Friendships to Last a Lifetime
Sandra Mazur Rimetz '77 and her friends have held their own reunion weekend every year since leaving Keene State. That's 31 memorable no-husbands, no-children, let-your-hair-down, best-friend weekends – the kind that are so good for the female soul.
Front row, left to right: Katie Briand Obijiski, Sandra Mazur Rimetz, Linda Williams Blakeman, Lori Nati Roe.
Second row: Susie McNamara Delo, Cindy VanValkenburg Newton, Vanessa Freije Underwood, Eileen McCarthy Gosselin, Kathy Sherburne Mallat. Missing from the photo: Paula Chapman Burr, Liz Simon, Jenny Jones Mahuka.
On the first weekend in August for every one of the past 31 years, the 12 most inspirational and amazing women I have known since my college days at Keene State have gathered for our "reunion weekend." The un-breakable thread that binds us together began in the corridors of Carle Hall and Owl's Nest #5 more than 30 years ago. We come from five different states, leaving behind 20 children ranging in age from 27 to 14 and many patient and loving husbands. For this weekend we shed our job titles as principal, guidance counselor, teacher, artist, flight attendant, fitness instructor, paralegal, mother, and/or wife to visit, laugh, and reminisce together.
The motivation for our reunion began soon after our graduation in 1977. One of us was getting married, and we gathered (for what many of us thought would be for one last time) to celebrate the special occasion. We made a special pledge on that day to keep in touch by meeting the first weekend in August every year until we were old and gray. It wasn't long before the first weekend of August was marked on the calendar as "reunion weekend."
The rules of reunion are few: no husbands or children, keep it affordable, keep it simple, and for god's sake, be there! Husbands know to prepare for it, the kids know to plan for it, and I always know I just have to be there for it. We arrive each year with cheerful smiles, toting pajamas and pillows, wine and munchies. Within minutes, photos of family, pets, and vacations fill the room. Our entertainment is ourselves – our stories of the year's challenges and its victories. We never leave one reunion without charting out the next, thereby allowing a full year to plan (and save).
It was, and still is, a euphoric moment to slip behind the steering wheel of my car and pull out of my driveway in the direction of my college friends. Rain or shine, the world always looks bright around me, and as the car moves forward, life's everyday duties get smaller and smaller behind me.
As time went on, the importance of our planned escape folded itself into our lives. For me, it became a place where I could share in conversations about where we came from, examine who we were now, and, most importantly, where we may be tomorrow. We laughed and cried sometimes all in the same hour. I was moved by the love and compassion that surrounded me. It was something I had never experienced before, so strong, so infinite.
And then there are the photos, lots of them. As the years passed, they really began to pile up, and we would spend hours rummaging through them, reliving all our adventures of previous years. Finally, one of us was bril-liant enough to suggest the creation of a scrapbook. Imagine that, a place where we could put our best shots and memorabilia from our various stops (restaurants). Photos, magazine cutouts, restaurant menus/napkins, and trinkets fill the scrapbook. We no longer have to rely on our own memories (thank goodness) to reminisce. And for anyone who missed the previous year's reunion, the scrapbook is a way to catch up on the stories, memories, and adventures.
Some of those adventures were planned and others, well, they just happened. One amazing summer reunion put us in the same hotel as Billy Joel and his then-wife Christy Brinkley. In another hotel adventure we sang to a bride and groom after their ceremony in a garden outside our second-floor hotel room. We know our rendition of "Going to the Chapel" was precious and sincerely welcomed by the wedding party.
And of course, there was the hotel in Keene in 2003 for our own campus visit. It had been more than 25 years since we graduated, so it seemed like the best place to celebrate our reunion that year. The day was full of reminiscing as we sat on the stairs of Owl's Nest #5 and walked the hallways of Carle Hall. Stories and laughter filled the rooms once again, just like old times. We sang favorite verses of our college songs, and, for a single moment, each of us wanted to be back in time, be that carefree college student once again. We realized for this weekend, we were just that and took the moment home with us.
In other years, we've gone to one of our homes. Husbands, parents, and children have willingly stepped aside (and somehow magically disappeared) to give us our space. Having an inexpensive place to lay our tired bodies at the end of the day has really helped keep our reunions affordable for all and easier to manage. An un-spoken rule is to always leave the house the way we found it, so you can imagine 10 busy women perking up the place before departing. As the hostess in 2007, I can testify that by Sunday evening the only trace of my friends was the loving photos left behind and the smile on my face as I thought about some of the weekend's adventures.
Whether we are pounding the pavement of NYC or sunning on the beaches of Long Island and Maine, there is always a stranger or two whose curiosity brings them to our side. In some cases, a whole room of res-taurant patrons has turned their heads in our direction to listen to our story. The conversation usually starts with "Where are all you girls from?" and once they hear us yell out seven different states, the questions keep coming. People chuckle with delight in our stories and shake their heads in amazement at our fortitude to keep doing this year after year.
Now, thanks to technology, we know that each of us is only a "send" button away. One e-mail can stir up a two-day conversation on turning 50! Last year we left reunion with more than just memories and photos. We made bracelets with each of our birthstones, 12 in all, an acknowledgement of the 11 dear friends who live within my spirit the other 362 days of the year.
For those of you who left college and let friendships fade away, it is time to rejuvenate them again. Make a call, plan a lunch, or send an e-mail to someone from college who made you laugh or shared in a memory. Life is too short for regrets – so if you get a second chance to connect with friends, grab it with both hands. It may change your life the way it has changed ours.
Last year my daughter was college-bound, and she watched closely as my girlfriends arrived on our doorstep. In her eyes I could see the hope of making friendships at college like I had, friendships to last a lifetime. She has watched me head out for every year of her life and return with a glow of contentment. I know we all secretly hope the same for all of our daughters. Friendships that stand the test of time and distance. Friendships that change your life.
In a few short months, we will be together once again, reveling in our friendships and recalling memorable moments of our past year. We, all, are eagerly looking forward to another fantastic weekend together.