A brief history of friendship

It starts with your first birthday.  Your mother gathers the other mothers and you eat cake for the first time. Those other babies come in the door with the other mothers and though you can’t say a word or understand what it means to connect with another human, you are connected. Pictures are taken as they sing that famous song and somehow you have your first cohort of friends, quite by accident, through strange acquaintanceships and happenstance. They you are.

Somewhere there is a movie of me seated in a highchair with chocolate cake all over my face. The handheld camera capturing all of us babies with plastic bibs and cake in all our wiggly delight.  I couldn’t tell you who these babies are.  My family moved from that house shortly after and none of them will be counted in this tally of friendship.

I was lucky to live in relatively the same place for all of my growing up years and since I do not know enough to ask why, friends come and go from my life like water. Some are there for the duration, part of my backyard pond, and some are more like ocean surf, coming and going with the pull of the moon, in and out with tide.

Who can say why friendship does or does not endure? Is it conscious? Do we say to ourselves when we hang up the phone angrily, I cannot take him anymore, I will not call her again. Or is it simply one day we forget to call, and then the next and the next until both parties just give up and the solid of their long soulful walks or their shared connection from college simply drifts away on the tide. Fond memories, to be sure, but no one can understand how they fit into each other’s lives anymore.

I am constantly amazed at what washes up on my beach of friendship. Someone is an acquaintance, then we find ourselves on a committee and suddenly its white wine on the deck, feeling ever so close to someone whose name you couldn’t even remember last year. Or the friend from college who calls across the miles again and again, sharing stories of birth and family and city life.  Or the work mates who are part of the warp and woof of every day and then you change jobs and poof, they are distant memories.  No one ever told me how the landscape of our friendships would come and go as I aged.

Some of my high school tribe at the beach,

I had a group of friends from high school who I love. We were the misfits and the wackos.  We shared love in our awkwardness.  We had parties in each other basements and went to the beach together.  We never really had boyfriends or girlfriends or went to prom. We didn’t drink, but we laughed and did our homework. We went to nice schools and spread out across the US. But this I will always remember, we vowed to never lose touch. To show our lasting love and devotion, we agreed to meet every year at the front of our high school wearing a white rose (in case we forgot what we looked like). We never asked how on earth we would forget what we looked like or why a white rose or why in front of the high school we hated. You won’t be surprised to learn that we never did that.  We aren’t great about keeping in touch either.  Different people and friendships have washed up on their beaches as well. We were the shells and seaweed of each other’s surf for a short but important time.

I am always interested in the history of friendship. Jealous of some who seem to have the closest and longest of bonds.  Relieved again that I seem to be able to spread my net far and wide, to connect with people from a huge variety of places and times.  Perhaps I never made the kind of friend groups and bonds that they show in the movies or that others seem to represent on facebook, but I always feel content that I offer the best of me to others and others in turn offer the best of themselves to me.  It has led me to a rich life; one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’ve recently been having a series of conversations with an old friend about how to make friends. It seems the older we get, the harder it is to find our tribe in this big wide world. I try to give advice to her, but the truth is, after cake at age one and that small but important group of high school friends, I cannot put my finger on just how one connects to the people with whom one needs to connect.  I feel that connection is not worked at or searched for, connection is simply the water in which we live.  To live is to connect.  Trust and it will happen.

One of the things I marvel about is that people never cease surprising me.  I play the guilty game of writing someone off who is too this or too that, and given the chance to know them, I discover they have a story and a side and an empathy that I couldn’t have guessed. My radar for superficiality or banality didn’t work right and I feel embarrassed that I was quick to judge. Mea Culpa friends. I truly love you all.

As I move into this last half of my life, I have such a great long view of friendship.  I can feel at ease in a minute with my high school soul mates, accept readily that some friendships will go on hold for awhile, recognize that not everyone I meet is destined to be part of my tribe, and accept beautiful connections as they happen. Its marvelous, isn’t it?  How we still celebrate, make a cake and gather round us the people who mean the most to us? Still, we eat cake and sing, marking a year of life and friendship.  Watching more starfish wash up on the shore.

The Little House

Having been taught to honor my ancestors from earliest memory I grew up inside a treasure box of memorabilia with the insistence I inspect it, and learn the story of things. Surrounded by steamer trunks full of old hand stitched linens and love letters between my grandparents, not to mention WW I medals, morphine kits, civil war fifes, and tattered songbooks, I’ve felt duly supported as a teacher of sorts to honor history and call upon the dead regularly to help me see what I cannot see, make good sense judgments and learn from the gift of solitude and sifting.

When I was a kid, there was a little sharecropper cottage on the farm property that was the repository of generations of stuff no one could bare to throw out. One of my earliest memories takes place there. I sat on the splinted front porch, maybe 300 yards back—and across the field from what was then my grandparents house. A lady in the house who was making doughnuts, put one after the other into my fat little hands as I surveyed the scene. Through the tall field grass, I saw the tops of people’s heads moving around loading cars. Eventually they called me back when it was time to go home. She put one more doughnut in my hand. “Here you go, Honey.” And sent me off.

