If you are lucky in life, you find a couple of people along the way who are special friends with a bond that lasts through everything life can throw at you.
My wife was so fortunate to gather four of those people while she was a student in the Burge School of Nursing in Springfield, Mo.
She was one of a group of five special young women who helped each other through the ordeal that learning to be a registered nurse could sometimes be. The women graduated in 1976 and since about their fifth year out, they have met every year at someone’s house for a reunion.
Sometimes husbands and children came along but at their 25th the nurses made a special trip to a hotel in Springfield for a women-only gathering.
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This year, in honor of the 40th anniversary, five couples gathered at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Mo., where there is hiking, camping, cabins and trout fishing.
The women can talk all day, or in this case, two days and nights and part of a morning. We had adjoining cabins with a connecting door. The weather was excellent so the party moved all around — from living rooms to porches to tables piled with food. Trout roasted over a fire in a big old iron skillet my wife brought along.
Through the years my wife and I have hosted gatherings in Mexico, Mo., Boonville, Mo., and here in Belleville. Every couple got lost coming here despite a carefully drawn map and the admonition not to turn off Illinois 15 at the first sign that said Belleville.
Not to say that some are country, but when one couple got lost, the wife called and told me they were at Schnucks.
“Which one?” I asked.
“You mean there’s more than one?” she said. Luckily it was the one by the drive-in theater.
The families are so much alike in so many ways. One year we all showed up in new minivans. One year the whole group went to watch one kid walk into her prom. She was a remarkably good sport about it.
Then there was the year of the ear candles. The same girl had these candles with paper guards and everyone had them lit and stuck in their ears to clear out the wax.
This year we were discussing how forgetful we had become. A few minutes later Anne came in complaining that she had put down a ball of crochet yarn in their bedroom and couldn’t find it.
We talked about what klutzes we had become and later Jane fell off the cabin porch in a lawn chair, luckily not hurting herself. Debbie managed to get locked in the pull-behind camper she and her husband came in. She ended up crawling out a window. We’re still not sure what happened to the lock.
Luckily, if something goes wrong, there is always a nurse around.
Mostly we talked about what was going on in our lives these days with most of us retired. And we dragged out their stories from school of harsh and likeable teachers, of midnight runs to the doughnut store and the horrid time they all had to spend at a psychiatric hospital in Iowa to learn that discipline.
These people have been at our weddings and our funerals. They have shared pain, sorrow, joy and always, laughter. At the end of the gathering, we had the ritual pictures with all the women, then the guys, then the couples and this year the entire group thanks to a neighboring camper who volunteered to help.
Part of the ritual is for the husbands to annoy the women by making odd faces and pinching sensitive places. Long live tradition and this special group of people.