We all have that one group of people in our lives that we will drop everything for to meet up with when the siren calls … or the evite is blasted out. The last weekend in July was just such a moment. While our bodies might not bounce back quite as quickly as they once did, and we may need a few more days for our livers to recover, the old stories and bad jokes are still just as funny.
The excuse for this get-together at a friend's summer home on Lake Michigan was a joint birthday celebration for all the men who were born in 1954 (I'll leave it to you to calculate their age because I refuse to say it out loud) with my husband being the fall-guy because his birthday fell on the first day of this wonderfully indulgent gathering. The men, all local boys, grew up stating their parish rather than their street address: St. Giles, Ascension, St. Edmund, Resurrection … Some have been friends since grade school, first crushes, high school, college, careers. They have been there for each other through marriages; divorces; the birth of children and grandchildren; losses of spouse, partners and parents; relying on each other for an empathetic ear or just a moment of distraction from the chaos of everyday life. Nothing can put your life in perspective like the guy who remembers when you had hair and wore bell-bottoms.
While the men regularly have outings with each other — Bocce Tournament in Bridgeman, skiing in Colorado, the annual 10-men-in-a-shed Christmas Party (I don't even know how to explain how that one got started), and the various charity golf outings — we the spouses rarely get invited to join in the festivities.
It's a good thing the women like each other and get along so well because there were times over those 48 hours when I was not altogether sure the guys even knew we were there. They are a very self-entertaining group of men whom I once described as "their own best audience." It is a relationship I have often looked upon with envy over the years — those types of friendships are rare in today's very transient world.
While the party may have stayed on the beach long past sunset back in the day, we are now happy to just hang at the house after our sunset viewing, within easy reach of the icemaker, a "real" bathroom and a re-fill of pinot noir. Our long-ago menu of canned Budweiser and hot dogs over a beach bonfire has morphed into grilled salmon on cedar planks and more than a few bottles of 2013 Livio Felluga Sauvignon — my how times, and our tastes, have changed. We played bocce in the yard, bags on the beach, lay out on the deck at midnight looking for shooting stars overhead and watching the waning moon disappear into the dark horizon. We tried to avoid all small talk involving politics, money, and work, re-directing the conversations toward inane topics like the Cubs' repeat chances, what was in the salmon marinade, and who cheated at bocce. Travel plans, kids and grandchildren, and the occasional health concerns popped up every once in a while, but in the end the conversation always came full circle and right back to us: What time are we going to the beach tomorrow? What are we drinking now? Is there any lasagna left? Can somebody change the Sonos station back to Grateful Dead?'
Before I left for the weekend my mom said, "Yes, you will be exhausted, but don't go to sleep until you get home; you will be glad you did not miss a minute of this moment."
She was so right.
Julianne Wood was born in and grew up in Oak Park, raised her children in River Forest and now resides in Elmwood Park. She vows never to move west of the Des Plaines River.
Answer Book 2018
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