In the following years, after the lady and her husband moved on, the “little house”, we called it, became the spooky destination for unaccompanied treasure hunts. So long as we stepped around the open well,  watched where we walked in the house since some of the floorboards had rotted through, we were welcome to bide our time reading 1905 National Geographic magazines, and set dusty depression glass jars on window sills to see how the light played against the peeling cabbage rose wallpaper. The day I felt brave enough to go back there alone —without siblings or the lure of doughnuts, marked a turning point for me. I actually have a memory of thinking to myself –was I eleven? Twelve? That I needed to try to do something scary by myself. That my curiosity was greater than my fear, and that there must be some sort of pay- off in the trying. That old house, the woods behind it, both full of creepy relics and ghosts, became a proving ground of sorts.

The little house went up in flames when I was a teenager. This was crushing for my Dad, who’d dreamed of shoring the place up, and for my Mother, who suspected her father had set it alight. It was crushing for me, because, like them, I’d taken some kind of ownership of the possibility of what it beheld, what it might become. My grandmothers Masters Thesis in botany burned, her teenage poetry collections, along with Uncle Joes almanacs, his little lead soldiers, mom’s sparkly dance costumes and tap shoes.

We let go in phases.

These days, the big house stands, along with some leaning barns and outbuildings. These structures weigh on me heavily as we contemplate their fate. While there are so many outcomes I’ve learned to hold lightly in this life, the erasure of this ancestral place is one I cannot presently reconcile without aching with grief. Sunday, I stopped back there to check on things after spending time with my mother nearby, in Oxford. The ancient maple creaked in the wind. The fence around the back garden had fallen down on the east side. Pieces of barn roof scattered in the drive. I pushed the fence back into place and fastened it by threading in fallen branches from another tree. I gathered up the roofing and found the patch of morels coming up through the gravel.

Just like my brother had said on the phone with me the day before, these treasures have been coming up in the same place every year as long as he can remember

Move a Body Friend







I have a “move a body friend”. We have known each other for sixty-eight years. What a lot of living we have done together and apart. We know where the bodies are buried. We are most likely not finished with burying bodies. Some people still have it coming. Her recent ex-husband comes to mind. Stay tuned…

It’s a powerful thing to have a friend like that. Someone who doesn’t even ask why there is a body to be buried and honestly doesn’t seem surprised that there is a body to be buried.

During my second marriage when I told her I had been watching true crime shows on TV to see what tripped the killers up, what got them caught, she didn’t call the police. Just as well, since I decided that divorce was a more sensible, if less satisfying option.

In other words, we trust each other. We get each other, don’t have to explain ourselves to each other and certainly never feel the need to justify ourselves to each other, whether the topic is a body to be buried or an ingredient purposely left out of a recipe we gave to someone who thinks she’s a better cook than we are- she isn’t, some things don’t need to be spoken out loud.

Between us we probably share so many secrets that no one else knows, we make the CIA look like amateurs. At our age, we may start to forget the secrets we have kept for decades, perhaps only to blurt them out Rosebud style as we are dying.

She usually likes my ideas and gets on board with my choices. Once when she called and asked what I was doing and I told her I was putting butter on a piece of fat-free coffee cake, she said, “Ooo, that sounds great! Now that’s a friend who will always lift you up with unconditional love and support.

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse



A Blast from the Past

Last month, two days after I celebrated a milestone birthday, I had the rare privilege of revisiting my adolescence, in a bittersweet evening that filled me with joy and reawakened feelings I hadn’t experienced since the days in which they first transpired.

I had mentioned to a friend, in passing, how much I’ve loved Leo Kottke’s guitar playing over the years, and he promptly brought a copy of Fretboard Journal to our next meeting, insisting I read the lengthy cover interview with the onetime guitar prodigy. Just reading the article brought a rush of elusive teenage joy, and I found myself in a state of high exuberance that isn’t easily accessed. He still, 50 years later, retains his quirky, iconoclastic sense of humor and random onstage storytelling style, and displays his vast autodidact’s knowledge of the world, unpretentious and irreverant. I was transported by the interview back to a time of so much promise and openness in my life, and felt alive, vibrating, in a way I just don’t fall into often enough.

I wanted to talk to someone, anyone, who had been there, felt a desperate longing to share memories and experience, but there really isn’t anyone.  My early passions were pretty much my own, I realize now, perhaps shared with my family of origin, but now morphed in ways that leave them distinctly mine. (I did mention it to my brother, younger by 5 years, who remembers me “dragging” him to hear him play the Guthrie in Minneapolis—Kottke’s longtime home and ours at the time—when he was ”about nine.”)

