Kindle Edition $4.99
Publisher Patricia Sands
Kindle Edition $4.99
How far would you go to help a close friend? Is there a place where you might draw the line and simply have to say no? Eight women. Four decades of friendship. One unimaginable request. Where can you find a story about friendship, laughter and the good things in life that also touches on alcoholism, infidelity, porn addiction, illness and grief? For many women, it's often within their own circle of friends.
"Feast or friggin' famine."
That's how the locals referred to the random pattern of snow accumulation in the popular Georgian Bay ski area, two hours north of Toronto. Global warming had not spoiled their hopes this season for a white winter. In fact, records were being set. A feast it definitely was.
There's a certain serenity artfully forged by a fresh blanket of snow. Flaws of nature, and of man, are fleetingly hidden, and to some people a sense of peace prevails. To others, it's all about the shovel or the drive.
As snowfalls go, this one was perfect, with the big, soft flakes true fans of winter love. Intricately and delicately fashioned, some fell in clumps, becoming fluffy, floating puffs as they swirled and drifted through the dusk, adding to the already whitened landscape.
Peering through her reflection in a lightly frosted window, Pam's eyes followed random flakes as she desperately tried to focus on something other than the reality the weekend would bring. Being the daydreamer of the group, she surely could distract herself. So she thought.
With considerable effort, she willed the beauty of the winter scene to nudge aside the anxiety crowding her mind. Her imagination transported her inside one of those glass balls her dear godmother kept on a shelf in her Victorian china cabinet so long ago. "Back in the day," as the kids say now. Snow globes. The kind with the ceramic winter setting that you turned upside down and right side up again to start the tiny white particles twirling around. How many hours of her young life had she spent mesmerized by them?
"Get a grip," she pleaded silently, "my brain feels like a snow globe right now with all my thoughts swirling about."
Some of those globes could be wound up to play music, she recalled. Forcing herself to be drawn once more into the hypnotic motion of the storm, she became faintly aware of tinkling winter melodies from somewhere in the vast archives of her treasured memories. Warm recollections enveloped her of family, friends, laughter ...
It was laughter now that pulled her back into the present. Low, amused chuckles gave way to uncontrolled bellows and hoots. Rich sounds of great good humor and easy conversation that signal close friendships and not simply cocktail party small talk.
"More wine, anyone?"
The clinking of bottle meeting glass mixed with the laughter and chatter.
"We'll have more dip back here, and pass the pate while you're at it, please!"
"Mmm-artichokes and Asiago. We've come a long way from the days of soup mix and sour cream."
"Hey, I still like those old dips!"
"Well, these hors d'oeuvres are to die for, but that's nothing new!"
"I could live on Antoine's pate. Apply it directly to my hips, though!"
A sudden warning interrupted the festivities. "Whoops! Hold on ladies, and cover your drinks! We're heading into a whiteout!"
The conversation stilled momentarily. Seatbelts were double-checked and bodies swerved as Bonnie over-steered to correct the trajectory of the huge Suburban. This was one of the perils, after all, of a mobile cocktail party in the midst of a winter storm.
Marti squeezed her eyes closed and gritted her teeth. She hated it when this happened even though she knew these nasty combinations of wind and snow were all too common.
Danielle quickly crossed herself and murmured a hasty Hail Mary, her normal reaction in such a situation. She was the only one in the group who would actually describe herself as deeply religious and considered it her responsibility to make certain any prayers or exhortations to the Almighty covered all these special friends. She knew she would need her faith more than ever this weekend.
Devout as she was, Danielle could also out-swear anyone in the group and now, having finished her Hail Mary, she let fly a few choice words. Most of her profanities were in French, which sounded more impressive than the more commonplace English swearwords. Besides that, in her rapidly spoken French anything she expressed was basically untranslatable, so she could say whatever she wanted. She was not a potty mouth, but rather an utterer of good solid curses when the moment called for one. If you go to confession regularly you receive some special dispensation for swearing, she claimed.
Everyone else waited calmly, at least on the surface, for the moment of uncertainty to pass, as it always did. These women had come to know that those "hold your breath and hope for the best" moments in life-no matter how long they seemed-eventually did pass.
"No problem," Bonnie reassured them. "It was a small one! Holy crapoli, I'll be more than happy to reach the farm. I can't recall driving up in such a heavy snowfall for years."
"Hooray for skid school training, Bo! Stellar driving job, as usual!" praised Jane as she saluted with her glass before taking a long sip, almost draining it. The need for her calming drink had nothing to do with the driving conditions.
