For Dearest Mommies, Part 1

No, not Mommy Dearest– it’s Dearest Mommies:
A tribute to some special women who came into my life when I was in my mid-thirties.

I don’t really remember the first time we met.  You know how it is with long-time friends– you feel as though you’ve always known each other.But there had to be that first time, when I sat in someone’s living room and realized that I’d lucked into finding a group of women who welcomed me into their circle.

We were all in our thirties, with young children, and found ourselves eager to spend time together without interruptions from those precious kids!
Our group of  neighborhood mothers –we called ourselves The Moms (or the Mommies)– started meeting every other week in each others’ living rooms, and did so for years and years. We bitched and bragged, both bothered and amused by the antics of our kids and husbands– and spoke freely once they were shooed away for the evening, well out of earshot.  We drank wine, nibbled snacks, and dove into sharing all the stuff we’d been saving up to talk about since the last time. The group changed over the years, as some moved away or moved on, and new faces joined in. Never too down and dirty, but plenty funny and raunchy on occasion, our get-togethers were the high-point of many a tough week in the trenches of family life.

It might be a cliche to say that The Moms have stayed together through thick and thin. But we have: the very thick and the thinnest thin. We’ve celebrated and grieved together: sharing triumphs and losses as our lives weave together more tightly with every passing year. 
 We’re all over 50 now, which means that we’ve been meeting and sharing stories, laughs, and tears for 25 years. As a group, we’ve attended baby showers, funerals, birthday parties, graduations, concerts, high school musicals–and once or twice a year, we go away together.
A few years ago, I wrote about some of the small joys that come from spending time in the company of the moms.
Here’s the first part:


In the early morning hours of an autumn Saturday, we gather eagerly at Chris’s house, up the block from mine. Our destination is Chris’s cabin in Arnold, CA,  in the Sierra foothills. We show up in her driveway with pillows, sleeping bags, and whatever essentials we can cram into the back of a van. The participants may vary from year to year, but the core group includes Chris, Jo, Sara, Cindy, Lisa, Janiele, and me.  What we pack along is as different as we are: Sara’s pink satin-covered pillow, Cindy’s stylish carpetbag, Jo’s books and magazines, my knitting, and Chris’s schoolwork. 

We come from California, Kansas, Louisiana and Arkansas.  Lisa’s  New Orleans roots are evident in her joie de vivre and the easy rhythm of her speech. We either work or stay at home, with changes in the equation over the years. Janiele, the youngest member of the group, cracks us up with tales of her misadventures as Little League mom, scout leader, and structural engineer. We’re busy mothers, but not too busy for the annual trip to Arnold.

The ritual never changes: our first stop is coffee for the road. Then we hit the highway and head east for a couple of hours. Our second stop is a roadside fruit stand where we buy bags of dried fruit, packages of caramel corn, huge jars of olives, at least a pound of pistachios; we select red apples, sweet melons, salty pretzels, a jar of honey — and whatever else anyone craves at the moment. 

Stocking up on snacks for the weekend at our favorite roadside stand

The third stop is the town of Murphys, where we sit down in the dining room of the Murphy’s Hotel and order our favorite breakfasts: Irish oatmeal, eggs and biscuits, or French toast.

After one last cup of coffee, we conduct a careful inspection of every shop on Main Street.  Once we’ve shopped for bread, books, and candy, everyone follows me into the shoe store. Finally, we pile back into the car and begin the last leg of the trip to Arnold.
            The road to Arnold takes us through Gold Country — Calaveras County—in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  Depending on the time of year, the hills are green or burnished gold, changing shade and contour as we reach higher elevations along Highway 4. The landscape is sparse at first, with groups of scrub oaks thickening into stands of redwood, fir, and pine as we get closer to the Sierra. 
And then we arrive at the cabin: an A-frame, made of dark wood, surrounded by pine and redwood trees, at the end of a long, steep walkway. We park the car and begin unloading. Chores beckon, and Chris reminds us what needs to be done. Some of us put on gloves and start to carry up firewood from underneath the porch. 
The cabin is far from rustic. It’s furnished with a mixture of comfortable household castoffs: an old trunk, creaky rocking chairs, and ancient tables. A muted blue and green watercolor of the view from a nearby ridge hangs on the wall. We all chipped in and bought it for Chris at a gallery in Angel’s Camp. Our names and the date are inscribed on the back: Jo, Sara, Cindy, Lisa, Janiele, Risa: October, 1994.
            The weathered redwood deck is surrounded by tall trees, and is open to the sky.  If the weather is nice, we pull chairs outside and enjoy the quiet of the place, inhaling the scent of pine in the air. Now we can relax; the car ride is over, and the vacation—however brief—can begin.  Our stuff is piled in the big living room. It can sit there for now, though.  We sprawl out, catching up on the news about our kids, our families, each other.  Every year marks another transition: a kid goes off to college, someone changes jobs, a father or mother passes away, a marriage buckles.
            After an hour or so of chatting, someone opens the wine, the food comes out in bags and bowls, and we settle in for the afternoon. Eventually, we  go on a walk down to the nearby lake. Chris leads the group, and we cluster in twos and threes, shifting groups as we go, catching up with everyone and repeating our stories. Cindy will usually stay behind and take a nap. She is tall and thin, effortlessly stylish, even in the mountains— wearing jeans and a tucked-in T-shirt, her slender waist circled by a beaded leather belt. The only fashion maven among us, Cindy sets the bar pretty high. On Arnold weekends, however, no one even attempts the jump. At one time the only divorced member of this group, Cindy loves to regale us with bawdy stories about the dating scene. Cindy’s anecdotes are both entertaining and instructive. We listen carefully.
I bring my camera and set it up on automatic timer so we are all in at least one picture: Chris and I, with our matching salt-and-pepper curly hair; Jo’s fresh-scrubbed outdoorsy good looks; Sara’s wonderful cheekbones and beautiful smile; Cindy, blonde and doe-eyed; dark-haired Lisa with her infectious laugh, and Janiele’s dimpled smile.
We go out for dinner to the local place we like. More wine, good food, and  laughter loud enough to earn curious looks from the other diners. We pile in the car for the short drive back to the cabin. We’re happy, full, and tired. 
Inside the cabin, the fire burns hot, and we take turns throwing in wood to keep it going all night. Really tired now, we drag sleeping bags off to corners or bedrooms. Someone checks on Chris, who is usually the first to crash. We slide off her glasses and turn out the light, put her book on the table, and tiptoe away. A hardy band will stay up late talking or reading. I knit a few rows and then give up.  It’s too hard to concentrate and listen at the same time.

To be continued

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