Friday, December 18, 2020

The Tootsie Sisters

Last weekend an old friend of mine stopped up for a long overdue visit. It had been over a year since we had last seen one another. The time lapse had nothing to do with the Covid pandemic and the lockdowns and isolation we have been going through the past 10 months. But it had everything to do with daily life and time making its incredibly fast fleeting moments. Our last time together was at her sister’s cabin further up North about a year and a half ago. It had been a pre-planned event to meet up with her sisters and all of our spouses. It was a great day of pontoon rides, eating, soaking up the warm sun and laughing with all of them. When everyone else was busy chatting and looking at the cabin, my friend and I headed down to the dock and hopped on the paddle boat. We paddled out to the middle of the lake and just floated along towards the eventual shore. 

It was a chance to get away from everyone and have that visit that only the two of us could have and be meaningful. A chance to reminisce with each other about our wild teenage years and how we met. Out there on the lake where no one could hear us laughing so hard we were creating an echo we were reminded of the crazy teenage years and we laughed over all the things that got us in trouble when we were in High School.  Four years of an all girls’ Catholic High School had given so many stories and events to laugh over that day. I reminded her of how on graduation night,our principal, Sister Mary Eileen, handed me my diploma, shook my hand and whispered, “Saints be praised, we did it”. 

After High School, my friend and I applied for a job at the Minnesota State Fair as ticket takers at the entrance gates. We were the very first females to be hired into that position. It was 1976 and the State Fair had always been and at that time was still “the good old boys club”. When we showed up the first morning at 5:30, we were met by most of the all male crew giving us the stink-eye. We were told to go stand on the sidewalks and take tickets from the pedestrians walking in. We realized within minutes of taking the sidewalk that we were given the worst possible job available. Literally thousands of people walked by us throwing tickets our way in a pretty unorderly fashion. There was no method to the sidewalk madness and that day I am certain many people got into the fair without handing us their tickets. They'd be able to use them again or give them away or if they were smart, scalp them for a cheaper price outside the gates and hope to not get caught.

Eventually , when the rest of the crew realized we were OK, we got to work in the car lanes with the rest of them, which was quite a bit easier and more fun. We got to hop on the tour busses of the Grand Stand performers and let them in. Imagine the excitement when WIllie Nelson’s bus pulled into our gate. Although he wasn’t on the bus it was just way cool to see it. There were cases and cases of beer there and the faint smell of pot.

That first year, once that we proved ourselves OK to work with, we got the title of “The Tootsie Sisters” by our boss. And that name stuck with us for the next 20+ years we worked side by side for those 2 weeks at the Great Minnesota Get Together. 

TIme moved on and sometimes the State Fair would be the only time my friend and I would get a chance to see each other. We both were married and working other jobs during the rest of the year. We were both married and had been in each other’s weddings and we had kids that kept us super busy. Time just moved on and eventually got too busy to even work the State Fair.

Since this was a time before cell phones, texting and Facebook, we could go a few years without seeing each other. There would maybe be a Christmas card or word from other friends about each other. Occasionally we would meet up for lunch and catch up on life. And make the solemn vow to not be so long in getting together. But time kept pushing forward at an incredibly fast pace. Our kids were older and moving out, getting married and we were becoming grandmas. And then about 10 years ago came the news that her husband had fallen over in the back yard and had a stroke. Life changed so completely for my friend and her husband at that moment. He suffered some cognitive damage and no longer was able to help her in the ways she was accustomed to. All of a sudden my friend had to do all the major decision making, financial things and worst of all...she had to learn how to cook. She always had let her husband do that as he was so good at it. We did manage to talk on the phone a few times during his recovery time, but her life had just gotten double busy learning her new roles.

Over time, we’ve sent each other texts of encouragement, or silly memes or we will chat back and forth while at work and on breaks. Sometimes replies have been quick and few and far between, and other times texts have been lengthy with both of us needing to hear the others encouragement and take on life.

The past 4-5 years we have grown older and have realized that time isn’t standing still. We have become more intentional in trying to stay in contact with each other. When we do get a chance to visit, it is a special time for both of us. A chance to stop the craziness of our busy lives and laugh. Laugh at our past, laugh at our spouses and kids and grandkids, and mostly laugh at ourselves and where our lives have wound up. If someone back in 1976 told us we would both be happily married with kids and grandkids it surely would have had us laughing in disbelief.

As much as my friend has endured over the past decade since her husband’s stroke, she will acknowledge the sadness and loss of the man he was, and then put on an attitude of gratitude and find even the smallest thing to be grateful for. Once it was the fact that she was able to buy a complete ready for thanksgiving meal she didn't have to cook and make her family suffer while eating it.  She has teared up talking about the struggles with me, but never once has she had a pity party for herself. She is just that kind of person. She has a strong faith and just knows that these are the cards she’s been dealt and carries on with that inner strength she gets from her faith.

Our times together are still filled with fun and lots of laughter we share in the stories of our growing up days and early adult years and our current lives. We have over the years developed an inner quietness and peace between us that only her and I can understand. That day floating on the paddle boat on the lake, not a ton of words were spoken, but so much was understood between us. I guess that comes from over 45 years of just being real to each other and always being there even if it wasn’t in person. My friend and I have a friendship that has endured much, and even when we don’t see each other for years at a time, we are always able to pick up right where we left off. That truly is what I call a sacred friendship.

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