My women’s group has been meeting every week for 37 years. For a writer, this could have meant several lifetimes of things to write about, but all our discussions are private. I can, however, tell you our food story. Every group has one.
First, a little background on the group.
We came out of the ’70s when a new feminism emerged and was nourished, in part, by small “consciousness raising” groups. Ours was sponsored by the women’s center at UC Davis and designed for local women who were professionals or intended to become professionals.
Two social workers facilitated the group for 10 weeks, after which the women decided to go independent and meet in each others’ homes. One of the social workers remained as a member until she moved away.
In 1978 I joined, 36 years ago. The pair we call the “newbies” joined 22 years ago. Our membership is stable at seven.
My first meeting was at a home in Dixon. When I walked in, I encountered a friendly group of strangers and a table full of food. I think we consumed an entire meal, which intimidated me because I don’t like to cook.
But I fell in love with the group. We talked about our struggles and our hopes, offered each other advice and sometimes took it. We cared for each other.
Not long after I joined, food traditions became more to my liking. No more meals, but the hostess would serve beverages and at the midpoint, dessert.
After about 10 years, when we had acquired most of the members we have now, we noticed that one beverage, cranberry-flavored sparkling water, had become the group favorite. Soon “red bubbly” was the only drink we served.
Another 10 years passed, and tradition changed again. We had become older (age range 35-66) and started paying attention to calories. Soon everyone was serving “white bubbly,” sparkling water without the juice.
We didn’t give up our sweets. Some members baked. Others bought treats from places like Konditorei or the Nugget. We ate out or had potlucks rarely — less than once a year — but we didn’t skimp on birthdays, which always included cake and ice cream.
Members who preferred salt over sugar would stage minor rebellions and serve popcorn or chex mix — along with the weekly dessert. Although most of us drink alcohol outside of the group, we never served it at meetings.
Meanwhile, babies were being born, children were growing up, jobs were changing, and marriages took place or fell apart. Through it all, we paused in every meeting at the midpoint to drink white bubbly and have our snack.
More years passed. Our ages range now from 55-86.
A few months ago, our food traditions changed again. One of our members developed diabetes, an illness that required her to cut down on sweets. In support of her effort, we agreed to give up our snack. There have been murmurs about adding healthy foods back in, like apples, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I’m struck that just as a marriage unites two people to create a new entity, a group of seven women have become our own little demographic with our own traditions, our own likes and dislikes.
Other groups serve wine and cheese (too expensive) or sit down for whole meals (too time-consuming) or eat at the end of their meeting (likely to disturb our sleep). Compared to the food traditions of other groups, I’d call ours “spare” but perhaps that’s because we meet every week.
Recently, we decided to go out to dinner to celebrate the 80th birthday of one of our members. It was hard to find the right place. After all these years, no one hesitates to offer her opinion.
“I can’t digest Chinese.”
“I don’t like Italian.”
“I never go out to eat, so let’s choose some place nice.”
“That place is too expensive.”
“I want a round table.”
“Would you accept rectangular?”
“We need a quiet place so we can hear.”
Negotiations begin. We know we’ll reach consensus.
In the beginning, we were young professionals looking towards careers and agreeing to raise our consciousness.
Some of us have had careers (teacher, doctor, scientist), and some of us have not. I don’t know if our consciousness was raised in the conventional, feminist sense. We care about women’s issues, but we rarely discuss feminist politics.
We talk about our struggles and our hopes, like we always did. We offer each other advice and sometimes we take it.
We talk about our lives. We engage in simple acts of living, like choosing our food.
After 37 years, we’re quirkier than we used to be, and more honest. Sometimes I miss red bubbly. Sometimes I miss dessert. Sometimes I feel sad when I realize how old we are now.
But I don’t feel sad for long. This group, which seems as accidental in its beginnings as it does in its choice of food, is one of the best and most enduring things that has happened in my life.
I toast with a glass of white bubbly.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at email@example.com