Sisters and Girlfriends…

Sisters and Girlfriends – Like Fine Wines,
Get Better with Age

By Joanne R. Alloway

Published in Outlook by the Bay, Holiday 2010 Issue

Do you have a sister, a sister-in-law, a cousin or a step sister you love and can confide in? Maybe not, but do you have a girlfriend that is just like a sister? All a woman needs is a girlfriend or two she can readily lean on, trust and be herself with. Over the years this woman becomes your rock, your confidant and your support system. They are like wines – sweet, dry or sparkling – that mellow over the years.

Natural sisters often fit the “friend” bill well because they’ve grown up together and have lived through much history together. Sibling rivalry aside, sisters make great friends as we age. Sisters lived through many of life’s rites of passage together. Often sisters have survived unwanted, harsh comments from other family members. A bond forms from longevity that can only be understood and appreciated by another woman, or sister. For example if a sister gets divorced after many years of marriage, family members all have opinions; and they don’t hesitate to share it with you, good or bad. But a sister is always there to offer support and love and not judge; despite what her own opinion might be. The divorcing sister knows this and is comforted to have a sister to turn to in any situation because she knows she would do the very same for her. As the years flow, so does the support system and so does the give and take. Thus the saying, “sisters are forever” surely rings true.

How We Find Our Girlfriends
In our grade school days, we have a lot of friends at school and sometimes in our neighborhoods. We are with them all the time, they are in our class, in girl scouts and swim clubs and we bond. In high school, friendships get more selective because we have more choices in classes, sports and after-school activities. These girlfriends tend to become more permanent, since they were selected based on interests and homogeneousness. A good example would be why high school reunions are so popular, especially after the ten and twenty year graduation mark. It has also been found that more women attend reunions – sparked by the fact that they like to catch up with former classmates. It is amazing how much fun the reunions can be. To find your class’ reunion, try While college reunions are also popular, they don’t rival high school reunion attendance numbers. This is not to say that two women who meet at college are not friends for life, because this is one of the strongest female bonds after natural sisterhood. Two or more women who live through up to four years of college, sweating it out together over grades, boyfriends, dorms, jobs, money and other campus life stresses have as similar a bond as sisters do. They even get to know the families of their campus friends well enough to continue visiting after graduation. It is not uncommon for former college roommates to end up living near one another after graduation, searching for jobs in the same cities and even marrying brothers and family members. We also meet our girlfriends during adulthood while raising children and volunteering in schools and other activities. The bond between sisters and girlfriends is indeed powerful.

Getting Older with Sisters and Girlfriends
Like fine wine, relationships with sisters and girlfriends just seems to get better as we age. We realize as never before that having reared children and nurtured husband(s), had careers and decorated and maintained households, we deserve some time to ourselves – to relax with like-minded women and enjoy the fruits and the labors of our lives. We like being close and reminiscing but also staying in the present and planning our future.

Women never run out of conversation. Upon returning home, our husbands might comment, “You’ve been gone for hours. What on earth do you girls talk about?” They just don’t get it! With girlfriends, there is always something going on, something to plan or to discuss. There are times to just listen as well. With friends you’ve known or had in your family forever, there is no need to explain a situation; a girlfriend just understands where you are coming from. You understand and respect each other. If your friend thinks her husband is cheating on her, you just let her talk until she asks you for your opinion, if she does. Maybe she’s just venting. If you were in her shoes, what would you expect her to do? As a good friend, anticipating her mood and her needs is what she needs most, along with your confidentiality.

Girlfriends and sisters need each other for so many different things. When they sit down for lunch or dinner with a glass of wine, it is a lovely moment. Sometimes it’s a celebration – a new job, a brand new grand child or a new downsized home, even a divorce can be celebrated! While we now have distance between us in many instances, making a visit not feasible, we still have our phones and email. And lately there’s a lot of interest in girlfriend weekends and vacations. You don’t have to make a complicated agenda for these trips: talk, eat, sleep, have some activity, shop and solve the problems of your world… and do it all again the next day. It may sound simple minded but it’s the best therapy a girlfriend can get and give. Try or for some interesting ideas! And yes, we still need the men in our lives, but they are our friends in a different way.

My Personal Storm

My Personal Storm
By Joanne R. Alloway

It was two days before our wedding. Although there were still many loose ends to tie up, I was happy and excited. Until the day my future father-in-law arrived for the wedding, I thought my life was pretty good. I was an attractive advertising professional earning a great income for an up and coming company. I was in love with my fiancé, John, a tall, dark, intense blue-collar guy. After two years of dating, we decided to marry. My friends, whatever their reasons, had reservations about him. They insisted I was a “catch,” but he was a “chameleon”. I didn’t like their label for him; it was cold and showed they did not trust him. I figured they didn’t know him as I did, so I dismissed their thoughts. Regardless of how they felt about John, they supported me in my decision to be married, they were happy for me. And then, before this very evening was over, like a bolt of lightning, my world began to crack and slowly storm out of control.