One of the things I admire most about Kottke as an artist (and human being) is that he just loves to play, and has kept playing and recording and working for his entire career, excluding a period after injury when he had to completely retool his early muscular, athletic 12-string style for a slightly less strenuous 6-string approach. “You can’t turn down work. Play the pizza parlor,” he says.  We should all be so lucky to find something we love so much, are so good at, find a following for, and allow ourselves to pursue with passion and commitment. He tells a funny story while tuning onstage (which he does a lot of, and jokes about that too) of playing, to a colleague’s consternation, the opening of a public library in Albuquerque, on a small, slanted makeshift wooden stage that threatened to dump him into a gaggle of cross-legged kids just below him for the entire performance, one of whom kept insisting on playing the professional’s guitar.  Play the pizza parlor, or the library opening.

Realizing that he is still performing, traveling, working, I went online and discovered that he would be playing the Brown County Playhouse two days after I turned 60. Babbling excitedly about it to a close friend, she immediately offered to buy me a ticket and attend with me, a rare opportunity to buy the perfect gift for the woman who never wants anything. It was doubly fortunate for me, since the 200-seat hall sold out quickly, and knowing me, I would likely have left it until too late (as did a number of friends who planned to join us, including the friend who subscribes to Fretboard Journal), a trademark way in which I save myself lots of money and cost myself a certain amount of fun.

And thus, the remarkable experience of revisiting my adolescence.  The venue was filled with grey heads, clearly devoted fans who wait for Leo to swing back around these parts. As I listened, I was awash in memories of earlier performances—multiple gigs in various Minneapolis locales in my teens and twenties, several performances at Toad’s in New Haven during graduate school, and a life-changing night where I heard his second set at Northwestern after a harrowingly uptight and precariously drunken performance by a world famous classical lutenist, after which I decided to abandon my dreams of a career as a classical oboist. He still performs many of his old numbers, but they are transformed somewhat by his necessary change of style, and in my head I heard both new and old versions.  I was often on the verge of tears, and realized that I was probably the listener in the joint who had followed him the longest, listened over the greatest number of years, three-quarters of my life and more.  He’s grey and bearded now, but the memory of his signature thatch of thick dark hair, his long frame sitting atop a high bar stool in sweater and 70’s slacks, is imprinted in my visual image bank.

He played nonstop for 90 minutes, with lovely, loopy banter accompanied by frequent tuning between numbers. Devoted fans called out favorites, several of which he chuckled at before retorting that they required backup he didn’t have. After that interval, as he completely retuned one of his two guitars, he quietly shared that this had been the set, and the next number would be the encore. Amazingly, the packed audience of fans respected that, gave him terrific applause, let him slip behind the curtain with no greedy clamor for more.

My friend and her husband truly gave me an extraordinary gift, taking me (and themselves) to hear an artist they had never heard of, on the faith of my recommendation and fervent wish. I found this among the most incredibly generous and touching gifts I’ve ever received.  It was a somewhat surreal, emotionally charged evening of memories and music, another unforgettable evening with an unforgettable artist.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

NaPoWriMo-Last Day

This month Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington poets are participating in National Poetry Writing Month.  Every day we will offer up a new  poem by a writer in our community.  Check back after 6:00pm for the Prompt of the Day and the selected resulting poem.

And last but not least, now for our final (but still optional) prompt for this year! Taking a leaf from our video resource, I’d like you to try your hand at a minimalist poem. What’s that? Well, a poem that is quite short, and that doesn’t really try to tell a story, but to quickly and simply capture an image or emotion. Haiku are probably the most familiar and traditional form of minimalist poetry, but there are plenty of very short poems out there that do not use the haiku form. There’s even an extreme style of minimalism in the form of one-word and other “highly compressed” poems. You don’t have to go that far, but you might think of your own poem for the day as a form of gesture drawing. Perhaps you might start from a concrete noun with a lot of sensory connotations, like “Butter” or “Sandpaper,” or “Raindrop” and – quickly, lightly – go from there.

Day 30 Minimal poems by all participants

Lauren Bryant


Carole Clark

Majestically magical words
Appreciatively humbled

Amy Cornell

At the jail
she buried her face in the lilacs
and said they smelled like rain.

Sweet Cherry Jam by Allison Distler

8 oz of Michigan summer
pressed into a ball jar
dark as coagulated blood

Minimal by Bev Slattery Hartford

Done for now
But still in my heart
and head
Not gone.

Haiku  (here are 3) by Amy Lifton

Moon streams through windows,
How am I to sleep like this?
Silver in my eyes.

Mowing the lawn, an
Intoxicating fragrance,
Thank you cherry tree!

How can a color
Make my heart break open
Simply celestial.

SHORT by Beth Lodge-Rigal



All in

The Woods by Lisa Meuser

Here we are.

Here we are.

Here we are.

Mary Peckham

April is f a d i n g

Home by Shana RItter

I do not know the names 
of the birds that sing me awake
I cannot identify each tree or leaf
or where the night peepers sleep
I do not claim the land I live on
it long ago claimed me.

One from today, and an old found + photographed poem – I called it “Icy cold bee,” but maybe it just is what it is  by Tracy Zollinger Turner



Light hearted

Light heart, Ed

Light, he arted




M i n i m a l (thank you for your words) by Beverly Wong

Home less
Un washed
Un loved
A lone
Hu man

From the editors: Thanks for reading.  Back to our regularly scheduled blog posts!