I always get a tad sentimenal and nostalgic when it's time to head home for the holidays, and this year, I'm no different. In fact, I'm likely worse because of what's on my nightstand....
Over the last few days I've been reading the book The Girls From Ames. It's been in bookstores since summer, and on my To Read list for a while. I think it's appropriate that I'm taking in this familiar and true story about old friends just days before I'll be reconnecting with the girls from my hometown, my oldest friends.
Growing up, I kept the same friends since elementary school - Manda and Melanie- who I have known since pre-school. Along the way, through middle and high school, we added Cassie and Amanda to our group. Though there were times of estrangement between us all through those transitional years after high school, the five of us have remained connected.
Striking our infamous prom pose at Melanie's wedding
(l-r: Manda, Me, Melanie, Cassie, Amanda)
Cassie and I were each others maids of honor. Manda and Amanda are now sisters-in-law. After a long stay in Boston, Melanie recently moved back down South, and is now practically neighbors with Cassie. I'm admittedly jealous....
If you replace the women in this book with me and my friends, and you trade Ames, Iowa, for the small town in Tennessee where we were raised, if you make the 1980's the 1990's well...it's our story, too. I bet it's the story of cliques of women everywhere. That's why it is so good. The reader gets to relive, with serious empathy, the coming of age experiences of these girls- their silly traditions, their insecurities, their first loves, their first disappointments - that shape them into women. I bet you'll read it, while both laughing and crying, and about your oldest group of friends say, "That's so us...". I did.
One of the Ames girls says it best: "You can tell people where you're from and who you were, which is who you are. But no one really knows you unless they were there. With the other girls, there's an understanding you don't have to explain."
I feel that way about my group of friends. Though sometimes more than a year will pass between the five of us being together, when we do reconnect, it is effortless. Between us there are five husbands, five children, and a baby on the way. There are five different zip codes, college degrees from four different schools, one Masters from Yale, careers, tons of passport stamps, strong opinions, and diverse lifestyles. We were all different when we were young, but existing in such a small town it wasn't as clear. Our differences are more obvious now, and certainly more respected. Despite that, we all share the same history...and nerdy nostalgics like me find real comfort in that.
Through The Girls From Ames, the author mixes in trivia about the psychology behind women and friendships, including details about a poll that asked people what in their lives says the most about who they are. The number one answer, by 39-percent of people polled, was I'm defined by my friendships.
I don't have children yet, but I would think one's own offspring would challenge that answer for many people...probably even myself should the time come. Because I can't yet say for sure, though, I have to agree.
If I have been blessed in abundance with anything in this life, it is with friendships - my childhood friends, and especially the urban family I have formed here in the last eight years. I think there's likely a book to be written about the friendships you make later in life, too, because for me those relationships have been so sustaining and definitive to my livelihood as an adult. Until someone writes that story, however, I recommend reading The Girls From Ames.