John’s father, who we affectionately called Pop, had to be picked up at the airport that night and I knew John should’ve been the one to pick him up, not me. But it didn’t happen that way. Pop was a gentle, happy guy; but John believed that after his mother’s death, Pop moved from New York to California to hide his late life homosexual tendencies. John only assumed this because Pop had a roommate, Steve. Together they went to Gay and Lesbian Parades and told everyone how much they enjoyed going. But Pop argued that it was too expensive to live in California, on his fixed income so sharing expenses with Steve helped and provided some much needed company. Although John and his father really never got along; I liked Pop; he was quiet company, he liked all types of music and was helpful around the house. Sometimes he would tell stories about his youth, which I found fascinating.

When I finally found Pop at the airport gate, he automatically asked, “Didn’t Johnnie come?” John’s childhood nickname had always been Johnnie. Registering Pop’s disappointment, I hugged him and explained, “He’s been busy at work today.” “He’s always too busy for me,” Pop groaned truthfully. Driving home we talked pleasantly about people we knew and things in California. He shared little stories about Steve and the charity work they did weekly for the AIDS clinic in his area. I thought it was wonderful for them to help others out this way, but we both knew not to talk about it in front of John, as he would disapprove.

Pop described some of John’s childhood antics before shattering my comfort zone with, “I know Johnnie has a bad temper – he gets it from his mother; oh, could she yell,” he said rolling his eyes. “Does Johnnie ever scream at you?” “He has,” I answered awkwardly; I felt this was personal to our relationship, yet somehow I needed to hear where this was leading. At a traffic light, Pop burst out with, “Does John hit you, too?” I looked over at him and he was starring, searching my face, waiting for my answer. I was angry at the question. “Oh, no, he would never do that!” I snapped back, looking back at the road, furious at my sudden doubts, and shocked at Pop’s implication. Then in a defensive voice, or to show that there was a reason for this slur against his son, Pop said, “My wife hit me a lot. She hit me with frying pans, brooms, anything nearby.” He continued, “She had these really bad temper fits – I had to leave the house many times to escape injury.”

More lightning bolts combined with a gale-force winds were coming at me during this once peaceful car ride. My mind was whirling and spinning and my heart was racing. Wouldn’t I know John’s anger potential after two years? My hands gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles turning white, but I had to ask him, “Are you thinking John would hit me someday?” Pop took his time to answer, “I’m telling you this because he is so like his mother, he has even hit me several times. Once he broke my nose and gave me a black eye,” Pop said quietly. “But, if he hasn’t been physically abusive to you yet and you’ve been together over two years, hopefully he never will.” I noticed how labored my breathing had become. It was one of those times I could really say I needed a drink! To think my fiancé had beat and injured his own father – I was just appalled! What could make him that angry? I would definitely have to confront John – tonight. I was sure he would admit the truth about these occurrences to me. After all, we were being married in a few days. How could I not know he had these tendencies? I was now very nervous and even fearful about this side of John I never knew.

When we got home, John was cooking dinner. He was a good cook and was preparing something he knew his father enjoyed – pot roast. Upon seeing me, he could read the bewilderment on my face, and he instinctively knew a discussion had taken place between Pop and I that did not put him in good stead. John coolly greeted his father, not offering a hug or a kiss; he simply carried his bag and showed him to the guest room. “Dinner’s at seven.” I heard John say. “Why don’t you rest and unpack your bag until then.” Pop was silent. He shut the door and stayed in the room.

Messages from wedding guests and vendors were waiting for my attention. While taking care of these minor problems, I suddenly – from three rooms away, heard John’s accusatory, angry voice, “Don’t be telling her about my crappy childhood that you think was so great, or I will tell her that you’re definitely gay and have AIDS,” he snarled through gritted teeth at his father. “I know that’s why you work at that clinic, so you and your gay roommate can get free medicine!” During this inhospitable tirade, Pop remained absolutely silent, dutifully obedient. I guessed that he didn’t trust John not to hit him if he crossed him in conversation. My nerves were jagged just hearing John talk to his own father in such an ugly tone of voice. But I decided to simply emerge from my office smiling, pretending not to have heard anything. Inside my heart was breaking in many ways. I wondered if this was the quiet before the storm. Was there more for me to deal with besides these phone messages? Like my basic instincts that were screaming how wrong this all is?

We had a somewhat peaceful dinner; no ugly remarks, but our conversations were stilted. Pop enjoyed the pot roast and praised John’s cooking skills; which was the most enjoyable part of the meal. I made some coffee, but after dinner John decided to return to work for an hour or so.

