An Ode to the Ladies Who Lunch

My father's photo of Mom in the middle surrounded by her girlfriends in Ohio.

My father's photo of Mom in the middle surrounded by her girlfriends in Ohio.

Having spent most of the past three – actually four – decades as a woman who works outside of the home, I’ve always been curious about the Ladies Who Lunch. Who are they? What do they talk about? If they don’t have bosses and crazy workloads, and the insanity of the latest engagement activity at work to discuss, what are the topics of interest or concern?

From the 1960s and 70s, there are songs about women sneaking out for lunch with their friends as a cover for sampling the latest martini in chic surroundings. But alcohol-sodden afternoons have fallen out of favor for most of the country.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to observe lunching ladies – and men, for that matter – and overhear their mid-day discussions. It turns out that lunch can be a great convener for those who organize innovative community transformations. I’ve overheard robust conversations about the best way to get donors to show up at volunteer fundraisers for children’s sports. Or ideas for getting neighborhoods to use less water, walk more, or generally promote a healthy community.

And listening in on those discussions reminded me of my dear-departed mother and her weekly lunches out. Mom had a marvelous sense of fun. She believed strongly that what one did in life must be fun and enjoyable – and she pursued that belief with gusto.

If the activity or its result wasn’t ultimately fun, she didn’t believe she needed to do it. There was housekeeping, for example. No matter how hard she tried to show an interest, she realized early on that the redundant redundancies of cleaning, re-cleaning, and cleaning yet again were ultimately unsuccessful with two actively curious children trekking in and out of the house. So, when she recognized that she really didn’t like cleaning at all, she hired a cleaning lady, well before that was “something one did”.

“I’m just not very successful at keeping a house clean,” she’d say.  “And there are people who are better at it than I am. So I’ll do what I do well and leave the cleaning to the experts.”

In fact, the woman who came every week to clean our house also watched over my brother and me for the day, while my mom left the house to have her hair done and lunch with her friends.

I don’t honestly know what she discussed at her lunches out – hairstyles, new recipes, clothing trends? What I do know is that she was so relaxed and happy when she returned from her “day off.”  Her hair was beautiful, and her eyes sparkled, and I always had the impression that she was more able to focus on our little stories of the day when she hadn’t spent the whole of it with us. And that may be the best reason of all to lunch with the ladies – to open a window to another’s world while looking into the mirror of our own to recognize life really is sweet.