What They Never Taught in High School

Strange how nearly four decades have gone by, yet last night I recognized friends I hadn’t seen since high school and chatted with them as if it was only yesterday when we last spoke. As if nothing had changed.

We, a group of high school thespians from the 70’s, had a gathering to visit with our high school theater director, JB, and his wife, the high school art teacher, who were passing through town.

It looked for all the world like JB had stepped right off the stage of that last performance in the late 70’s, just the day before. His shirt, some commented, seemed straight out of the 70’s. (Or the bottom of our friend and favorite actor’s steamer trunk, lovingly preserved in the pages of his scrapbook.) His face had a few more wrinkles, for sure, but his eyes were still sparkling, his wit sharp.

35 or 40 years come and gone as if just one day passed.

Yet, far more has happened. Life has happened. We’ve married, split, remarried, (or never married), had children, some of us grandchildren. Some of us childless, by choice or not.

For others, it took those four decades to be legally allowed to marry the person they loved. Everyone knows how brutal high school can be to people who are “different” and theater kids are more different than most.

We’ve each had a share of happiness & heartbreak over the past, almost four, decades since high school. It seems to take about four decades to heal from that tumult of high school — to stop having the nightmares about forgetting locker combinations, the boys or girls we loved who didn’t love us back, or loved us for awhile and moved on to others, the dances we didn’t get invited to… all of that teenage stuff that – to be honest – doesn’t really end when we enter our 20’s.

Or our 30’s.

Last night was a graduation of sorts. We compared the wounds life gave us and the accolades we’d worked hard to achieve. We passed another test, and got rewarded for good results. It was a simple lesson that takes, ridiculously, three to four decades to learn: the greatest joy comes from the community of friends, the shared bottles of wine, the shared experience of art. As simple as that. You’d think you’d learn that in school, but you don’t.


The Renewing Powers of Conversation

IMG_1311Driving through the Minnesota River valley as I made my way from the Twin Cities to St. Peter — where even though the calendar says it should be spring — I saw that it was clearly not spring at all. Not yet.

Yes, it’s true that the seven plus inches of snow that fell yesterday is melting fast, and there were quite a few puddles to splash through, but nowhere are there signs of green. Even big business marketing green.

I had thought I would be able to see the Jolly Green Giant from the highway, but he was nowhere to be seen, and I learned later that the statue is 60 miles down the road from Le Sueur, (home of the Minnesota Valley Canning company and the famous “Valley”): all 55-ft of him in gorgeous pea green fiberglass can be seen in the town of Blue Earth, Minnesota.

I did spot the billboard with the Giant, tucked between still denuded trees at the crest of the jolly not-quite-green valley. Even in the billboard, the Giant looked more sepia than green, as if he had not yet put on his spring bloom.

Even without much spring green to cheer me on, my spirits rose. I’m a river valley girl, born and raised on the river bluffs just south of St. Paul, and there is nothing so cheerful as a winding drive in river valley country.

I had travelled to St. Peter as a guest author at a book festival sponsored by the St. Peter Library, and even though I tend to the quiet side, conversation with readers about writing and books steadily energized me in the way that spring energizes so much.

After the event, a new reader friend, an author friend, and I made our way to a new winery in the area, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery. The vineyard can be seen on the hillside next to the tasting room. The photograph above is the view from the as-yet-closed terrace of the tasting room (it’s not quite warm enough for wine to be enjoyed outside).

Our new friend gave us a taste of a Minnesota rose, made from local grapes and I brought home a bottle for later. I drank a glass of cabernet sauvignon, made from Napa Valley grapes, and that brought back memories of my time last summer in San Francisco. A bottle was purchased for later. We dined on artisan pizza baked in a wood-fired brick oven.

Best of all was the conversation with two friends, one who had returned to St. Peter after spending much of her life in California, another who is a writer friend published by my publisher. I almost passed on the outing and I’m so glad I didn’t.

I don’t know why it always seems surprising how enjoyable and refreshing good conversation can be. We talked about our lives as working women, wives, mothers. How we have endured struggles with health, balancing the needs of our families and communities, managing creative time (both as writers and readers).

I used to think that conversation was the first thing to jettison when I was pressed for time. There never seemed to be time for socializing, as it always seemed like I “should” be doing something else.

The fact of the matter is that good friends, having good conversation, is the juice of life.  Companionship can be ambrosia, providing a renewing, rather than a draining experience.

Maybe after all this time I am learning how to find better friends, and it is a most rewarding thing to do. Friends and good wine? Even better.