"Easy for you to say, sitting back enjoying your wine and relaxing. Being the designated driver is not a simple task, you know, ladies, particularly when you're chauffeuring a traveling party without a beverage yourself!"
"But Bo, you don't drink anyway," Cass reminded her, "so what are you going on about?"
"Uh ... I was looking for a little sympathy, that's all. Actually a soda water would go down very well right now, with a twist of lemon."
Reaching back for the cooler, happy to have any minor task that would bring relief from her worries, Lynn quickly filled the order and passed it up to Bonnie.
"Thanks, that hits the spot!" Bo suppressed the urge to admit it wasn't as effective as a vodka martini. For the past twenty-six years she had resisted every temptation to have alcohol touch her lips. Anticipating the challenge of this weekend might be the acid test.
"Twenty minutes to go and right on schedule. Got the stew ready to throw in the oven, Dee?"
Dee laughed, hoping it didn't sound forced. "I'd be crazy not to with you foodies!"
"Got that right!" The others chorused positive responses that were almost too enthusiastic.
Cass leaned over to turn up the radio as they sang along to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Of course they knew all the words.
Nothing seemed amiss, in spite of what they all knew was going down in the next forty-eight hours.
Pam quietly considered the number of years these eight friends had repeated the scenario. This was the Bridge Club's annual cocktail party on wheels in the twelve-passenger Suburban from Bonnie's farm, driving north for their annual ski weekend.
They had it down to a fine art after forty years: one bottle of red, one bottle of white. That was the limit for the trip. The wineglasses were a necessary but not particularly desirable plastic. If they were going to break the law by having wine in their moving vehicle, they at least tried to be somewhat responsible about it.
Bonnie was a non-drinker, or as she would quickly correct you, a recovering alcoholic, even after two and a half decades. Outgoing and undeniably the loudest member of the Bridge Club, she had claimed permanent ownership of the designated driver title. She was also the most experienced at handling the lumbering Suburban, for which the others were immensely thankful. Particularly Marti, who almost needed sedation to travel the winter roads and who drank no wine en route. Nevertheless, along with all the others, she had rarely missed one of these road trips.
The Bridge Club: eight women, just over their sixty-year speed bump. They were never anything remotely resembling Desperate Housewives or Ya-Ya candidates but simply great friends since their footloose days of finding the way through their early twenties.
During those heady days of the mid to late 1960s they had, in various combinations, lived, worked, studied, traveled, and certainly partied together. Not only at home but also, to their great surprise, overseas. Friendships had been formed at school, parties, and work. A couple of them had known each other from childhood. Out of a very large circle, these eight women had connected during the preliminaries of getting to know each other and continued to build on that.
Coming from small towns in Ontario, trips to Montreal or across the U.S. border to Buffalo were major excursions when they were growing up. As young adults, it had been a thrill to join the masses tasting the new freedom ushered in by the peace/love, or sex/drugs, or anything else you can think of and rock `n roll of the psychedelic 60s.
Hordes of liberated twenty-somethings, including most of these eight young women, invaded Europe that decade, backpacking and hitchhiking, renting "wrecks," riding the rails with Eurail passes, or getting around by whatever means their budgets would accommodate.
The Age of Aquarius had spawned a generation eager to explore the planet. The blossoming of affordable air travel opened the doors. Europe on $5 a Day was the bible, and wandering that part of the world was, for the most part, a safe, exciting adventure.
In the late 60s, they were lured back to the opportunities and energy of the emerging urban Toronto scene, their explorations completed for the time being. The young women began to settle into their lives with more structure and growing responsibilities. Most assuredly though, this by no means eliminated the good times. They did know how to party.
Quickly reconnecting through lunches, dinners, parties, and spontaneous bridge games, it was a no-brainer to get organized with a monthly commitment to meet at each other's homes and maintain their valued friendships. From early on, their ability to share the best of what women offer each other had been obvious and was too good to let slip away.
Apart from this, that classic card game of skill and chance was the common denominator that brought them together. Each had been introduced to the challenging but enjoyable pastime of bridge by the time they were in their late teens or early twenties.
Taking turns hosting, the young friends gathered on the first Tuesday of every month with no guest, no spouse, and no "outsider" invited. Eight was the number needed for two tables of bridge. It made perfect sense, really, even though they all had friends who at one time or another suggested they would be happy to join in. The Bridge Club, as they had christened themselves with a collective guffaw, knew only too well that anyone who had not been with them from the beginning and shared in their experiences would be bored stiff listening to them reminisce ad nauseum.
Typical of the time, they were a homogeneous collection from white middle-class families. The opportunities for cultural diversity in Canada in the 1960s were not what they were even twenty years later. In fact, as crazy as it sounds today, having one Roman Catholic and another Jewish member in the group was fairly progressive for those days.
