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The Crones Of The Round Table by Josephine Stewart

I guess you could say we’re getting old. Some would say that we are old, yet I think “old” is a movable feast. There is no question, however, that we are Crones. Our youngest friend is 68 and objects the loudest to being called a Crone. Crone is an ancient and reverential term for a wise old woman. “It’s always synonymous with HAG in the crossword puzzles,” she cries out. To the rest of us, six women who have developed a friendship over many years and have chosen to eat together every Thursday night, the term is a badge of honor. Indeed it has been accepted in our neighborhood as affectionate and respectful.

Some of us like to refer to ourselves as the Crones of the Roundtable because when we make a reservation in a restaurant, we ask for a round table. This is so we can see and hear each other better. We are never loud or rude and the restaurant staff almost always falls all over themselves to be nice to us. They even urge us to come back soon. I guess they don’t often see six old women laughing their heads off and having such a good time together. Perhaps they like us too because we generally leave a 20% tip. It never fails but that one of the Crones says, “I think 15% is enough,” only to be jumped on by Jesse who comes back with, “hay, my kids depended on tips to get through school.”

“Oh, and like my kids were financed by Mr. Rockefeller!?” Everybody laughs and we’re off to find our way home. Driving home is a challenge of sorts since we car pool and cars are designed to have only one driver.

Sometimes we eat in one another’s homes. Two of us like to cook, all of us like to eat. Our oldest friend is 80 and gorgeous still, the rest of us are in our 70’s and gorgeous in our own way.

Jesse is our ritual and celebration queen. She could find more reasons to have a party than Hugh Heffner. Apart from every conventional and seasonal occasion, there is the grasping at any straw for the joy of getting together to party. “So, you’re moving from the 3rd floor to the first, let’s celebrate!” Well, it’s not really all that silly but she does point out events that most of us might just pass up. Like the many pre-Christmas parties she’s had with good food, happy beverages and a stack of socks to stuff for the homeless shelter in our area. Or, she might invite the Crones to celebrate a new mother with food, booze, entertainment and story telling. It keeps us on our toes.

We are all retired. Most of us are retired teachers and one, Dee, is a retired nurse. We thank God for Dee especially if we are on vacation. While we know we are old, we don’t wallow in “in my day” kind of thinking. We often say things like, “Who has more fun than we do?” or “I’m so glad to be alive.” You can then depend on someone else mouthing the conventional, “right on, especially when you consider the alternative.” Everybody laughs as if it was the first time they ever heard that said. Dee provides that safety net of what to do if someone is not up to par, which is very rare. We know we are lucky.

A few years ago we went to Spain and Portugal. It was a trip that we often talk about and in the recounting, enjoy it all over again. As an adventure on that trip, we decided to go on a one day excursion on a sailing ship. Well it never occurred to any of us that the boat would not pick us up at the shore, off a pier! We got to the designated location, an ordinary beach where people were tanning and swimming. By the way most of the women were topless, as it was the custom there. Did the Crones twitter, giggle or otherwise behave in any other way but the wise old women that they were? Of course not, but they did register the observation for later use. Suddenly we notice a rubber raft coming toward us. The raft was like one of those military rafts we’ve all seen in movies. Since none of us were ever in the military, it was our virgin voyage.

Well, getting in and out of that raft was a sight to behold. If slap-stick had never been invented, it could have used this occasion as its inspiration. Then, ‘just staying put’ in it, as we rolled over the waves to the clipper ship was another experience which we all agreed was, well, “new.” Now we are right up against the ship and there is a rope ladder hanging off the side. We look at each other and realize that we are either going to accept the challenge or embarrass ourselves. Some of us managed to do both with the help of two very handsome, young sailors. How, yours truly, who tips the scale a little above normal, was helped up and into the ship, will never be revealed in public. Let’s just say that, that wonderful young man will never be forgotten.

Coming back to shore was equally exciting. This time Jesse was the star. The sailor said that he would let us know when to jump out. It had something to do with getting out on the crest of a wave so that one didn’t get hurt. When he finished, he said, “OK?” and out jumps Jesse because she understood that to be the cue. Well, after she was fished out of the Atlantic Ocean, we all did manage to get ashore in one piece, laughing all the way. The people on the beach who saw us coming ashore, could not figure out what was so funny. That was because they were too far away to see Jesse jump out of the raft.

The next day the topless topic came up while we were lounging by the pool. They all thought it could be fun. After all, we were far from home and “when in Rome…bla bla bla.” I said that they were free to do what they wanted to but that I could not, Rome or no Rome. I walked over to visit some other guests and when I came back to where they were sitting, the hussies flashed me by pulling down their tops. Let me tell you, that was an unforgettable sight!

There was another time in Italy when the train we were on, separated to go in two different directions and half of us were in one car and the rest in the next car which also happened to be pulling away and then stopped. One has to marvel at our ability to find solutions! I guess that’s because we are Crones. We are calm and wise. Dee who was in the forward car had made the acquaintance of a young man who was telling her about his coming wedding. Crones have a way of inspiring the confidence of all kinds of people and Dee is particularly good with both young and older men. When her face registered horror and Jesse started yelling that Eleanor and all of our luggage was in the next car, he jumped out to retrieve the luggage and helped Eleanor come across the tracks to meet the rest of us. This all happened within minutes but with a lot yelling and hand wringing, and Jesse running back and forth between the trains not knowing how she could carry all that luggage; she sees the young man take down the luggage but didn’t realize that he was helping and not stealing it. It was slap-stick city all over again. Once order was restore we realized that it was all just a tempest in a teapot because both halves of the train were going to the same station, just docking on opposite tracks!

As time goes on, some activities among us have had to be modified; except for the laughter, the conversations and the partying. One of us has Parkinson, one is almost blind with macular degeneration, another has Addison’s disease, Eve has atrio fibrillation and a couple of us are overweight, yet we manage to serve in social service agencies, baby sit our grandchildren, run low vision groups, have writing workshops for seniors, and volunteer at NPR in our city. Vacations together continue to be on our agenda for whom ever can go. Three or four of us still meet at 7:30 in the morning to walk on the lakefront for half an hour or so.

Life goes on for the Crones. They are wise and nuts too. Like Gwendolyn Brooks they sing out, “You’re alive until you are dead,” and live it up some more. King Arthur and his Knights were on a quest to find the Holy Grail and the Crones are no less, on a quest of their own.

Originally Posted by: Josephine on Saturday, February 21, 2004 - 02:51 PM (125 Reads)

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