SISTERHOOD

 First, I need to write a retraction.  In a previous post, I stated that Chesapeake Energy was in downtown business space when we left OKC. I was wrong. It was always at 63rd & May. Now, it’s at 63rd and just about everything.
      It’s important that you know I try to keep my information accurate.  Writers catch hell for this all the time. My friend, Cornelia Read, author of Field of Darkness, The Crazy School, The Innocent Boy, and the recently released Valley of Ashes got a phone call at 3am from an irate reader. “Obviously, Ms Read, you did not do your research. There were THREE trees on that street, not FIVE.” And then, she hung up.
      Thank you to all my friends who work for Chesapeake Energy for not calling me at 3am to tell me my facts were not correct.
NOW.
      About three days ago, I got a Facebook invitation to a newly-created event, “Alumnae Reunion 2012” and got so excited.  It had been six years since I’d seen any of my sorority sisters in Oklahoma City, and the “alumnae” had grown by a couple of hundred since then.  So, I clicked “absolutely” in a heartbeat. Then, I started adding people to the invitation list (after asking permission, of course).
      I arrived at Ted’s Escondito in Edmond at exactly 5 pm yesterday to find a group of the charter members of Iota Delta chapter at University of Central Oklahoma. Though I’d met most of these ladies, I didn’t know them that well. One of the recent grads from the class of ’11 — a budding writer — arrived as I did, and we walked in together, and my good buddy from the old crew of the alumnae association, Sarah showed up late (as anticipated).
       These charter gals started the sorority with 26 young women, most of whom dropped out, leaving about a dozen for that beginning core. It was a difficult time for them because there were three well-established sororities on campus that weren’t embracing sharing recruits with a new house. But they persevered. And a pledge class of 13 new members joined in (I believe it was) 2002 started an explosion. Now the house is equal to, or larger than, the other three on campus and  a fifth house has joined the Greek community this year and will have it’s first recruitment next week.
       These gals had been spending the week helping with recruitment and spoke of how today’s active members treated them with such respect, and almost awe. “Wow…..you’re our founders…..” It sends chills down my spine just thinking about it.
       We spent the evening laughing, re-arranging ourselves to talk to different people, eating off of each others’ plates, having a couple of drinks, reliving memories, telling inside stories about the girl we voted “most likely to become a trophy wife” who is now a renowned photographer and self-sustaining farmer and is, along with others, the voice of the new and younger generation of farmers. And of the girl who stood over the washer and dryer with her arms clasped around her dirty clothes, crying because she’d been raised by nannies and didn’t know how to use them. And about one of the live-ins who would to eat everyone else’s food. They’d open the refrigerator to retrieve their leftovers and find one onion ring left in the box……and the night when the new members joined the alumnae for an outside reception before heading off to their first sisterhood retreat — which we later crashed (after some of Sarah’s margaritas and one of our alums falling backwards into the bushes) to instruct them in the art of the  shimmy and teach them songs steeped in tradition like, “Never trust a Sigma Nu an inch above the knee,” and “God, damn, son-of-a-bitch, I don’t give a flying fuck.” This recanting and laughter went on for a couple of hours and ended when the charter gals told us they were heading back to the house to help tear down from the yesterday’s recruitment party and help set up for tonight’s Pref party.
        Before leaving, they hugged Sarah and me and thanked us for being alumnae and helping them get started and grow. Generations connected by single rose petals in a bowl. Joined for life.
        It took me back to my interview on Saturday and seeing three generations across a table – an active member, two girls who graduated about 10 years ago, and more senior alumnae – all together this very important day with a single goal in mind: to find a new house director who got along with the girls, understood collegiate life, still saw the house as a business, and one who could work with their alumnae as I had with my own local chapter.
        (In answer to your question, it went well. I’m going back from the 2nd – the 7th to live in the house, see if I’m a fit with the girls, if I can work well with the alums who live close to the house and drop in regularly, and carry out some tasks that need to be accomplished. Theirs is, sadly, not an atypical situation; it’s one that happens way too often. Their house lost a member recently, and just before school started, their house mom of 15 years found out she had cancer and was in surgery within a couple of days. They need someone who can get the girls over the humps of these tragedies.
        I’m assuming they’ve narrowed it down to a couple of candidates and are giving us each a go.  As I told them, if I’m the best person for the girls, I’d love to have the job. If they (or I) have any reservations, I’m fine with that, too.)
       So within 48 hours, pretty much all I talking about was sorority life, and how important it is in the lives of so many young women.
        I can’t image what it would have been like for the friends of Caroline Still, one of our house members who died just before Thanksgiving the year after she pledged, if they didn’t have their sorority sisters to hold onto and the alumnae to shelter them before heading home for the holiday.
        During the interview, I talked about telling “all my girls” over the years that someday they’d look back and be able to say that decision they made at 18 was one of the best, and most important they had made in their lives. That those women she didn’t know; some of whom they had nothing in common with, would become their best friends — bridesmaids at their weddings, godmothers or “aunties” to their children,  and the first person they called when joy or tragedy entered their lives. And that from the moment they signed that bid card, they never had to be alone again. Wherever they went, they had sisters.
