Yesterday we went to a performance of the Sweat Girls, known as the monologue mavens. Six women, mostly of “a certain age” told their individual stories about aging, financial woes, retirement fantasies, working at Aldi’s because of the need for healthcare. It was intimate, funny, sometimes raucous, sometimes poignant, and very,very real.
It reminded me when my mother’s card club came to our house. In preparation, I usually had the job of arranging the pineapple slices with a toothpicked maraschino cherry on top of each one. There were chips and pretzels and all kinds of pop, even cookies, in uncommon abundance. When the ladies arrived, including my Aunt Annette and Aunt Lily, I and my siblings would be sent off to bed. My mother and her friends didn’t know it, but I quietly returned to sit at the top of the stairs to listen to their chatter. Our house was very small. I probably could have heard everything from my sister’s and my bedroom, but it was the thrill of getting as close as I could to hear as clearly as I could all their stories and tales.
My mother’s friends, most of whom were from her childhood, were loud and boisterous, sharing vignettes of their lives. My mother’s and my Aunt Lil’s stories were the best with lots of sarcasm, long hysterically funny descriptions, and often surprise endings. The stories were about their husbands and kids, about their interactions with neighbors, salesclerks, bank tellers, colleagues at work. They sometimes got intimate about their love lives (or lack thereof). They ragged about their in-laws and sometimes even crossed into politics. They were utterly alive with story, bursting with energy, lavishly unleashed. Interacting with the stories was just as enthusiastic–loud laughter, Aunt Annette’s shouts of doubt at my mother’s exaggerations, commiseration. The card games were a subtle enterprise beneath the real reason they had all gathered.
Sitting at the top of the stairs, I was so engaged, so entertained, so drawn into their comfortable exuberance and genuine pathos, so envious of their seemingly uncomplicated, playful, relaxed, yet deeply held relationships. Sweat Girls or card clubs, there is something cathartic about such gatherings of women.