The birthday we were celebrating was not a landmark "0" year, just one of those in-betweens you pretty much take in stride. One woman brought photos from her son's wedding the previous month. Another was awaiting the birth of a grandchild and had her bags packed and her cell phone on. A third was ready to send a daughter off to graduate school. A couple of us groused half-heartedly about work and work deadlines, and one talked about plans for a retirement beach house.
Just another gathering of what we insist on calling the book club, even though it would hardly fit anyone else's definition. Some of our friends and family members have taken to calling it the virtual book club, but I think that's a bit harsh. We actually got around to talking about what we had been reading lately (more mysteries by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, Steve Oney's And The Dead Shall Rise about the Leo Frank trial and lynching, and a sweet Anna Quindlen novel called Blessings) and swapped a couple of books.
I'm fortunate enough to claim membership in three different groups of women, although none of them is organized. (None of the groups is organized; most of the women in them, in fact, are quite well-organized.) There are no bylaws, no membership lists, no regular meetings. They all depend on someone picking up the phone or sending an e-mail to suggest that it's time for a get-together, which can mean anything from a drink after work to dinner out or at someone's house.
As it happens the book club is made up of old friends -- one woman was in my first grade class; and I shared maternity clothes with another when we were expecting our now-25-year-old daughters. Two of the members were college roommates.
There's another group called The Committee, just because somebody got the idea to call it that; we became friends when we all served on a board at the University of Georgia, our mutual alma mater. Our five members are divided among three cities in two states so we don't get together as often as we like. And since one member is busy running for the Georgia House of Representatives this fall and another is actively working in her campaign, there's probably not a gathering in our immediate future, but perhaps a cause for celebration.
The third group is a fortunate collection of colleagues past and present -- writers and editors by and large -- that expands and contracts according to who's available and who needs an ear to bend or who just wants some good company and good conversation over a glass of wine.
These groups are as necessary to my mental and physical health as fresh air and 7.5 hours of sleep every night. I can't imagine not having companionable groups of friends who can console, cajole, vent, invent, humor, appreciate, speculate, sympathize, advise and tell you honestly whether the pants you're wearing make you look fat. What would you do without people who understand and enjoy conversations that embrace husbands, children, work, politics, shopping and HGTV?
Maintaining these friendships is one of the few things that actually gets easier as you get older and have dropped out of the carpool ranks and perhaps even figured out a few things about work/life balance. My book club got started six years ago when one of our number determined that we were only seeing each other at weddings and funerals: now that we all, at least theoretically, had more time to ourselves we ought to put some effort into getting together on occasions that do not require pantyhose.
The writer and editor collection became a group because schedules and distances and low-carb diets have made it too hard to run out and grab a sandwich in pairs.
Age-wise, I'm squarely in the middle of the book club pack; I'm the senior member of the other two. But the chemistry is good in all groups, and there is even some crossover.
There have been other groups over the years, linked to specific times or activities (young professional groups, new mothers groups) that served their purpose and more or less fizzled out. But these feel pretty solid. I think they all have staying power.
Susan Percy is executive editor of Georgia Trend.