women friends in a 50's suburb

You could make an instant friend in the suburbs of the 50’s, but would it last a lifetime?

August 13, 2016 – We tend to think that way, especially women, when friends have been friends for years, actually decades, but people are people and everyone is different. Physically, we’re probably made of the same stuff, but when it comes to emotions we are definitely different. My friend and I enjoyed so much in common: living in the suburbs, children about the same age, married about the same number of years. With former farmlands converted to housing developments the returning WWII veterans and their spouses quickly snapped up the sprawling quick-fix to a severe housing shortage. Throughout America, numerous tracts of cookie-cutter houses sprang up over the countryside as if the former farmer had planted and fertilized an expansive bumper crop of single-family homes. Following the end of the war, many of us moved into our new abode on the same day or within a week or so from completion date. With so much in common,  it was easy to be friendly and get acquainted  before all the paint was even dry.


Early on with our neighbors, I noticed a little something with my new best friend (I’ll call her Beatrice) that was a little out of sync (at least with me). If we had a little spat, as is often the case when families live in such a condensed environment. I believe a similar scene repeated itself many times during the next half century in every neighborhood throughout our country.

Beatrice was never one who apologized when she needed to step forward and say, “I’m sorry.” So it was always me who stepped forward, rang her bell usually holding a baby on my hip asking, “May we come in?” She welcomed us. and we picked up where we left off and just went on with our similar lives until a small break happened again which was resolved within a few weeks using the same pattern


As neighbors, we were all shocked and saddened by the death of her husband Jack before he even reached the age of 50. Friends couldn’t do enough to help her adjust and begin a new life without him. The men jumped in to finish any project Jack had been working on, doing more and going beyond what may have been on Jack’s list while the women were at her beck and call. There was nothing we wouldn’t do for Beatrice. We were like family.

Life remained relatively good for a long while. Our children all grew up, went to college, or not, got married, or not. And then tragedy struck again. The daughter of one neighbor died suddenly and so unexpectedly, her demise leaving all of us filled with compassion and concern wondering about the whys and adversities of life that we all experience, yet manage to live through. I spent an afternoon with Constance, the young woman’s mother—once she was settled and had accepted her loss. The following week I asked Beatrice if she had gone to visit Constance? She had not. I suggested that it just wouldn’t right if she didn’t and she should force herself to pay the grieving mother a visit even if she felt uncomfortable. Reluctantly, Bernice finally did.


We should all have them, or at least some. Somewhere in our life, we all need to learn not only how to show sympathy, how to be empathetic, show compassion, share a hug or two when appropriate, read up on the right things to say, or not to say, during a time of loss and learn to listen. There are times when most folks need a listening ear and a soft shoulder where they can just cry. Not forever, but for a little while. There are some, however, who just cannot, no matter how hard they try, help carry other folks’ burdens. I do believe my friend Beatrice is one of them.


It was when my husband Ken began showing obvious signs of Alzheimer’s that I paid a few visits to my friend of 60-some years that I noticed her wandering gaze when I mentioned some of the things Ken had done because of his AD. I even caught a few eye rolls. It didn’t take me long to get the message that she just didn’t want me to talk about my husband or his devastating disease. Asking, “How’s Ken was strictly a formality?” She really didn’t want to know. Nor did she offer a hug or an invitation for me to come over anytime and the assurance that she was going to be “there” for me during this time of adversity.

Furthermore, other neighbors had mentioned to me that she was being more than critical about the need for more professional care that she believed he would receive in a all-out care facility. Apparently, she felt the care which I was providing for this truly mild-mannered man who was no danger to them or to himself was not enough. “He should be in a home,” she complained to our neighborhood community.

I know and understand that we all have our foibles and weak places in our personalities. She isn’t me, and I’m not her and that’s all right. Even if she wasn’t “there” for me with a soft shoulder, she is still my friend and I have forgiven her her apparent inability for empathy. Not everyone is able to “step up to the plate.” I have noticed that her health is beginning to fail, and she has a touch of dementia. I visited with her recently and have told her that if her son isn’t available, I’ll be “there” for her. “Just give me a call.” After all is said and done, we have been friends forever and still are. 

Originally posted 2016-08-15 01:51:29.

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