        If they travelled and wore their letters, someone would come up and talk to them. If they were stranded in a strange city, they could pick up the phone and call the alumnae association. Someone would help. If they moved to a new town, with a single phone call there was a group of sisters joyfully waiting to pull them into their circle.  I’ve spoken of the time when two of our Iota Delta recent grads came to their first alumnae meeting in September after May graduation and told us they hadn’t been able to find jobs. Before the end of the afternoon, phone calls were being made. They both had interviews the next week and got the jobs.
       I know sorority life isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t right for my daughter. But cheerleading, dance, and her university pom squad were her sorority. The “new members” were the girls she coached. Friends she had in high school are still in her life. She was bridesmaid at a girl’s wedding last year who had been on pom/dance squad with her at UCO for three of her four years. She’s bringing her boyfriend to Oklahoma in September to meet her friends — the people in her own private sorority.
        My high school had sororities (it’s a long story, and trust me, you don’t want to hear it), and those girls are just as close now as they were then. I saw a note on Facebook from one girl to another who didn’t remember her from high school.  Her first remark was, “I was a (I can’t find the Greek letter font on this site) DAD.” The other responded, “Oh, I remember now. You were dating…..” and the conversation continued for several posts.
       Though they might have been in different  social Greek organizations, the majorettes at Charleston High were their own sorority, and in 2010, two women who had strutted together since junior high school lost their husbands within a month of each other. That bond, along with the ones they shared with other high school friends, helped them deal with their grief and recovery.
       It’s those connections that keep us tied together, regardless of how far apart we are…..how many years or miles separate us.
       And it’s what I’ve been missing.
       I didn’t leave Charleston, West Virginia when I was twenty-one, I escaped…..I’m not sure whether it was to leave Charleston, what percentage was to get as far away from my mother as possible, or whether it was discover who I was without someone telling me I was nobody and didn’t deserve anything or anyone worthwhile. Regardless, at twenty-one, I joined the minyans who chose to alter the three r’s (readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmatic) to readin’, ritin’ and Route 33.
       In Columbus I had great friends, but without the social media we have now,  Joey (we met when he was at Ohio State and lived together for six years) and I moved to Omaha and we lost touch with our Columbus friends, but made great friends there. We moved back to Columbus after he got his Masters degree, and then back to Omaha when he was hired by Boy’s Town.  We broke up the next year, and I lost most of our friends in the separation.
        Then, I married Bill and we were transferred to Hawaii — where I made more friends, but lost them when we rotated to Denver; he transferred to Omaha, and I got promoted to a district in Oklahoma City. Precious Peggy is all I have left from Denver. And I didn’t think I had friends in Oklahoma until I was gone for six years and came back to visit.
        Berkeley brought me so many friends from the writing community, but after four years of being gone, they’re more acquaintences than friends. Sure, we Facebook, meet up at book signings, run into each other on occasions and sometimes talk on the phone, but it’s not like when we could meet at Skates or Izzy’s, laugh, drink, and have that fellowship that’s only available to those who share a common bond.
        Now, I’m starting over again. If it’s in Stillwater, I’ll be thrilled (in spite of the weather and the fact that I only have the clothes that fit in the trunk of my car). I’ll get involved in both the Stillwater and the OKC alumnae associations, help my Iota Deltas again, get to spend more time with Sarah (who makes the most excellent margaritas and does a hell of a shimmy), and look into writers’ groups. If I choose to stay, OSU has an MFA program. We’ll see.
        If I go back to spend the winter with Peggy, I’ll join Sisters in Crime and find some other writers’ groups to join. See if Tattered Cover needs someone part-time. Build a new community.
        Regardless of where the wind takes me this time, I’ll always have Peggy. I’ll always have Sarah. I’ll always have Cornelia. My walls have come down and I’ll be able to allow new people into my heart.  And I have you.
       Take some time and reconnect with those you loved and have lost over the years. Embrace those relationships you have now. None of us ever have to be alone. Of course, there are those who choose to be, and it’s their loss.
        I’ll spend the day packing up the car again and cleaning my room at Mini Ha Ha ranch in preparation for Lina’s family’s arrival tomorrow. Then, I’m back to the Hawkins house for a week and all my “J” kids and animals, and the 2nd I move on again to Gamma Phi. We’ll see what happens from there. Sarah told me yesterday that the house beside the Gamma Phi house used to be Alpha Xi’s before it closed in the 80’s. Maybe that’s a good sign.
          It’s funny….being in town at exactly the same time the OSU job opened, picking up a dolphin towel from the rack yesterday morning, parking in front of the counterpart of my first house, and now, the Alpha Xi house is next door. Cooincidences or signs?  I guess I’ll know in a couple of weeks
       Until then, stay safe out there.