"And the special today is chicken and eggplant parmesan," said the waitress. She handed us menus and walked away. Kindergarten Friend shuddered.
"Isn't chicken parmesan what you usually order?" I asked.
"Yeah, but not with eggplant in it." She looked up from the menu. "What a nasty vegetable. I can't even figure out why it exists."
Our eating habits are almost entirely opposite. We both grew up in the era when kids brought metal lunch boxes to school, usually holding the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and we ate lunch together every day from first grade to eighth grade. But she doesn't like peanuts, she will eat only jelly. And I don't like jelly, I put only peanut butter on my sandwiches. Perhaps this is the secret that has held our friendship together for over forty years.
An Italian restaurant is a good meeting place for us: we both eat pasta. And we ate slowly last night, because we hadn't seen each other in months, and we had all kinds of catching up to do. We discussed our kids, our siblings, our parents. And of course, we had to exchange the usual gossip about the Big Stone Church School community, relaying encounters with friends from elementary school.
"Remember Irish Name Boy?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "I mean, I haven't seen him since 1975 or so ...."
"I ran into him last week at the ski slopes. He moved south with his wife about twelve years ago, but then he got a divorce. He had to stay there until his kids were grown up, and then he moved back here."
"His kids are grown up? That makes me feel old."
"And guess who he's dating? Girl Who Rode Horses."
That's the amazing thing about the Big Stone Church School community: how connected we still feel, even after all these years. Kindergarten Friend herself married someone from our small class. My brother last summer married someone from his class. People move away, lead some kind of life somewhere else, and then come back and marry someone from the community years later. And many of us are still friends. When I run into someone from Big Stone Church School community, it's always like seeing a cousin.
After we caught up on all the news, we talked about ourselves, of course. I love talking to someone who's known me my whole life: I can be completely honest. During one rambling narrative about something that happened last fall, I kept interrupting myself to say, "See, I was right! Didn't I tell you?"
Only a close friend can tolerate that kind of gloating. And Kindergarten Friend, she actually encourages it.
And of course, we are almost exactly the same age. When she gave up squinting at the tiny print on the dessert menu and handed it to me, I laughed and put it back on the table. "Hey, if you can't read it, I can't either."
We'd gotten to the restaurant early, but suddenly I looked up and noticed that all around us, the wait staff were clearing tables, putting on new tablecloths, and sweeping the floor. All the other customers had gone home. We'd been talking for hours. Reluctantly, we put on our coats and headed out into the dark winter night.