My college girls and I used to call ourselves the Babe-O-Matics, and lest you think we took ourselves seriously, please know that it was all in jest. Mostly. Back in the day, I had inherited a tape player called the Invert-O-Matic (my dad has always been a gadget guy and this was pure seventies cutting edge stuff) which, no joke, would eject the tape, flip it over, suck it back in and play the other side. Someone covered the “Invert” with “Babe” and that’s all she wrote. I don’t remember exactly when we became the Babe-O-Matics – it feels like we just always were. And as it turns out, I think we always will be. We may no longer be running around Southbend, Indiana dressed like grungy man-girls in big Levis, flannel shirts, Birkenstocks and boots, but Babe-os we remain.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days – it doesn’t seem to be writing itself, as usually happens when the emotions are bigger than the words. Earlier this summer, I had intended to write about the bookend stop in Chicago on our way back from Michigan and I never did. The words sort of eluded me to describe how much fun we had overnight at Sunny’s* house in Wilamette with her hubby, Tax Man Italiano, and their four kids. Our other roommate, Shady** came in from the city for the night and we slipped right back into our old mischief, feasting, drinking, and gabbing to excess – only now we were surrounded by a gaggle of kids and a couple of indulgent husbands who seem to understand implicitly that if there was ever a night to step up and get the kids to bed and let us talk, it was then. Late night, sitting on Sunny’s porch, drinking those last beers we would regret in the morning, it struck me that after college, I was far too cavalier about the Babe-os spreading out around the country. Nothing seemed permanent back then. Nothing seemed of consequence. We all had things we needed to do, and I figured they would always be as close to me as they were on that sad day we all drove away from our little blue house on St. Peter’s Street for the last time – weeping, desolate, inconsolable in the knowledge that we would never have that kind of fun again.
Looking at my girls over the flickering candles on that porch, my heart caught in my throat. We could be doing all of this together. Instead, we live parallel lives in different cities, only catching up for a few golden hours every year. Shady goes to a lot of the same concerts we go to when they hit Chicago – she was at Beck and at De La Soul. What a partner in crime she would be if we lived in the same place! And Sunny’s kids and my kids paired off and scampered away like they see each other every day. Sunny and I could be sitting at the pool together, at the beach together, cobbling dinners together out of cheese and crackers and wine. I married someone who knew me way back when – back when I was young and fun and didn’t have a care in the world. I know how much humor and patience and leeway and pleasure you draw out of that pot of memories, that book of characters and references. It’s huge. Embarrassingly, I think I might have blubbered something about missing out on my Ya Ya sisterhood, but Sunny and Shady understood. When six girls spend a whole Halloween night tied together disguised as a drain hair shark, on mushrooms, well, it adds a whole other dimension to your relationship.
We could be doing all of this together.
But we’re not. And as bittersweet as seeing each other may be, it’s also completely restorative, satisfying and necessary. To laugh like that, to be understood and accepted like that, fills us up and lets us glide on through until the next time. We all have other wonderful friends where we live, sisters, the ladies you count on. But what we Babe-os had remains utterly apart – maybe because we’ve always lived apart – it’s locked away in time, but breathtakingly accessible. All we have to do to tap into that, is put ourselves into the same room. So we do.
On Saturday three of us flew to Saint Louis to surprise Dolly*** for her 40th birthday party. She had no idea we were coming. Her lovely sisters and hubby, Soul Daddy, masterfully kept it under wraps. Tartare had flown from Seattle to meet up with Shady and Sunny in Chicago and they flew in together. When I looked up from my phone to see the three of them striding toward me in the St. Louis airport, looking all foxy and smiley, my heart did a little jump. All together! For a party! For Dolly! It was just too good.
The surprise was perfect. We didn’t jump out of a cake. We simply walked down the street and as we approached we could hear Dolly’s daughter, Mimi, yelling Moooom, come outside! So of course, there was shrieking. Of course there were hugs and laughter. Dolly was grinning ear to ear, as was the adorable Soul Daddy. Operation Babe-O-Matic was a success.
The Babe-os were in da haaayouse and Dolly’s relaxing afternoon had just morphed into something else entirely. We chatted, drank in their three adorable kids, oohed and aahed around the house, soaking up the wall colors, the pictures, the stuff of our dear friend’s day-to-day life. We felt lucky to be sitting in her kitchen, even for a couple hours, to have our hands on the counter top where her kids color, where they spill cereal, where Dolly rolls out pies, where Soul Daddy chops and puts out cheese and olives. We Babe-os take nothing for granted, least of all time in each other’s homes. It’s just too rare. And even back in college, back when all we really cared about was the next great party, we were all about nesting, making our dorm rooms and then the house on St. Peter’s Street sweet little homes to relish, share, and make memories in. Some things never change.
A lot of things never change.
After a little adventure to Dolly’s favorite nail salon for manis and pedis, a quick beer, and that festive, oh so fun, getting ready time when we chatted and cackled and checked out eachothers’ lotions and potions, outfits and jewelry, we were off like the wind to Dolly’s bash. We knew it was going to be great because it was at the house Dolly grew up in, now owned by her sister, the lovely Maisie and her family. We had already celebrated Dolly and Soul Daddy’s wedding at that house, not to mention various stops to and fro Mardi Gras throughout the years. This family knows how to fling open their doors, hug you close and throw down for a really good time. There were pretty lights strung up in the yard, cocktail tables with candles, delicious food and bevvies, jello shots in every flavor, and tons of party people who all love Dolly.
We knew it was going to be fun. What we didn’t know, is that we were going to spend the next nine hours in a magical musical pleasure fest! Soul Daddy’s old band set up in the garage due to some threatening sprinkles, which, luckily, never ended up getting much footing and began a night of amazing music. Lordy, did we dance! Soul Daddy sang and we all swooned. Dolly sang and we swooned some more. Our girl! As the night tore on in a mad blur fueled by beer and restorative stops to the food table, all of Dolly’s sibs took a turn, and then her uncle and then her cousins and before we knew it, the night had devolved into a beautiful crazy hootenanny. It was great. And if you went inside, you had their exquisitely woven playlist to contend with. I have fuzzy memories of lurching around, dancing to So Lonely, screaming the words while gnawing on a chicken wing. It was a buh uh uh uh laaasst!!!
Just like the old days, the Babe-os would fan out at a party, flitting around, talking to everyone, only to find each other again in a riotous explosion of cheers and hugs and laughter, feeling like you were home again after a crazy odyssey. This would happen, and did happen on Saturday, multiple times a night, all night long. We may have lived together, but we were always happiest to see each other.
A lot of things never change.
Tartare, Sunny, Shady and Dolly, you are my heart. Happy birthday Dolly. I love you rockin’ Babe-o-matics.
*Because of love of, disposition, outlook, and Coppertone always at the ready.
**Because why mess with a good nickname?
***Because she has a love for Dolly Parton, not because she looks like Dolly Parton.