Wife and I enjoyed some time back in Arkansas last weekend. We got to Little Rock early Friday night and had dinner with Wife’s parents who are doing very well. They are huge sports fans and we, of course, had to compare our NCAA brackets. My mother-in-law always laments the downward spiral hers begins to take around the Sweet Sixteen, but then she will often end up winning the pot. It looks as if she’s right there in the running again.
She made seven-layer salad, one of my all-time favorites, for dinner. I’ll have to post the recipe sometime. It really can be a meal in itself but she had plenty to go with it. It was a great time.
Saturday morning we hooked up with a few other couples and headed up to Northeast Arkansas for a little annual getaway in which Wife and I always try to participate. We started this tradition twenty-something years ago as a means of getting a little rest and sanity in the midst of raising children, and we have continued it every year.
There are a total of seven couples and with the exception of one who are a little ahead of the rest of us in age and station in life – and who acted as the “sponsors” of our then young church’s singles ministry -- we all met as single folks back in the early 1980s. Most of us got married somewhere between about 1982 and 1987, attended or were a part of each others' weddings and started families around the same time. Four of the couples still live in Little Rock and three – including Wife and me, of course – have moved away. It is rare when all the couples can make it. Wife and I have missed it only three times since moving to Tennessee in 1997. This year six of the seven were there.
We usually go to a bed-and-breakfast type of venue, and try to find one where we can have the whole place to ourselves. Over the years we’ve probably been to about a half-dozen or so. We’ll find one we like and return for a few years, then move on to something else. This year’s was a new one for us and it was a great setting right on a river near Batesville, Arkansas.
In the early years of these jaunts, our children would always ask us, “So what did you do?” and we would always answer that we talked, ate and talked some more (then ate some more). What they didn’t understand at the time was that we were able to have conversations that were uninterrupted and meals that didn’t include Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and sippy cups at the table, and that for 36 hours or so we didn’t have to change diapers, clean up messes or serve as referees to sibling squabbles. Not that we minded any of that, but occasionally a break was/is good for the soul.
The purpose of the gathering today is more to keep the connection going. Even those who still live near one another admit they don’t see each other as often as they would like and this provides a way to catch up on everyone’s lives. The conversations, peppered with laughter, now often start with “Remember when” and “Do you remember . . .”
Of course we now inevitably talk about our latest ailments and “procedures” and the women talk code about the “M” word as if we men don’t know what they’re talking about. There are a few empty nests among us and we’re all quickly heading that direction. Except for the aforementioned couple who are older than the rest of us, there has only been one wedding among our children, and there are not yet any grandparents.
The format is almost always the same. We meet at someone’s house with the intention of leaving about 10 a.m. Some are always late and by the time we all meet and greet, decide who will be driving and who will ride with whom, then swing by and pick up a straggler or two, it’s close to 11:30 before we leave town.
We stop and eat lunch which ends up being an hour-and-a-half or two-hour affair, then we usually have to find ice cream or some other dessert, and stroll into our destination mid-afternoon. More conversation ensues and this year there was a wonderful big deck overlooking the river which was perfect for a leisurely afternoon of visiting.
The evening consists of dinner somewhere, then dessert (always), coffee and more talking and laughing, into the wee hours, around a fireplace. When we start dozing off during conversations it’s time for bed.
Sunday morning usually finds us around a big breakfast table and, interestingly, at this time the conversation often turns a bit more serious and introspective with a few tears interspersed with the laughs. This year was no exception as we ended up kind of spontaneously talking about some of the things that have happened to us through the years, what it’s been like “doing life together” and the ups and downs of the paths we have traveled from being singles, to young parents, to “middle-agers.” We shared stories reflective of the common faith that originally brought us all together and, of course, we talked much about our children.
We were back in Little Rock by mid-afternoon and Wife and I, of course, headed back east. We dropped one of the couples at the airport to catch a plane to Dallas where they now live. Another “B&B Weekend” was history.
Technology has afforded us more opportunities to stay in touch. With e-mail, text messaging and cell phones, we can pretty much communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, whenever we like. We may not always take advantage of these avenues of communication, but they are available to us.
Still, there is nothing like “face time” and, the older I get, the more I realize how important it is and how much I enjoy it. It also has to be deliberate, meaning it requires time, effort and a fair amount of planning. Wife and I always try to make this weekend a priority and get it on the calendar as soon as we can.
In keeping with my belief that preserving connections is important, I already have another weekend scheduled in May when I’ll travel back to my hometown in South Arkansas and get together with some other old friends, some of whom I have known my entire life, whose friendships I cherish.
Times such as this are reminders of how abundantly I have been blessed with family and friends. It’s up to me to preserve that. My not having done so is not a regret I wish to have when I get to the end of this journey.