My grandparents are long gone, my mother died in 1963, daddy died in 1986, and my stepmother died in 2010. I guess that, technically, I am a 66 year old orphan — but I am lucky enough to have a big network of friends who have become my family.
I often take time to reflect on what a fortunate person I am. But no more than when I spend time with my friends. As Elbert Hubbard (who?) said, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
And I have gathered them from so many different parts of my life. Six of them gathered for a birthday dinner for me recently and we commented on that very thing. All six of us are linked by theater: five by Board membership at the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and another friend who is a supporter of Remy Bumppo.
I met Karen when we were on the Discovery Board at the Goodman Theatre. She met Brenda on that same Board earlier. I became one of the first Board members at Remy Bumppo where I met Ann. I brought Karen in to the fold and later she brought Brenda.
I met Mary Pat when she came to an exhibit of my contemporary African art business, Dumela. She bought art from us, we became friends and then she became my “tentmate:” (aka “tentie”) on another friend’s 50th birthday safari to Botswana.
We have all done theater-related travel together: Ann and I to New York, Ann, Karen, Genevieve and I to London, Genevieve, Karen, Mary Pat, Diane and I to American Players Theater in Wisconsin, Mary Pat and I to Stratford Canada, Ann and I to London.
Genevieve, Diane, Karen, Mary Pat and I spent a Groupon 24 hour Stress Buster at The Heartland Spa where we had to dress in matching sweats, snuck (sorry, I just cannot say “sneaked”) in a bottle of champagne for Genevieve’s birthday (no junk food or alcohol allowed!) and took a laughter yoga class where we had to say “very good, very good, YAY!” and “I love my belly, I love my belly” (REALLY?) We still laugh about this and Genevieve’s “bad attitude” and her constant yearning for Mirabel.
Mary Pat and I decided we were like Thelma and Louise but could never remember who was who(m). When Diane and Genevieve and I were in Wisconsin for the Fermentation Festival (yes, that’s what it was called), I was excited to see chickens running around a field! I mean, we all have seen Free Range Chicken on menus but who has actually ever seen a Free Range Chicken? They came dangerously close to the highway; chicken road kill is not something I would like to see. We also laughed when we saw Guard Llamas in the corral with the sheep. This was nirvana for city girls.
We are a variety of ages. In our mid to late 60s, Ann and I are the oldest; at 40 something Genevieve is the youngest. Brenda, Karen, Ann and Mary Pat are all in wonderful marriages; Diane, Genevieve and I are blissfully or frustratingly (depending on the day) single.
Then there is my dear friend Dave. He and I met on a trip to Tanzania, Africa for my 50th birthday. I had been on safari a number of times and wanted to spend my 50th birthday on safari; he had never been and was very brave to sign up. We became good friends on that trip and have been so ever since (16 years). He’s much younger than I but we have the same spirit of adventure and commitment to wildlife and indigenous peoples. He hosted, along with several other good friends of mine (Jean, Chris, Leah and Linda) a phenomenal surprise party for my 60th birthday. People asked if I was really surprised; no, I was STUNNED. Because of my love of Africa, they created an African theme for the party. I had a throne to sit on, wore a crown of candles and was handed a scepter and a proclamation naming me Queen of Nanzia, a country they created for me (they even gave me a map which I now have framed in my “African bathroom”)
Part of the proclamation reads: “Let it further be known that said country will be inhabited solely by elephants and lovers of elephants” and “require all citizens to take a sabbatical each year to the neighboring province of REMYBUMPSWANA to pay homage to the theatre.”
And then there are my friends related to my African art business. There’s my business partner Leila (more on that “partner” thing in a bit) whom I met when we were both working at Leo Burnett. We started our Dumela business in 1998 and on our first buying trip to Harare met the woman who is now our dear dear friend, Liz. One of our earliest, best clients was Wally who with his partner Mike now have their own contemporary art gallery called Amazwi. It’s Wally whose 50 birthday safari Mary Pat and I joined and had the best trip of our lives.
Ah yes, the “business partner” story. When Leila was still at Burnett, after I had retired, she asked me to help her with a brainstorming project for the African Wildlife Foundation. Members from the client were in attendance the first day. Leila introduced me as her partner. I grimaced and later told her “NO NO NO, you must call me your business partner; if I ever hope to get a date, men must not think I’m your Partner Partner.” We laughed about it and have been “Business Partners” every since (and I am still not dating anyone, oh well).
And there’s Cindy who started out (and remains) our framer but who became (and remains) a dear friend. She and I have a pedicure together every 3 weeks and talk and talk and talk and talk.
I met my dear friends Dale and Monique from Los Angeles in Madagascar on an Earthwatch project on lemurs, along with Bruce and Mary (and a late dear friend Danielle). We have such fun telling people we met in Madagascar; I mean how many people even know where it IS, much less have been there? And friend Cordelia from New York whom I met on an Earthwatch project in Kenya.
And then there are the women I met when I was a founding member of a South African women’s group in Chicago. Dear Nira, with whom I had lunch on Valentine’s Day, who lives in the suburbs. We consider ourselves good friends even though we realized we had not actually SEEN each other in 10 years. But we are in email contact weekly. And Heidi who lives in Texas and visited recently; we all talked and talked as though no time had gone by at all.
And then there are the childhood friends: Sally and Geoff and Bill and Susan and Bruce. Geoff was my boyfriend in 3rd grade; we used to do the bulletin boards together. I’m not sure anyone else liked us very much because we were the two who always flung our hands in the air saying “Oh me me, I know the answer.”
Bruce’s dad and mine were best friends. I grew up with Bruce and his brother Skip. Our dads always wanted Bruce and me to date. We tried. That was not a success. He was married for 25 years. Then he came out and we are better friends than ever. Actually, we consider ourselves family. He’s my brother and his mom considers me her daughter.
There’s Gloria who has forgotten more about theater than I will ever know. She is opinionated and really smart and she challenges me and informs me and makes me think. She and I go to dinner and theater together in Chicago and in Canada.
There’s my contractor Fred who is my “go to” guy. He wants me to be happy and has made my house look beautiful. He has also become my friend.
I have so many other friends in different parts of my life. I can’t possibly mention them all, but they are all important to me. They not only enrich my life but they help me when I ask (and even when I don’t). When I had a hip replacement in 2011, they were all there, taking turns to do errands, bring me meals, drive me places. I am not good at asking for help; they know that about me so they just did it.
And then my other two best friends. They are quite vocal but don’t say anything too profound. They are both kind of overweight and one has diabetes. They are pretty hairy. They are quite “diverse” looking. Like me, they had no family. We found each other a few years ago and are now inseparable. Like me, they love sunbathing. They are Bob and Spud.
To all of my friends, named and unnamed, I say thank you for being such an integral part of my life, And in the words of the immortal Piglet, after he came up to Pooh from behind, “Pooh?” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
I am sure of my friends. Always.