October was its usual gray and drizzly self. The forest road was muddied and potholed, and any one of us might have lost our way if not for the cardboard arrows that pointed us in the right direction. We had traveled from several states. Some had flown in from Southern California and Arizona; others had driven from Washington and Oregon to gather east of Portland in the shadow of snow-capped Mt. Hood. The early birds had cozied our weekend nest with much food and drink and a robust fire in its cavernous, stone hearth, and as each new arrival reached the cabin in the woods, she was welcomed with warm hugs and laughter.
In truth, it could not have been more difficult to arrange a summit of fifteen Heads of State than it was to agree upon a fitting date and location for fifteen Heads of Families, but at last, it seemed the whole universe had cooperated to allow us this time together, clearing everyone’s schedules and permitting no crisis involving work, family, health, or weather to enter our orbit.
We were born in the latter half of the 1950s, and our names reveal our baby-boomer status: Becky, Chelle, Debby, Denise, Heidi, Jan, Joy, Karen, Mary, Nancy, Pam, Patti, Sharon, Theresa, and Vickie. Sharing good times and bad, we had survived the awkward, often painful stages of adolescence, befriending each other as time had transformed us into young women. Each had stayed close to others of our group over the years, but this was the first time we had all been together since graduation, and as we thumbed through our yearbooks and old photographs, it became easier to remember who we had been, individually and collectively. Awash in the magic of shared memories, for a few brief hours, we were all we had been before.
There were no awkward moments to fill as we jabbered the hours away. In our youth, we had shared everything: clothes, adventures, secrets, heartaches, and dreams. All these years later, we had gathered to share again, but this time it was the moments of our lives sandwiched between then and now. With animated words we spoke of our successes, both personal and professional.
Then, with vulnerable hearts and faltering voices, we shared our disappointments and sorrows. Marriages had ended and new ones had begun, loved ones had broken our hearts, and our little group had been touched by death, such as visits every generation. Time had done to us what time does to everyone. Gray hairs had sprouted (though most of us chose to hide this), waistlines had thickened (there was no hiding this), wrinkles threatened, as did health issues, and reading glasses were kept close at hand. But pound for pound, we were still a beautiful group of women, and even while navigating the vagaries of our lives, we had been prolific, with nearly forty children between us, and half as many grandkids.
Long into the night of our first day, warmed by the glow of friendship and firelight, we sipped wine, ate chocolate, and remembered. As I sat among my girlhood friends, I wondered at how like a symphony we sounded. A dozen different voices sharing a hundred little secrets; first this section, then that, none competing, but each completing the music; rising to a crescendo until breaths were drawn, and a new movement began. With ease, we conducted ourselves, for we had played together long ago and still remembered each other’s melodies.
When the wee hours reminded us that we were actually middle-aged women and not teen-aged girls after all, we reluctantly went to bed. Some shared rooms downstairs. Others climbed the steps to the loft to claim one of eight twin beds arranged side-by-side. Snuggled in darkness, I recalled my mother’s words just that morning as I was transferring my luggage from her car to my friend’s. “I can hear it now,” she had quipped, “you’ll sound like a bunch of magpies.” I drifted into sleep and dreams replaying the song of my fellow magpies, a cacophony of noise to an outsider, but sweet music to my ears, for I knew every voice, every laugh, every magpie.
And so our weekend passed, and one by one we parted, blessed with new moments to replenish our reservoir of memories. After thirty-five years, it had been good to be together again, and though we were hopeful, who can say if we will share another time like this? Oh, I do hope so, for I have long believed that even when our feet are firmly planted in the present, one hand beckons forward as the other beckons back.
Until we meet again, my magpie friends.
A gathering of magpies is known as a charm. Two years after our weekend together, one of our most charming left this earth, and we gathered not at the cabin, but at her memorial service to honor our childhood friend. We will miss her sweet song.