Twenty-two years after Judy Jacobs (far left) and Mary Garmo Gold (third from right) were bridesmaids at her wedding, Janet joins them every month or so for lunch in Alameda. (Photo/Cathleen Maclearie)
Twenty-two years after Judy Jacobs (far left) and Mary Garmo Gold (third from right) were bridesmaids at her wedding, Janet joins them every month or so for lunch in Alameda. (Photo/Cathleen Maclearie)

That’s what old friends are for — especially as we age

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Every couple of months, I drive across the Dumbarton Bridge for lunch with the remainder of my Alameda women’s group. Twenty-six years ago, we numbered seven. Time does not stand still. Now we are just three: Mary, Judy, me.

In 1994, after the loss of two jobs and the end of my first marriage, I had lost my identity. Having sold the home in the suburbs where my children were raised, I sought a new community in Alameda. I joined Temple Israel, an intimate congregation within walking distance of my condo, and I began to build a new network of girlfriends. When the synagogue offered a women’s group, I joined.

In 1996, when we women first gathered around an oak table in the Temple Israel library, we grappled with aging parents. We began to probe the issues that gave us joy and gave us tsuris. I struggled with a dead-end relationship, followed by a disastrous long-distance fling with a man I’ll call Rex the Remote. When I broke up with him preemptively and then cried for a year, my parents said, “I told you so,” but Mary, Judy and the others helped me keep it together. But when Rex sent me an email revealing he had found someone he was madly in love with, I crashed.  I immediately phoned Mary, who met me at the synagogue, where a rabbi was delivering a talk on Kabbalah. I remember nothing about the lecture, but I remember that Mary was there to hold my hand. We were also there for her when she was struggling with problematic relationships with men, plus an alcoholic ex-husband and a troubled teenage daughter whose best friend was Michelle from Hell.

In January 1999, I met Allen, and everything changed. But I didn’t want to leave down-home Alameda for upscale Silicon Valley, where he worked and where his extended family lived.

Faced with a choice between Allen and Alameda, I wavered. Judy’s husband, a prominent real estate agent along with his wife, set me straight.

Houses are expendable, he said. Relationships are not.

My friends had made up their minds. Judy found a renter for my condo — ironically, a man I had once dated.

“We’re gonna be the bridesmaids,” Judy insisted.

“OK,” I said, “but no matching dresses. Just wear something bluish green.”

On Feb. 13, 2000 — erev Valentine’s Day — my six friends walked down the aisle at Temple Israel, each carrying a single white rose. I wore a pearl and ribbon tiara Mary and her daughter had made. The reception took place in the social hall, which Mary and Marcia had decorated. Marcia, now deceased, had won the use of the hall in a synagogue auction and donated it to me as her wedding gift.

Three years later, when Mary married a man she had met at the synagogue, we were the bridesmaids, and we wore purple and carried orchids.

After moving to Palo Alto, grappling with Friday-night traffic for services in Alameda became problematic, so I joined Congregation Beth Am in nearby Los Altos Hills. Slowly, most of my ties to the island community began to dissipate. But my bonds with my women friends there remained.

Those friends saw me through my darkest periods and my most joyous times. We were there for one another during heartbreaks, deaths of parents, remarriages and the births of grandchildren. When Mary and the police found her ex-husband dead in his apartment, we were the ones she called for support. When Judy’s daughter’s fiancé bowed out weeks before the wedding, we shared her shock. When her son came out of the closet and later met his birth mother and siblings, the two families became an extended family, and we rejoiced with them. And when Mary’s daughter became a lovely young woman, inviting us to her wedding and later making Mary a grandmother, we kvelled.

Today we can laugh about Rex the Remote and Michelle from Hell, and nobody says, “Well, you learned a lesson.” We have all learned lessons because we have grown old together. When our group formed in 1996, my father had just celebrated his 80th birthday. Now that buffer generation is gone, yet we are still caregivers, for our spouses and for one another.

Both Mary and I will turn 80 this year, Judy a couple years down the road. Meanwhile, all three of us have husbands who are older, and we are coping with health issues, canceled trips, canceled plans.

We recognize that we, like our mothers, are likely to spend our last years living alone. We strategize, we share our fears, and we understand. Life is a gift, but we are fragile. That’s why we have friends.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].