At first the primary object, they all agreed, was to play bridge. More dilettantes than serious competitors in those early days, they soon found it equally important to simply enjoy each other's company and get caught up on the latest. The chatter was effortless and continuous: the joys, the pains, the hopes, the secrets, the gossip, the mundane, and the adventure. Life, played out by each one in her own way. Separate but, at the same time, shared intimately with each other.
They moved easily within their individual spheres, sometimes overlapping with each other but more often not, and came together each month to compare notes, laugh, cry, vent, or simply relax.
Their dedication to the addictive card game had followed an interesting, arguably predictable progression when they looked back on it:
Bridge was played with relish for the first couple of years, until the cocktail hour stretched on in a haze of cigarette smoke and sometimes completely precluded dinner. Sleepovers were not uncommon. Love affairs, marital issues, and the shift from acting like kids to having them were their headlines for this decade. The background music: the Beatles, the Stones, anything Motown, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the Guess Who, Queen, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan.
Families began to flourish in their own distinct combinations, or not. Careers were becoming established or were struggling. Important choices were presenting themselves for endless discussions, and the cards were set aside-except, that is, in times of crisis. When the talk got too intense, without fail, a few hands of bridge would be the calming factor. The background music: the Beatles, the Stones, anything Motown, ABBA, Burton Cummings, Miles Davis, Sinatra, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Leonard Cohen.
For the most part they liked who they were. They recognized the strengths they had developed and were up front about what still needed work. Family dynamics were shifting and mid-life issues were challenging as they steered each other through the vagaries of menopause. Lingering over cheap but decent wine and appetizing meals perfected through the years, it was during this time that nostalgic mutterings about serious bridge often surfaced. The cards were on the table with greater regularity. The background music: the Beatles, the Stones, anything Motown, Oscar Peterson, Shania Twain, Lloyd-Weber soundtracks, Eurythmics, the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Elton John.
The fourth decade brought much less alcoholic consumption (but not abstinence, let me assure you), healthier food choices (but always dessert), one lone smoker (unless there was excessive alcohol), and earlier nights for those whose schedules now included caring for aging parents. Life's impending chapter of retirement signaled new opportunities, more eagerly anticipated by some than others. The cards were back on in a serious way. The background music: the Beatles, the Stones, anything Motown, classic jazz, U2, Diana Krall, Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Classical 96.3 FM, Zoomer Radio AM740.
The constant from one decade to the next was the endless conversation and camaraderie that carried them together through the passages of their lives. All to the beat of the background music.
There was never a shortage of opinions. At times there was dissention-particularly when Canadian politics was the topic. Cass's steadfast commitment to the New Democratic Party's social tenets clashing with Bonnie's true-Tory-blue Conservative Party ideals provided good entertainment.
The lively exchanges were often passionate, but whether the issue was negative or positive, nothing changed the deep love of their country and the life it offered each person. Lucky them, they all agreed, to live in the true north strong and free. Although getting away for part of the winter wasn't a bad idea!
In the fourth decade of the Bridge Club, the events of 9/11 had introduced a sad and unfortunate new perspective to the world. These women could remember, as teenagers, the fears created by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It was their first experience feeling threatened in their country, which always seemed safe and removed from any such danger. The Cold War, with its talk of bomb shelters, brought the realization that North America was vulnerable to nuclear attack. This dark side of the 1960s, with the assassinations of the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the unpopular war in Vietnam, had awakened political awareness and a desire for activism to a greater extent than generations before.
After 2001, those early, uneasy fears resurfaced with the pervasive lingering threat left by the new type of terrorism and the atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia it spawned.
Who didn't feel that the world seemed to stop spinning on its normal axis? Combined with dire warnings of climate change and the reckless abuse of our planet-not to mention the standard violence making daily headlines-there was much to lie awake worrying about. There was a sense that life for their children and grandchildren faced the possibility of unimagined change and challenge.
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Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, when she isn’t somewhere else. An admitted travel fanatic, she can pack a bag in a flash and be ready to go anywhere … particularly the south of France. With a focus on travel, women’s issues and ageing, her stories celebrate the feminine spirit and the power of friendship. Encouraging women of all ages to stare down the fear factor and embrace change, she has heard from readers (men too!) ages 20 to 83. Her award-winning debut novel The Bridge Club was published in 2010 and her second novel, The Promise of Provence was an Amazon Hot New Release in April 2013, a USA Best Book 2013 Finalist and a Literary Fiction Finalist, 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards. Promises To Keep was released in September 2014.