Although I’m reluctant to speak for 51 percent of the human population, I think I can say with relative certainty that no woman looks forward to her 50th birthday.
For me, this dubious milestone was reached a few years back (and no, I won’t tell you how many). Hitting the big 5-0 comes with more of some things (gray hair, wrinkles, unwanted pounds) and rather less of others — most notably, short-term memory (where are those car keys?).
But — most distressing of all — turning 50 made me realize that I was morphing into a carbon copy of my mother. This has become all-too-evident in a number of minor — but telling — ways. If my husband speaks to me while I’m looking at the newspaper, for example, I peer at him across the top of my reading glasses in exactly the same way my mother used to look at my dad. Like her, I’ve grown to dislike watching television, but will listen to just about anything on the radio. Solving a crossword puzzle could keep each of us engrossed for hours. And, just like Mom, I have a coffee klatch.
As a kid, I remember Mom hosting these weekly get-togethers with her friends Dot and Marge, and my Aunt Millie. They would sit around the dining room table at our house, drinking a full pot of Eight O’Clock Original Blend and smoking Winston cigarettes, chatting up a storm. Coming home from school, I’d barely elicit a “hello” from the four of them, so engrossed were they in playing Mah Jongg and discussing what women always discuss when they’re together: their husbands, children, homes, and (usually in hushed tones) mutual acquaintances.
I didn’t take me long to realize that I’m involved in a 21st-century version of Mom’s coffee klatch — minus the coffee and cancer sticks. Every Saturday at 8 a.m., I meet up with a group of nine female friends, and we all go for a six-mile run. These ladies range in age from the late 30s to the mid-60s; they live in Ulster and Dutchess County towns stretching from Rhinebeck and Clinton Corners to Hopewell Junction and Stormville. The group includes two college professors, one elementary school teacher, a probation officer, and a social worker (among other occupations). Most of us are — or have been — married, a few more than once. Between us, we’ve produced 14 children — the youngest currently in preschool, the oldest (32) living in Afghanistan. And — if we didn’t all like to run — it’s unlikely that our paths ever would have crossed in the course of our day-to-day lives.
Lest you get the impression that we are a gaggle of aging uber-athletes — well, nothing could be further from the truth. We are just 10 ordinary, mostly middle-aged women, who happen to enjoy two activities equally: getting some exercise, and socializing. And socialize we most definitely do — our mouths move at least as much as our legs on these hour-long jaunts. And what do we talk about? You guessed it: husbands, children, homes, and (yes) even mutual acquaintances. And work. And politics. And the latest books we’ve read. And how difficult it is for our families to understand why nothing — not drenching rain, inch-an-hour snow, intense heat, or bitter cold — will keep us at home on a Saturday morning.
Mom had her cup of Eight O’Clock. I’ve got a water bottle full of Gatorade. She passed a coffee cake around the dining room table; my friends and I share bites of an energy bar. Some things have changed since the 1960s, but the bond that forms between female friends is not one of them.