Good Reading : March 2005
BOOKBITE the group as though we’d never see each other again. Now that we’re older, for the most part our kids grown and gone, we see each other more often, and we’re all more aware of the passing of time, the shocking awareness that one day we’ll attend a gathering of the Same Sweet Girls, and it will be our last one. When I’m describing the Same Sweet Girls to other people, I usually tell them it’s helpful to group us in twos. Lanier and I were for mer roommates, as were Julia and Astor; then there’s the odd couple, Byrd and Rosanelle. (Poor Byrd, getting stuck with Rosanelle, but there again, that’s another story.) Paired like that, we seem like polar opposites, but we aren’t, really. I’m considered the weird one of the group, and I’ll admit I’ve earned that honour. Most people think artists are weird, anyway, but me – I’m a gourd artist. As the other SSGs say, with much eye rolling, how many of those do you know? My for mer room- mate, Lanier Sanders, doesn’t do weird, being not only a former jock but also a nurse, which is such a prosaic profession for someone like Lanier. Lanier would have been a doctor − a good one − had she not flunked out of medical school her first year. Not because she’s dumb; although she struggled in the humani- ties, Lanier’s plenty smart in math and science. Here’s the thing about Lanier − lovable as she is, she will always find a way to screw up her life. Almost fifty years old, and she is still doing it. But I don’t have any room to talk, since I’ve been pretty good at that myself. Like Lanier and me, Julia and Astor were college roommates.The school we attended, the Methodist College for Women in Brierfield, Alabama (nick- named The W), paired you up; you didn’t get to choose like you do in most schools, the Methodists preferring to mix their poor scholarship students in with the more privileged ones. If it hadn’t been for the incident our fresh- man year that made us the Same Sweet Girls, I’d never have gotten to know Julia Dupont or Astor Deveaux, either one. Unlike me, a shy little art major, both Julia and Astor were hot stuff on campus. Classically beautiful in a Grace Kelly sort of way, Julia Dupont was from a wealthy old family in Mobile. Her mother had gone to some fancy board- ing school with the dean of women, which was how Julia ended up at The W. It was a year after we became friends before we discovered the real reason Julia was there.Thirty years later, it still surprises me. What to say about Astor Deveaux? How about, she and I have a rather complicated relationship. I’m not sure what kind of weird chemistry there is between us, but it’s been going on since the first day we met, in an Interpretative Dance class. Lanier accuses me of not even liking Astor, but that’s not quite true. I don’t trust her, I’ll admit, and we’ve had numerous clashes. But like everyone else, I’m fascinated by her. From Lake Charles, Louisiana, Astor Deveaux came to The W on a dance scholarship and intrigued everyone on campus. None of us Alabama hicks had ever seen anyone like her; we’d certainly never seen anyone so talented. Astor went on to dance on Broadway, until she got too old to get good parts.Then she moved back to Alabama, unfortu- nately. See? − that’s what I mean. I’m always making cracks like that about Astor, and I’m not even sure why. But one thing I do know − I’ve got better sense than to turn my back on her. I group Byrd and Rosanelle together because they’re the most nor mal ones of the Same Sweet Girls (which isn’t saying a whole lot, believe me). Byrd McCain is plain and simple and unpretentious. We’ve nicknamed her Mama Byrd, a role she fits to a tee. She certainly plays it well, and if on occa- sion Byrd plays it too well, giving out advice, being uptight or disapproving . . . we always forgive her. She’s that lovable. Rosanelle Tilley is another story, but she’s not really one of us. She’s who we inherited after Byrd’s roommate, one of the original six, was killed in a car wreck, and we felt the need to fill the gap. Rosanelle’s also the one who unintentionally gave us our name, the Same Sweet Girls. This will tell you everything you need to know about Rosanelle − she’s flattered that we named our group after something she once said, not realizing that, as usual, we were being ironic and facetious. Thirty years have gone by, and she still doesn’t get it. It all sounds so serious, telling it like this, but it’s anything but. Over the years, we’ve developed a lot of silly rituals that I’m embarrassed to tell other people about, especially now that we’re almost fifty years old.We crown a queen and have royal edicts and all sorts of stuff like that. Each year the crown goes to the one who can prove that she’s the most deserving. And what does she have to do to land the coveted crown? Why, be 50 goodreading The question is, are the Same Sweet Girls sweet? Hardly. But one thing’s for sure: We’re the same. We are the same complicated, screwy, mixed-up, love- each-other-one-minute and hate-each-other-the-next group of women we were when we met thirty years ago.