The Fortieth Letter: Intergenerational Friendship

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Dear Daughters,

When I lived in Waco, one of the first native Texans to befriend me at church was an older woman named Katy. The first Sunday she met us, she shook our hands and made us repeat our last name a few times until she realized that what we were saying was a double last name, and then she said she loved that young people were doing that these days.

As my friendship with Katy developed, I stood next to her in choir and kept her looking in the right place in the music, as we jumped around during practice, with the point of a pencil. She invited me over to her house for tea, and we ate her top secret cookie recipe off depression glasswear alongside embroidered cloth napkins. She lit a tealight candle under a stand to keep her teapot warm. I always felt at home in her house.

She recited poetry. She hung modern art paintings right next to old black-and-white photographs on her walls. She had different locations in her house for praying for different people.

She told stories. Such great stories.

We shared a birthday, only separated by 57 years.

When I moved away from Texas, Katy and I wrote letters for a few years, even as her health began to decline and she could no longer live independently. Her words became confused, but she was still so vibrant, such a character, so sweet in spirit. She always praised my penmanship.

I got news that she had passed away when I returned home from a women’s retreat just before the eldest was born.

*

My friend Gwen, a retired college professor, came to visit me after that birth. I knew Gwen from my monthly creative writing group. We didn’t go to the same church but she was an active member and deacon in her congregation, and she was very involved in our local town. Everyone knew her.

She brought you a little piano toy that, I’ll confess, sang a very annoying  and repetitive song, and she also brought you these little pink and purple socks that were patterned to look like ballet slippers. When she held you for the first time, she said, and I distinctly remember this, “I don’t remember the last time it was that I held a baby.”

Before that moment, I hadn’t thought much about the fact that my tendency toward intergenerational friendship might be an anomaly. Maybe it wasn’t a typical thing for women in their twenties or thirties to be friends, at least close friends, with women in their sixties and seventies.

At that particular time in my life–and maybe even now, I’m not sure–the majority of women I knew well in our small town were quite a bit older than I was. Through a weekly women’s group at our church, and my writing group, I’d gotten to listen to so many voices, so many stories, so much love, forgiveness, sadness, and hope. These women became part of my life without me even realizing it. They became my friends, my community.

Most were at least ten years my senior, and many of them had children my age. In fact, at my baby shower, most of the hand-me-downs I got were being offered because their grandchildren had already grown out of them. Score for me.

My older women friends are also excellent yardsalers.

I stopped in at Gwen’s house one day to drop off my chapbook, and she invited me in for tea. I guess tea is a trend in my stories. Gwen had some British ‘digestives’ to go along with the tea, and we visited for quite some time. It was the first time I’d heard her story, the life events that made her into the person others in my town knew her to be. I had the eldest with me–you were still in cloth diapers and quickly filled one, long before I was ready to leave–and we talked about her career, her family, her writing, the big wooden table in her dining room, and where you can find the authentic British biscuits.

Gwen passed away suddenly the next year, before the youngest was born.

It’s been important to me as a mom to have friends who are not treading water in the season of motherhood.

I appreciate especially those older women who don’t look back through rose-colored glasses, those who can commiserate with me–and say to me that, yes, this mothering business is the most mind-numbing thing I will ever do–but then say, with confidence, that I can survive it because they survived it.

That’s a message I’ve needed to hear at times.

I have many wonderful women in my life who have lived amazing stories. They’ve lived through traumatic life events and losses and broken marriages and straying children, but they’re also walking testimonies of faith and courage and wisdom and grace. They inspire me with their conviction.

And they shower love on me and on you.

Sometimes I feel spoiled about it all, actually, that I have these people who love me, that you have these people who love you.

But a few months ago, it became clear to me that these friendships aren’t just about what I receive, the support our family receives, but about what we give. Because that’s what true friendship is. It’s both.

At Wednesday-night dinner at church, the eldest ran over to one of my closest friends, a semi-retired science teacher who probably has the most interesting stories of anyone I know. She frequently comes over to read books to you and pass us hand-me-down toys. She’s a recent widow. You ran over to her and gave her a hug on your own, without my prompting. And you know what she said? She said, at 5:15 pm, “That’s the first hug I’ve had today!”

You offered her a hug because that is what four-year-old’s have on offer, and it was exactly what she needed.

Intergenerational friendships are important, girls. I’m pretty sure that for most people they take a lot of work, a lot of intentionality, because we naturally coast into friendships with people like us.

Even I’ve realized that it’s easiest, as a mom, to be friends with other moms. Other moms will be sympathetic to the chaos that is life with children, and other moms will have baby-proofed homes, and other moms understand the need for quiet time. That’s all true. But the easiest path isn’t typically the most rewarding path.

Being friends with women from other generations–my mother’s generation, my grandmother’s generation–and learning from them as I live life alongside them has made me a better human being.

It’s made me a better friend.

It’s made me a better mom.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

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