Walking John to his car in the garage, I had to confess that I knew about his treatment of his father, to knowing that he’d hit and hurt him. “I’m worried. I did not know this about you and I need assurance that you won’t ever hit me…it’s disgraceful that you hit…” Interrupting me, John positioned his face within an inch of mine, grabbed my shoulders, shook them and said, “If you are to be my wife, don’t believe that old man. I never hit him. He’s just a senile old guy with an ax to grind. If you don’t believe me, call off the wedding – do it now!” He pushed away from me, making me lose my balance and stormed away. He got into his car and the tires squealed and screeched down our quiet street. Once again, my mind was reeling, ice pellets filled my heart; who was this man I thought I loved? And who was lying to me, Pop or John?

At 9:00pm I finally sat down with Pop. I had cleared the kitchen and he had read the newspaper and unpacked his bag. He was tired from his flight and from the events of the day; he would be going to bed soon. I had lots to accomplish when he did, but my suddenly my heart was no longer in the mood for wedding preparations.

We made some small talk. I told him about some of John’s friends that would be at the wedding that he had known since they were small boys. At one point I harmlessly said, “John doesn’t have those nightmares anymore.” A vacant look came from Pop… I tried again, “You know those nightmares he got from being in the Viet Nam war…” This time a tired Pop bolted upright on the sofa, “War? Did Johnnie tell you he was in that war?” Now it was my turn to sit straight up. I said, “Yes, he hears battle noise – guns, bombings, and people screaming…” I was quickly cut off. “Please, Stop!” Pop barked, holding up his big hand. “Johnnie was never – never in any U.S. Military Service or any war. He’s deaf in one ear since birth. He got a 4F rating when he was 16 and tried to join after quitting high school.” I sat stunned, frozen in place. How much more was there for me to not know about the man I was supposed to marry in two days? When I could speak, I barely squeaked out, “What?” “I know about his hearing loss, but John said he was shot at several times and that’s why he cannot hear very well.” I looked at Pop; he was near tears. His face was red and he was wringing his hands. Finally he said, “I know you don’t want to believe me, I’m an old man and you’re young and you love John. But he has lied to you. I’m sorry.”

I was so dumbfounded by it all, I was grabbing at straws. I told Pop, “John showed me his discharge papers from the Army. They’re inside, I’ll go and get them.” On wooden legs I found them in an old dresser where I knew they were kept. But once again, lightning struck with another huge bolt and I couldn’t get out of this storm. My mind could not get around the fact that John had also told me he graduated from high school, with honors. But Pop had just said that at 16 he quit school and tried to join the Army. So were these latest allegations more lies from John or was Pop exaggerating?

“Here are John’s discharge papers,” I said, my hands shaking, wondering what on earth John would say if he knew we were investigating his untruths while he was at work. I handed them to Pop. Pop looked carefully at the papers. He held them up to the light, cleaned his glasses, looked again and motioned me to sit beside him on the sofa. Gently he pointed out to me that these discharge papers were not John’s, they were his! He had served in the Army and was honorably discharged after World War II. When examining them closely, you could see the dates had been retyped over white-out. You had to look carefully, but he was right; they were definitely tampered with. John and his father had the same name, only John was a Jr. I had never scrutinized the papers. He showed them to me the day we were cleaning out that old dresser. I barely glanced at them, having no reason to doubt his service to our country or his dates of service. But now, I could see the forgery for myself. Why would he need to do this? Why would anyone care if he served or not? I became frightened and confused. Pop looked away – apologetic for me, ashamed for his son and sorry to be the bearer of such horrible revelations.

I felt dizzy, my mind was still whirling, my heart was broken, I could not think too clearly. Still, I thought if John lied about the things uncovered today – being in the service, killing people in war, losing his hearing, graduating from high school, how many other lies would surface later? To deliberately forge his father’s Discharge Papers, hit and injure him and speak so rudely to him is a blatantly disrespectful act on John’s part. Could I marry someone I no longer trusted or respected? Could love overcome the importance of values and human decency? These thoughts were running through my head as I sat quietly with Pop.

Suddenly we heard the garage door go up and John’s car pull in. Pop stood, saying, “I cannot be here when John learns I’ve told you the truth. I’m actually afraid of him right now.” Nervously he went to bed, shutting and locking his door. John came in without a smile. He came over to me and saw me still holding the discharge papers. His fury was immediate – or was that guilt I read? I said nothing. I felt empty inside; all my anger could not melt the ice that had formed inside my heart and my soul. I began leaving the room, dropping the discharge papers on the sofa. No words were necessary.

