We gathered at dinnertime. Each woman arrived with a salad or dessert or big tray of food. As usual, we had more food than we could possibly eat. Most of us are used to cooking for big families, and nine women could not possibly eat all the food spread out on the kitchen table but we gave it our best try.
It was a Friday night potluck, a gathering of a group of friends that I've called the Shadow Women. We don't see each other much in the summer; most of us take vacations with our families or partners, and it's very hard to schedule a night when we are all at home.
From the outside, it might be hard to see what we all have in common. It's true that we are all from the same age bracket, most of in our forties, with one woman who has celebrated her 50th birthday. But we are at very different points of our lives: one woman has a one-year-old child, while another has a grandchild already. One woman does not have children. Our jobs cover a range, from an artist who works in her home to a woman who works at a high-pressure law firm. I am the only academic in the group.
Most of us have lived in Snowstorm region our whole lives, and there is no question that the landscape is a bond. A recent storm and flood was our first topic of conversation: everyone was excitedly giving details about what they had seen and experienced. We all knew every landmark.
A women-only gathering has a certain energy to it. As much as I love my male friends and my teenage boys, I have to admit I like to sink into the atmosphere of feminine energy. Conversations quickly became intimate. Each woman was trying to catch up with friends, so soon the room was filled with pairs of women, each participating in an intense discussion. I talked with LongBeautifulHair about my marriage, my trip to Oregon, my brother, my male friendships. I talked to Quilt Artist about storytelling, about my writing, about her artwork. I talked to Signing Woman about my children and her stepchildren. I tried to reassure MakesBread that her four-year-old would someday use the bathroom and not prefer a diaper.
Talking intensely, we ate our way through huge mounds of food, and moved eventually from the kitchen to the living room, just to take a break from all that food before it was time to start on the desserts. A serious talk about sex suddenly became raucous. Signing Friend cannot resist a pun, and once she gets started, there is no stopping her. Always this happens. After a couple hours of intense and serious conversations, we end up in a big group discussion that involves all kinds of jokes and laughter, and a certain amount of teasing.
We planned our fall retreat: we go to the mountains for a long weekend every October. (No husbands and children allowed, although we do make an exception for nursing babies and toddlers.) DarkHairedWoman reminisced about the last retreat. She fell asleep early, while the rest of us stayed up to party. When she came into the living room, wondering what she had missed the night before, she was greeted by the sight of all of our bras hanging from the mantel of the fireplace. She says this year she is staying up, no matter how tired she is.
While we talked, the sky outside the windows grew dark. Eventually, we realized it was time to go home - to partners, families, cats, work, or sleep. We lingered at the door, the conversations once again intimate. As I drove home, bringing with me the leftover desserts that the group bestowed on me, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated.