Thursday, December 12, 2013

Women Friends

Elizabeth Zelvin

From childhood friends to my blog sisters on Poe’s Deadly Daughters, I have always been rich in women friends. The other night I dreamed about my first playmate, who lived on my block. Her dad was in the pickle business, and it was from her that I first heard the word “deli.” They had the first TV on the block, probably around 1950. I went to her house to watch “Captain Video,” “Mama,” and “Topper.”

My junior high girlfriends, buddies since age eleven (some continuously, others rediscovered) are all celebrating our seventieth birthdays this year and finding sharing them both delightful and ludicrous. I still have friends from high school and college, too. Some of my contemporaries, mostly those who worked at a single career for thirty or forty years, are retired and doing a lot of traveling. Others are still trying new ventures or achieving belated success. Although three of the six of us from junior high still live in Queens, where we grew up, I’m in touch with women all over the world. For decades I’ve sent newsy holiday letters (some sneer at them, but do those folks still have forty and fifty-year-old friendships?) to Australia and Africa, to Tunisia and Israel and Canada, to the UK and France and Germany and the Netherlands, as well as to numerous American states. Not all of them write back, but when they’ve come to New York or I’ve visited, it’s usually as if no time has passed. And thanks to email and Facebook, it’s now gotten a lot easier to keep in touch.

I remember exactly when women’s conversation came out of the kitchen (no, I don’t mean “the closet”). For me, it was in 1967, a few years before the women’s movement woke everybody up about how men always dominated a group and it didn’t have to be that way. My male cousin took me to a party at another guy’s apartment to see the slides (those were photos back then, Virginia) they and two “girls,” their dates, had taken on a trip to the Bahamas in my cousin’s plane. I remember exclaiming with some hilarity that while I hadn’t met a man (why else did one go to parties?), I’d connected with some wonderful women. As it happens, the guy who gave the party later became my first husband. We’re long divorced, though we have grandkids in common and get along okay. And I’m still friends with one of the women I met that night.

I’m still meeting wonderful women in every area of my life, including mystery writing. The relationships that click usually have an online component, whether or not we also get together with them in person (or “have facetime with” them, as my tech-savvy Gen X son put it the other day). I’ve also had my share of losses. One dear friend, a gifted singer and musician, who died of leukemia fifteen years ago, is someone I still miss and think about all the time. I also remember a brilliant young Frenchwoman who died before she was thirty. I’m still close to her daughter, who has just moved from Nairobi to the US, and her brilliant, gorgeous granddaughter (half African, one-fourth Tunisian, and one-fourth French) came to stay with us two summers ago.

When we started Poe’s Deadly Daughters almost seven years ago, I was thrilled to be able to say I have blog sisters, and we have certainly supported each other through the ups and downs of our careers. We’re geographically diverse: me in New York, Sandy in the DC area, Sheila in New England, Julia near Chicago, Jeri in California, and Sharon in Canada. I’ve met Sandy, Sheila, and Jeri at Malice Domestic and other mystery venues over the years. But it’s hard to believe that I’ve never met Sharon and Julia face to face. When it comes to my women friends, it’s not the medium but the strong sense of connection that matters.


Sheila Connolly said...

When I started thinking about college, I knew I wanted to attend a women's college (blame it on Mary McCarthy and The Group). It's a choice I have never regretted, and forty-plus years after graduation I'm still in touch with quite a few of them. We've gotten together for a variety of events over the years--weddings, birthdays, even a trip to the opera--not all college-related. You're right: that connection survives.

Candace said...

There's nothing better than girlfriends! The longer you've been together, the better. That shared history, those secret understandings and giggles--they enrich our lives. I recently spent a lovely evening sitting around a fire with a more recent friend (well, over 20 years, but not lifelong), one of those relationships that remains constant despite only seeing each other a couple of times a year. Later she commented that I "get her," and how good it feels to spend time with someone like that. That's what we seek, what makes our souls glow--that deep connection, the knowledge that someone "gets" us. Thank you for this lovely post, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sheila, graduating from high school in 1960 made it just a little too early for me to think of an all-women's college as equal to or maybe even better than a coed environment. And Candace, you get it--that's exactly what I meant. :)