In an instant, John threw a vase, an early wedding gift, in my direction, shattering it. The force of it knocked over a lamp table. Then he chased me as I ran down a hallway, locking myself into a bathroom. He began banging on the door, screaming at me, cursing and calling me names. I heard my voice, now so small and terrified announcing, “I won’t marry you; you’ve been deceitful to me on many counts. Dishonesty is a way of life for you. Furthermore, I’m afraid of your anger and your temper.” Since he could not hurt me from where I was, I added, “You need help, John, you seriously do. I’m calling off the wedding. We’re finished.”

The door pounding and the cursing eventually stopped. Gratefully he did not bother his father or pound on his door. I heard his car squeal away again. Leaving the bathroom, I said loudly, “its okay, Pop, John’s left, I’m calling off the wedding; but please don’t feel bad – it’s for the best. Thanks for everything, truly.” Pop didn’t answer me but his silence was his answer. I needed to be by myself to recover – much the way we do after a true storm.

I lost my dream of marriage that year, but perhaps that’s all it ever was – a dream. Once my personal thunder and lightning storm had passed, I realized that the truth meant more to me than a dream. I learned I am strong and can weather any storm, but I hope one like this never crosses my path again.

Current Book Project

The working title of the book I am currently writing is, “Ordinary American Heroines: Stories of Life and Love.

This is a work of creative non-fiction. It is a compilation of approximately twenty vignettes of women over the age of 80 years old that have lived interesting, inspirational lives. So much of the literature representing this age group is about men. Yes, the men were most certainly our war heroes. They fought and defended our country and our freedoms. But what about the women they left at home? Not all women were able to be ‘Rosie the Riveter’ or join the WACs.

My book illustrates that the ‘ordinary’ women who stayed behind, raised children, kept the home fires burning and did their part for the war effort at home, also had remarkable lives. They learned to do a lot with very few resources – and they were proud and happy to do it.

These women lived through two successive but daunting periods in our history; the Great Depression and World War II. My criteria for inclusion in the book is simple: they must be American, be alive to be interviewed by me, (no second-hand accounts) provide me with a photo from the period of time in the past they wish to share and be willing to wait it out while I search for that elusive publisher!

My “ladies” have mostly come to me via friends who know such exceptional women. They are from many states and walks of life. One thing they all share is that they were all married to a GI who served during WWI; and today, at the ages of 80 plus to over 90, they are all widows, and have been for many years.

Most of my subjects enjoyed talking about their lives with their beloved husbands and children. A few, however, had illustrious careers of their own and a few chose to re-create the Depression environment in their story.

Below is a sampling from a few of the interviews:

Ruth Roberts Disney, Lewisville, Texas, Born, Parsons, KS
“Growing up during the Great Depression was very hard but having lived through it makes me happy and grateful for what I have today.”

Ruth and her parents and four siblings left Kansas to find work in California in mid-July 1940 and got there by August 3rd. By the next day, her father had a job as a machinist in a shipyard in Vallejo. Ruth was 15 at the time and loved the cross-country trip. She learned something about herself: she loved adventure, travel and seeing new places. It was something she would do the rest of her life…

Mary Eterno, Massapequa, NY, Born New York City, New York
“I did what I had to for my children. While I was struggling through life, I always put my faith in God.”

Mary had six children with her husband, Jim. They were extremely happy and had everything they could want. Then at age 40, he developed pancreatic cancer and soon died. Mary was left with five children at home and a lot of bills. She eventually married again, but her second husband also died of cancer. Finally her third husband lived – and for 30 years they had a good life, but he died too. She always found a way to keep her family together, with faith at the top of her list.

Rose Mary Fridrich, Harwood, MD, Born Annapolis, MD
“You are never too old to find your soul mate.”

Rose Mary’s adult life began in tragedy when her Naval Officer fiance’, Lou, was killed on a Naval Carrier in California. She then married a man she thought she knew and loved, but it he was not so perfect; he drank too much. At 58 she found herself a widow as her husband died of cancer. In a serendipitous meeting, she met her “soul mate”, Ed, at age 71. They fell in love and married but only had 15 years together before he died. Rose Mary was a competitive ballroom dancer and won many competitions before ever meeting Ed.

Ann Myers, Crofton, MD, Born in the District of Columbia
“He was my one and only one.”

Ann sadly passed away on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. She was a lovely and charming woman; elegant and such a lady! She would have been 90 years old this month. She will surely be missed.

Ann Myers talked about Kenny, her wonderful husband. They did not have children but they adored their nieces and nephews as their own. Kenny had earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star in the War and never wanted to discuss the details of how he was awarded them. Ann worked in an upscale gynecology practice in downtown DC for 42 years. She started there as a secretary and left as the Office Manager –but by then they had three locations and five physicians and a staff of 15 for her to supervise. Until the day she died, Ann kept in touch with many of her colleagues and physicians.

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.
~ Agatha Christie

Articles by Joanne

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