy, with her no-nonsense, common-sense approach to life, listened to a couple of my family issues and issued her crisp observations. In minutes, she had helped clear my mind of several muddles. Each of us would happily have seized on a second chance at life, a chance for “do-overs.” And each of us understood, more clearly than ever, that there are no replays.

Sitting around our dining room table were women “of a certain age,” women who love one another, like one another and have the common bond of shared memory. I wanted the three of them to stay forever. Of course they couldn’t and didn’t.

But as we said goodbye in the driveway, the hugs were a bit tighter than they used to be. The promises to do it all again, sooner rather than later, had more urgency. We were old friends, dear friends, sister sets. We are women joined at the soul. And oh my, how much that matters now.

May 2013
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