Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friends

I wrote the following about my lifelong friends shortly after I turned 50. Those friendships have been very much in my mind lately and I think may have had something to do with yesterday worry attack (no, it wasn't a panic attach!) about my failing memory.

History tells us that 1945 was a momentous year in world events, but there was special reasons for rejoicing in the Brisbane suburb of Nudgee. Frank and Kath Conway welcomed a baby girl, Marie after two sons; Mick and Margaret Tanner already had a boy and a girl, so were happy with the birth of beautiful Tricia. Not far away at Laidley in the Lockyer Valley two prominent families were also rejoicing in my birth, the first child born to Andy and Lilly Ward. When I was five our family moved to Nudgee and the three little girls who lived in adjoining streets became firm friends. We were in the same class at St Pius’ Convent and walked to and from school together, along with another Nudgee girl, Pat Fleming.

By the time we were in our last year at primary school we had formed what the parish priest most disapprovingly called a “clique” and despite the very public condemnation (from the pulpit, in front of the whole school) about the evils of cliques, how their exclusion of other little boys and girls amounted to meanness and cruelty, the friendship grew stronger. Each was a member of the other’s extended family, familiar with each others parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents.

As we grew older our interests varied but our friendship remained. I went to swimming training with a young man who, upon introduction to my friend, Tricia, fell in love and later married her. Marie and I played tennis, squash and badminton together. With Tricia in love (and married from an early age, happily to this day I might add) and Marie being of a more conservative nature, I became firm friends with another girl who had been in our class at school but who lived on the other side of the hill in Banyo, Denise Smollen. Denise and I surfed and partied together. As we met and were courted by young men we each cast aspersions on the other’s choice, but luckily we had different taste and never competed for affections.

I was the first to leave the fold, heading out west to Richmond at 19 to work in a pub. Shortly afterwards Denise went in search the bright lights of Sydney, but our trips home to Brisbane coincided with holidays on the Gold Coast. I then went to Proserpine in North Queensland where I lost my heart to a young Kiwi cane cutter and six months later was married and moved to Mt Isa. A year later Marie married Les who had been her constant companion for years but it was quite a few more years before Denise met Barry and finally also “settled down” in Sydney, returning to Brisbane about five years later.

In late 1973 I moved to farming life in NZ but we friends always stayed in touch and every holiday home I spent time with my friends.

Now each is proud of (and known and loved by) each others families - Marie and Les, 5; Bryon and me 4; Tricia and Rob, 3; Denise and Barry, 2. And now, of course, we are all grandparents.

The last time we were all together had been Marie’s wedding and it took the reaching of 50 to bring us all together again at the same time. I was always the one who was missing, so it was fitting that the occasion was my and Marie’s birthdays which are three weeks apart. To help
celebrate the occasion we were joined by Joyce, who had worked with Denise in her first job and become part of the friendship, and her husband Col.

What a night of nostalgia! How many memories were revisited, toasts drunk? How much alcohol was drunk for that matter! It was a hot February night but Denise’s front verandah overlooking the peaceful bush and the Glasshouse Mountains was the perfect, relaxed setting. The pool was visited many times.

Next morning instead of early morning showers it was into the pool again, now sober, to laugh at lost youth (and young bodies) and to rejoice in being together again. And to look forward to the next 45 years of friendship.

Now here we are damn near 15 years later and I feel as if one of those bonds is slipping from me. Denise, my best mate through my teenage years, the one I partied with, my bridesmaid, the most confident (read outspoken) and self assured of my mates, has Alzheimer's Disease.

I spoke to her and her husband Barry on the phone last week, it was Denise’s 65th birthday. For a few minutes I thought I may have over-reacted to the reports I’d had from Marie. Denise sounded exactly the same! But went off track as she was telling me I should come home more often, not to worry about clothes, she had plenty she could give me although she has lost a lot of weight due to her medication for a “condition” she has caught from somewhere, didn’t know where but it had caught her. She then tried to explain what this condition was and got very confused, then upset and insisted on handing the phone back to Barry.

My chat went back and forth between Barry and Denise with Barry helping her out with words but then degenerated quickly with Denise growing more and more angry and aggressive, and Barry finally saying he would have to go and calm her down, that what I’d just witnessed was a daily event. But the dear man wanted me to know she wasn’t angry with me, she was pissed off with him because of a word he’d used (but he wasn’t too sure which one it was).

As I write this I am becoming upset again. My mate as I have known her for nearly 60 years has gone. My heart is breaking for Barry and their beautiful boys.

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