For almost a decade, I’ve been writing about sisterhood in Circle of Cranes and though I hadn’t really thought of it until lately, I belong to a sisterhood in my personal life or to be more precise, I belong to several sisterhoods. Years ago, I organized the Birthday Club because I worried that one day when I was old and gray (somewhere in the future, ha, ha) that no one would remember my birthday and I’d end up spending it alone, with a store bought cupcake and a night of watching The Passionate Eye and The Fifth Estate, two of my favorite TV programs. This was one of those ‘poor me’ moments that I’d kept at bay by ensuring that I would always have friends to celebrate my birthday with. Let’s face it, no one forgets their birthday, unless birthdays mean zip to them and I’m not one of those people.
In fact, I love my birthday, most likely, because one of the few happy memories I had as a child was the birthday parties that my mother organized for me. She would special order pink and green bread from the local bakery and make tiny sandwiches without crusts. She would make a white birthday cake with pink icing and she’d hide tiny metal trinkets and coins, mostly nickels and dimes wrapped in wax paper. (Today, they’d be considered a choking hazard.) My birthday party would have balloons, paper hats and gifts. Today I don’t want gifts. I have too much stuff already but I love company on my birthday.
Like all clubs, the Birthday Club has rules. First, the Birthday ‘Girl’ has to reserve a table at her favourite restaurant and then invite her friends. That was hard for the sisterhood in the beginning but gradually everyone got used to it. No presents are allowed, but cards are apropos. Everyone pays for her own dinner. One of the group calls the waiter aside and orders a single dessert with enough forks for everyone at the table so we can all share, then we sing Happy Birthday followed by the card opening. Normally the restaurant offers a dessert free of charge. If we try a new restaurant, one of my more assertive friends will suggest shamelessly, that every other restaurant in town provides a dessert free for the birthday person. This is mostly, but not entirely, true. Most restaurant owners, eager for such stellar patrons as ourselves, cough up the free dessert.
After many years of the Birthday Club, there was a kind of cross-pollination of friends happening as friends of friends got to know one another. Eventually, we realized that the Birthday Club was getting too big to hold in a restaurant so we decided to form a larger group that met every two months, at different houses, not to celebrate birthdays, but to celebrate our friendship.
This morphed into a different sisterhood with different rules. Each person would bring a bottle of wine and an appetizer and one person would volunteer to make dessert. Hosting the sisterhood would be voluntary. Our group has no official name, though some refer to it as the Women’s Group, the Appetizer Group or the Ladies Group. I hate the word ‘ladies. It’s too prissy for my taste, but the variants on what we call ourselves reflects our diversity as a group. Each of us differs in temperament, life experience and politics. Despite our differences (or maybe because of them) we approach each other with the kind of openness and interest in one another necessary for the group to remain intact.
I have known most of my women friends for decades. Without a large extended family nearby, I have tried to create a family with my women friends. Together we have shared the devastating news of a cancer, the birth of a long-awaited grandchild, the publication of a book, graduations, weddings and all the diverse threads that make up the fabric of our lives.
One night a group member told us about the death of her son who had died only the day before. We were shocked by the rawness of this tragedy but honored that our friend felt safe enough in her grief to share it with us. If you think the evening was ruined by this devastating news, you would be wrong. We came together that night knowing that when grief is shared, the burden shifts a little, a small grace, under those circumstances.
Our sisterhood is open. Any one of us can invite a friend to our group, and once invited, the friend of a friend is welcome to return. Sometimes a new arrival feels comfortable enough with us to continue coming. At other times, a person will come to our group and decide it’s not for them. We understand. We’re a quirky lot and we carry a long history together.
To me, sisterhood is a kind of rainy day insurance against the losses that aging almost certainly will bring our way. Yet it is also more than that. It is the continuity of friendship, the pleasure of knowing one another through the many changes in our lives. But mostly it is acceptance and a feeling that I belong, that someone has saved a place for me in the circle.
Some authors believe that no matter what they write it is autobiographical and I think that’s true. I’ve dressed up my fictional characters in beautifully embroidered festival dresses and flew them on the wings of cranes to China, but I was probably writing about my desire to have friends who love me and whom I love, sisters who pledge their love, loyalty and friendship across time and place, not in words, but through laughter, good conversation, food and wine. So to my beloved sisters, cheers!