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Ya Ya Sisters
I saw in the local newspaper on Cape Cod that the last of my mother’s monthly luncheon crowd died a few days ago. They are all gone now. I want to take a moment to give you the best of what they brought to me.
When my mother died more than a decade ago, I was living on Cape Cod taking care of her cancer ridden end of life. At her funeral I was invited to take her place at the monthly luncheon she and her friends had been doing for years. They met at a different restaurant each month, where they asked for separate checks, heard one another’s reviews of the past month, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. When they asked if I wanted to come, I said, “Oh my God, you mean like the Sisters of the Ya Ya? I’m so excited. Thank you. I’m there; just tell me when and where.” None of them knew the Ya Ya Sisterhood story, and I tried to explain, but it fell on deaf ears. Literally. You had to speak up with the YaYas. I gave each of them their own copy of the movie for Christmas that first year, and since none of them mentioned it afterward, I don’t think they watched it. Or worse, they watched it and thought I was nuts, which is the more likely scenario.
The group had eight women in it. My Aunt Nancy, three of my mother’s and aunt’s friends from childhood, a few neighborhood friends of many years, and now me. The oldest was probably in her late eighties (and that was twelve years ago), and outside of me, the youngest was in her early eighties maybe? One was an ex nun; a few were divorced or widowed; some were still working, others had retired; some were grandparents, others never had children, and so on. They were each unique characters unto themselves, but there was some mysterious common denominator they all had that I could never quite pinpoint. Was it they never argued about anything, no matter how fraught with opportunity? Was it that they just murmured and asked few questions of each other? Was it that all of them were in the final chapters of their lives and didn’t seem to have much left undone - or unsaid? They all smiled genuine smiles of affection, and there wasn’t a jealous bone in their bodies. They all nodded gently when one of them described an ailment, not in the “Give me sympathy or give me the cure” way my friends and I discuss the aging process, but in a more, “I do so know your pain, and I’m sorry,” sort of way that touched my soul. They never complained. They just explained.
I loved those lunches, but I left them with an unsettled feeling that I needed to pay closer attention because there was much to learn and I could easily have missed it. These women of another generation handled themselves differently than my friends and I do, and I didn’t want to miss the lesson.
The Christmas luncheon was the best. We did a secret Santa. You could only spend $5 on the gift, and it couldn’t be a candle. And, you couldn’t buy something from the Christmas Tree Shop, which apparently is filled with $5 things you don’t need. The gifts were awesome. I got a plant one year, and it flowered for most of January until I forgot to water it. Ya Ya.
I never missed the YaYa lunches unless I absolutely couldn’t avoid it. One month, it was favorite daughter Sarah’s graduation from law school, and while I’m not nuts enough to have asked the Law School if they could change the date, I did look at the calendar to see if I could have squeezed it in between ceremonies. At any rate, it was always the third Thursday of each month—except one month, when it was on the fourteenth of said month. Aunt Nancy called me about picking up some of the Ya Yas a few days before.
“You should know I offered your services to pick up Roz for lunch on Thursday. That’s okay, right?”
“Sure Aunt Nancy, but I thought it was the third Thursday of the month.”
“It is,” she snapped. “This is the third Thursday. I talked to everyone today and everyone is coming except for Barbara, who is getting a tooth pulled.”
“Well that’s fine, but this Thursday is the second Thursday, the fourteenth. It would be physically impossible for the fourteenth of a month to be the third Thursday. But it’s fine. I can do it.”
“Oh my, I just looked at my calendar. You are right, it’s the second Thursday.” Pause. “Why didn’t anyone say anything?”
“Well I don’t know, but no matter, I will pick you up at noon.”
When we got there and Nancy recounted the conversation about what Thursday it was, all the YaYas pulled out their pocket calendars, which one of the YaYas had given them all at the December YaYa lunch, and I saw that the two next to me had crossed out the one they had written in for the third Thursday and rewritten the fourteenth. Everyone laughed and laughed, but I realized that my generation would have challenged Nancy’s call for lunch confirmation when she made it. Gives new meaning to ‘go with the flow.’
The Ya Yas taught me a lot:
Patience. Lunch was a few hours, and I never glanced at my watch. Stories were told in their entirety, in complete sentences, not in half-phrases and shorthand like my friends and I use. For all their complaining about their fading memories, they always remembered to ask about things mentioned in Ya Ya lunches past. The first thing Marie asked me in the June lunch was about Sarah’s graduation the month before. It matters.
Frugality. They each ate about half of what is on their plates and they took the rest home for dinner. And perhaps lunch as well.
Commitment. No one missed the lunches. They were marked in the calendar before the year began, and they often planned their travels and appointments around the lunches. I liked that. I, who moved my calendar around with no rhyme or reason, like one of those beach balls you see at a rock concert, learned from their example.
I am grateful for the YaYas. They all took special moments to tell me some story or other about my mom from a different time, usually unveiling something remarkable or unusual about her. They also took a moment to tell me how much it meant to them that I was a YaYa, and they understood if I didn’t have time to go anymore. I always wanted to go.
I had time. I had all the time they didn’t have. And I’m so grateful for the YaYa memories from the time I spent with those wise and kind women.