Joannie gets the credit for this one.
“Hi ladies. I’m going to be in Northampton, Massachusetts for a few days at the end of June to visit my sister. Anyone interested in getting lunch?”
Ellen said Yes! Julie said Yes! Liz said Yes! Joannie said… really? This is going to be so great!
A lunch invitation turned into an overnight plan. Each of us was going to be driving at least two hours. Why not make a mini-vacation of it? Ellen did the hotel Googling and we made reservations for an overnight, Thursday into Friday, at the Hotel Northampton. Our own rooms. At 60+ we’re big girls and don’t need to share a room anymore. A flurry of texts were exchanged. What time are you getting there? What are you packing? Drinks first, then dinner? We were as giddy as high school friends going away on their first vacation without parents. Only… have I mentioned we had never met each other in person before?
The car was packed; an overnight bag bulging with too many clothes I knew I wasn’t going to wear but just couldn’t decide between. Liz would look super and even though we had “seen” each other via Zoom almost every week for the past 15 months, I wanted to make a nice impression. An audiobook was downloaded, and I dropped the dog at daycare and was on my way. Could I even remember the last time I was away, alone?
These three woman, I was driving to meet in person, were part of the heart and soul of my pandemic experience. They read and edited and supported me as I learned to be a better writer. Through the writing prompts we shared intimate details about our lives. They were heart and soul to me, without the qualifying of the pandemic experience.
Despite heavy traffic and Waze diverting me several times, the two-and-a-half-hour drive flew by. Just as I was pulling into Northampton, I got a text that Liz was at the hotel. Julie responded. Me too. My response, Me Three. And then we were screaming and hugging. Social distance be damned.
In my usual haste, I wondered if I packed all wrong as I began my drive west on the Mass Pike to Northampton. I hoped my jeans, flip flops, interchangeable t-shirts and Hershel fanny belt would suffice for the next 24 hours. I glanced at my tired, chipped nails and wished I had made time for a mani and texted the group.
“It’s casual, right?“
“Yup,” replied Liz.
I reminded myself that it wasn’t my clothes or my nails that these women cared about, but it was hard not to be nervous about meeting my virtual writing friends IRL (in real life) for the very first time.
I saw Liz first, in the lobby. Bedazzled, beautiful and chic, head to toe. Oh fuck, she lied, I thought to myself and tapped Liz on the shoulder.
“Look at you, you’re gorgeous.” I said, gesturing to her magnificent jumpsuit, complemented with a belt that cinched her enviable waistline.
“Seriously, Julie, what did you expect? I’m the diva, remember?”
We hugged and laughed and hugged some more.
Then Ellen and Joannie appeared, each with eyes and smiles that lit them from within, a light not evident on Zoom, even with all its advanced background enhancements. Everything else was pretty much as expected, except in technicolor; Ellen with her wild curls and funky glasses and Joannie with her Nordic beauty and midwestern twang. I felt like I had known these women my entire life. And they knew me. Boy did they know me. And for this reason, I stop thinking about how inadequately I’d packed, and instead, relished the unexpected sisterhood that I had been blessed with in my sixth decade.
“Let’s get drinks, guys, and maybe something to nibble on,” suggested Joannie.
“I just learned about a new “skinny girl” drink,” said Ellen. “It’s called a Paloma.”
“What’s a Paloma?” Liz, Joannie, and I all asked at the same time.
And so began the 24-hour-BA50-IRL Northampton retreat where conversations did not happen linearly, and recommendations and advice was dispensed on everything from Vitamin C Serum to Voltarin.
Northampton is a college town filled with boutique-y shops sporting a 70’s vibe. A little like walking down memory lane. Although I went to college in Wisconsin, I kept thinking about the kids who I went to school with that were from the east coast. They became close friends, which made saying goodbye after graduation bittersweet, knowing that I would never see most of them again.
Walking into the historic Hotel Northampton was like going back in time, to meet my BA50 friends for the first time in person. They were sitting at a table talking like besties do, the mood was relaxed. I stood there for a moment observing them in 3D. It was surreal, they all looked so BEAUTIFUL in PERSON! Liz was so dressed to the 9’s as Julie mentioned and they all looked gorgeous, healthy, and can I say younger? Ladies, ZOOM does not do any of us justice!
After drinks we had a long dinner outside with more drinks. We talked so much they kicked us out and we went back to the hotel. My sister met us there (my designated driver) and we talked over more Palomas. As mentioned, the flow of conversation moved in so many directions. We said good night and were back at it the next day with breakfast and walking in and out of shops. Liz got this dress that is absolutely adorable that she needs to take a pic in when she wears it next. Or maybe our next Zoom call? A stop at the dispensary was a must.
It was a gorgeous, sunny warm Friday morning in June and our spirits were high. We said goodbye with a selfie on the lawn of Smith college. I sat on the hill waiting for my sister to pick me up filled with gratitude at how much richer I am with the BA50 ladies in my life. Goodbyes are still bittersweet. This time I know I’ll see my east coast friends again.
Liz, Ellen, Julie & Joannie
Sixteen months ago, Felice Shapiro, the founder and editor of BA50, sent out a clarion call and offered a three-day course in learning how to blog. The first session was such a success that it continued and a core group of us bonded in a way that surprised everyone. But as you read, despite differences in backgrounds and current situations, there is a sensibility that we share. Blogging really became writing, although with a 600-word limit, and through this process we revealed intimacies and details, because we learned that is what makes for good writing: truth and honesty.
There is always a little fear when meeting your heroes and I think that is true for our group. The fear was unfounded for there was no hesitancy once we met in person. There was only the joy of actually getting to touch and see each other up close. In so many ways this experience epitomizes the pandemic. Without a closed world we would not have met virtually and without an opening up we would not have been able to meet in person. And meeting in person was simply the best.
A Perfect Paloma
- 1 ounce tequila
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime
- ¼ ounce agave nectar or to taste
- Sparkling water optional
Add ice to your favorite cocktail glass.
Measure and pour tequila, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake well and strain liquid into your cocktail glass.
Top the drink with grapefruit juice, add sparkling water or soda water as desired.
Garnish with a grapefruit peel or lime wedge.
Sip your drink and enjoy with friends!