A connection started tentatively within a circle of young girls. It ended up enduring through time.
A couple of months ago, I published my fifth book, South Providence Girls: A Clique in Time. In the early 1950s, a group of thirteen pre-teens (of which I am one) coalesced. We dubbed ourselves The Junior Debs. This lofty sounding title was totally inconsistent with our very modest backgrounds. None of us can confidently affirm the reasoning behind the name, but tenuously acknowledge that it was a bit of a put-on: we knew we could never be or wanted to be debutantes so we jokingly fabricated our own version. We were perfectly happy developing a status in which we felt at home. As eleven-year-olds, we had no idea we were creating an identity that would last for more than seven decades. Eight “Debs” (now, of course, women) are still alive and, in 2023, are eighty-five. We stay indisputably intertwined even though we are scattered around the country – New England to California; Florida to the mid- and south-west.
I began to think about writing down the hows and whats of the Debs about ten years ago. Over that span, I did a lot of research about us and our milieu, but couldn’t conjure up what the primary message should be. I took me a long time to figure that out. I felt some pressure. The Debs were excited about reading their own history, family members couldn’t wait to learn about the “girls,” and the place, era, and culture in which we grew up. Friends would comment on how unusual to retain long-ago friendships over such an extended period. I now realize that I needed additional living to clarify the key message. The journey through aging made me appreciate the power and importance of holding on to personal connections.
An interesting thing about the Debs is that once we graduated from high school, we didn’t endure as a group. Individuals kept in touch, but there was no attempt to stay together. That changed in 1988 when we were all turning fifty. Prompted by one of us, we decided to jointly celebrate our birthdays. We held a reunion and something quite mystical happened. We erased the passage of time. Without effort or awkwardness, we resumed familiar, intimate dialogue as it had been early on. Of course, we gave updates, but the bond itself didn’t need an update. It felt deep-rooted, natural, and unshakeable. That first reunion reestablished and resolidified us. It made clear our desire to perpetuate our ancient bonding. We went on to have get-togethers every few years so we could continue to share news and support each other through the inevitable consequences of getting older.
This story is not about nostalgia. It’s about knowing what helps drive us to keep moving forward. In this instance, it is the preservation of our bond. Staying connected doesn’t happen on its own. It requires energy to make sure that this precious attachment doesn’t disappear. Now, even with travel and health barriers, we gather. Fortunately, we have made it to the Zoom-technology era which allows us do it more frequently and easily without leaving home.