Five present and past members of the board of the Oneonta Garden Club were having lunch at the Yellow Deli prior to the monthly board meeting. The conversation wandered around through family news, health and wellness reports, settled on a topic that kept us going for quite a while. I hadn’t been listening very carefully.
What do you mean?
I mean what are you networking, some project, or what? I think we are absolutely doing everything we are capable of doing.
Now everyone is looking at me with a trace of compassion for my stupidity. Fran says it’s networking for everything, for us.
And I understand at once that it is for friendship, because that is our reward for a long life lived as well as we are able. This kind of friendship is so fine, based on not much more than companionships that have lived as long as, or even longer than our marriages.We have the most elaborate memories of other days. The Garden Club is historical, begun in the 1930’s by women in hats and white gloves who gathered for their meetings at one another’s homes.I became a member just at the end of that tradition of exclusivity. the membership was small and the board was huge. The board met at my small house one day, and at that time refreshments were obligatory. Marian, gone from us now for about ten years, said to me, Who had the guts to bring those awful, big cookies? I was still in possession of my mother’s silver tea set, but even so that remark made me feel a neophyte in tea party etiquette. Cookie size had never entered my mind when I bought, did not bake, those Pepperidge Farm cookies.
Somebody said that old people live in the past. My joke is that they can’t remember the present. The new officers at the Garden Club are much younger than we are. They come after retirement cause they love gardening and have time to do it now, and because they are used to the work day, they hope to continue it in a different way. They aim for the same goals, but they bring different tools, different skills that tend to mask our shared interest in making Oneonta a better place to live. Every year the down town planters become more attractive, the vest pocket parks more beautifully cared for. Art in Bloom has become an Oneonta tradition, and the annual Christmas wreath Sale and the May plant and bake sale are both hugely profitable. But those goals (to better understand and participate in the art of gardening and flower arranging, and to make Oneonta a beautiful little city) are the same goals those ladies from long ago hoped for.
So we have all become friends in a changing world. And it isn’t just the Garden Club either, but all the other things that go along with it and is known as community. We have learned to know ourselves so well. We have learned how our individual differences enrich each of us. It’s the reason for banding together to withstand some of those slings and arrows occasionally aimed at us from the younger members of our society. Some of us want to remove themselves from the younger society altogether, but that seems to me to be a big mistake, because in spite of perceived slights we really do want to continue to share in the experiences of each passing time. It is always new. We wonder at the electronic devices our children think of a standard equipment, wonder at their inability to find Kuwait on the map. Find it hard to imagine they can find the answer to any of their questions just by clicking on Google.
There are aging people who live in what I think of as isolated communities. In one such place I know there is a nursery school on the premises where residents can go to volunteer or just to observe the children at play. In other places therapy pets are invited in. How much better, it seems to me, to live in a diverse community where the sights and sounds shift and turn, where a dog barks at the mailman, where the kids can be seen sauntering along in their ragged way after school. How good it is to participate in the watermelon seed spitting contest held every July, to watch your grandchild marching down the street trumpet held proudly high in the Memorial Day parade; how satisfying to be asked how to make a decent sauce, or if I remember rationing in WWII, experience to be shared with friends who understand. You can’t beat it that happy stuff, and you can never forget kindness and support that friends give during the sad times. Because that’s what networking is, active friendship–keeping in touch.