It was an anniversary but not a Hallmark Moment. Terrie and I realized that we had been friends for five years and we felt like celebrating. We had never heard of anyone celebrating a friendship anniversary and this meant there were no prescribed rituals or schmaltzy traditions. We could make things up. This suited us just fine.
Because Terrie is a health club owner and I am a mother of two under-10s, we both lead overly programmed lives. So we had no problem coming up with a plan for our celebration. We would plan nothing. We would surprise ourselves with our deeply slumbering, but hopefully surviving, capacities for spontaneity. We settled on a date and did a little independent and collaborative fantasizing. But not too much.
It dawned rainy. Pouring and blustering. Our 10:30 departure got delayed by car trouble, a sudden call to teach an aerobics class, all the usual elements that make up our lives. But we were both secretly glad it was raining. Rain meant movies and long sinful meals. But after battery-charging and teaching tasks were successfully executed, the skies cleared and the autumn landscape sparkled. Nature was inviting us to be true to our promise of spontaneity.
Because of car trouble, I was driving our truck. This made us feel invincible. A little sentimentality seemed in order so I played Terrie a song that I already thought of as "our" song as we cruised through the flaming autumn countryside: Irish singer Mary Black's "Soul Sister."
The truck didn't seem to notice that the sun was shining and obediently headed for the movies. Jane Austen's "Persuasion" had just opened at the Outer Circle and we got there with an hour to spare.
Sobriety has become a way of life for both of us over the years (although we have a number of old stories to liven up the friendship) so the greatest decadence we could imagine to pass the time before the theater opened was cappuccino. How obliging for a bakery-coffeehouse to be sitting on the next block.
We ordered the most delectable blends offered and after deciding we couldn't pass up the sweets either, we happily settled at a table. Copies of a local women's publication stacked in a corner featured a colored quilt and cover story titled "Friendship." The coffee shop started filling up . . . with pairs of women who we quickly discerned also were indulging in pre-Austen cappuccinos. The air was festive with buzzing, caffeinated female friendships. Our own schmaltz was evolving. When it came time for the ticket window to open, Joan of Joan and friend sitting next to us, collected money from all the women in the house and made a ticket run. Only one lone elderly woman felt reluctant to hand $4.25 over to a stranger.
Trusting that the upstanding rest of the world was busy blowing leaves or engaging in sporting events, we lingered too long over coffee. We squeezed into seats of questionable desirability as we processed the reality of a packed house for Jane Austen at 2 on a sunny Saturday.
The atmosphere of the movie was rich, English moodiness. How could we sustain it? How about Dumbarton Oaks, asked our obliging truck. Good choice, we agreed. We parked on a tree-lined Georgetown street and with osmanthus wafting through the air made our way to the gardens, which are the physical embodiment of a collaboration between two women: former owner Mildred Bliss and landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.
Terrie had never been to Dumbarton Oaks before. She is quite an effusive person, but I don't think in five years I'd ever heard her ooh or aah quite so much.
We hugged the elephantine beech trees. We were dazzled by chrysanthemums. I showed her all my favorite vine-draped nooks and secret benches. We basked in the gardens' spirit of natural opulence. Dumbarton Oaks in autumn invites contemplation of deep matters. We could have discussed the cosmos or at least Life. What we did was to nearly split our sides laughing over some squirrels cavorting in a yew hedge.
Wandering down Wisconsin Avenue afterward, we simultaneously felt Jane Austen evaporating as the Saturday night Georgetown scene began to heat up. Our magic was eluding us and must be recaptured. It was then that I pulled a memory out of a 10-year-old hat: The Tabard Inn on N Street, haunt of my pre-mom days: We would find candlelight there, "Persuasion"-style.
It was then, over sparkling mineral water and spiced butternut soup, that we got some of the better memories out of storage. It's amazing just how many stories one person can amass during a few youthful years, enough that some could elude five years of an extremely talk-oriented friendship. From our nearly middle-aged, sober, monogamous perspectives we glanced down the lengthening hallways of the past and found a few exceptionally good gems residing there.
We ordered two desserts and shared them. The black bottom molasses pecan cheesecake didn't live up to its press but then there was the Espresso creme brulee. If our whole anniversary celebration had a certain ritual quality to it, then eating this dessert was the central rite. It had the texture of baby food that had been pureed for an hour, and a flavor that was so delicate and perfectly unsweet that we felt we could die then and go straight to heaven. Our spoons clashed in the dish as we tried as delicately as possible to snarl up the last few dollops.
Like sensible Jane Austen heroines, we declined to attend a second movie and headed home to rejoin the loves of our lives. In the meantime, we are basking in our ingenuity. We made up a holiday the greeting card companies didn't think of yet. That in itself is cause for celebration.