The Girls from Ames
“Tell me who you’re with, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
This Spanish proverb is quoted in the last pages of The Girls from Ames , a book by Jeffrey Zaslow, detailing the incredible forty year friendship between eleven girls from a small town in Iowa.
Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana, Sheila.
“At first, they were just names to me,” Zaslow admits. As the story progresses, however, it is clear that these are not just names, not just words, or meaningless letters. These are people, these are stories, these are friends.
The Ames girls stand together through good and bad, enduring childhood squabbles, marital problems, deaths of loved ones, and most importantly, learning to survive these hardships by drawing on the strength of each other.
When asked: who are you? Many men will reply with an occupation. I am a salesman, a computer programmer, an accountant…the list goes on. When a woman is asked the same question, the answer tends to differ. Women define themselves by relationships: daughter, wife, mother, friend.
Throughout the life of each Ames girl, her role shifted. Boyfriends and husbands came and went. Children were born, and at the worst times, taken away. Jobs were gained and lost. There was one thing that never changed though—they were always friends. Even when they all were away at college, or had grown up and moved to different states—that relationship never changed. It was the one constant thing in their lives, the one thing they could always reach back and touch. No matter what happened, they would always have each other. The thing about a friend is it doesn’t matter how far away you live, or how much time has passed, when you are together—you feel home.
The Girls from Bogota
Although the Ames Girls are unique in their individual experiences and memories, they are not unlike many other women their age. Not everyone’s story can be told in a novel, but that does not mean they are not important enough to be shared.
Meet the Bogota Girls: Anne, Susie, and Debbie. Anne is my mother, and Susie and Debbie are two childhood friends that she continues to keep in touch with. I am too young to understand the impact of the forty years of friendship the Ames girls shared, but my mother and her friends have shared even more.
Susie and my mother met when they were two and three, and recently reunited for a 50th birthday party with many of their other high school classmates.
Despite periods where the two were out of touch, Susie (now called Sue) never felt completely separated from my mother. “I believe there is a bond between us that is just there. We spent so many hours together during our most formative years that I have always felt that she was just a phone call away.”
The two fondly remember events from their childhood, recalling stories of the past for laughs. “When your mom and I were little we were pretty much always together,” Sue told me. “We played together every day. We got in trouble together….we picked your great-grandfather’s tomatoes. We didn’t discriminate….we picked all the red ones and ALL THE GREEN ONES TOO!!!! Oh, Grandpa was not happy with us. I’ll never forget that!”
My mother, quite a prankster in her youth, recalls regularly scaring Debbie.
“Once she was outside feeding her dogs, so I hid in a bush and made monster noises. She was so scared she ran right through her garage door and left a person-shaped hole in the wood! She probably wouldn’t want me to tell this story, but I’m sure she’s forgiven me by now—that’s what friends do.”
Despite all the trouble and crazy stories friends manage to generate over the years, there is one thing produced in much larger quantities, forgiveness and love.
Even Debbie, the victim of such…friendly…acts agrees.
“When I hook up with my childhood friends, it’s as if no time has passed and we can pick up where we left off whether it was a few weeks ago or a few years. My childhood friends will all agree that we have an intense bond between us. We are extremely proud of that.”
The Girls from Raleigh
Though I have not lived nearly as many years as the Girls from Ames or Bogota, I have experienced over a decade of irreplaceable friendship.
The story begins on my first day of kindergarten. I hopped onto the foreign yellow school bus, landing in a coincidentally fateful seat. I landed next to my best friend, Alexa McMahon. What brought us together, I have now decided, was not that we lived just down the street, or that we would both end up in Mrs. Stang’s class, or that we had the same pair of light up tennis shoes. It was something much greater.
Over the years Alexa and I discovered that we are not even remotely alike. As children we quarreled over silly things. She said she had to leave, it was 5 o’clock. I insisted it was still 4:58. We did not always get along, we did not always agree, but for some reason I cannot explain, we became inseparable.
Perhaps it is the fact that I can now waltz into her kitchen, open the pantry doors and serve myself without a word. Or maybe it has something to do with how my little brother identifies himself as having two siblings.
All these factors, though, are trivial. Alexa and I were always destined to become friends, I am now sure of that. Not because of matching shoes, convenient living arrangements, or the comfort we feel in each other’s respective homes. We are friends because, for as long as I can remember, we have been there for each other, and we will continue to be there for each other—always. The girls from Ames, Bogota, and Raleigh can attest to that.