Last month, Hubby and I had the pleasure of spending two weeks with 25 complete strangers ... or at least they were strangers when we started. It doesn't take long to become acquainted during communal living. We didn't bunk together, like when we were teenagers. For one reason because it was a mixed group, and for another because we were all of "a certain age" past the time of pillow fights and midnight secrets over a sneaked bottle of beer shared between 4 or 5 slumber partiers. Nine o'clock saw most of us "oldies" in our rooms, lamenting the early wake-up next morning.
Even though the group was basically mixed, about two-thirds were women. Probably because at that certain age women are beginning to outnumber men, as all the statistics tell us. And also because single men aren't as prone to move from their comfort zone as are women. Or at least that is true of a lot of the unattached men I know. They came from everywhere: New Jersey, California, Kansas, North Dakota, Oregon. It is fun to be the token Alaskans. After the inevitable "And what do you think of Sarah Palin?" comes the stories about when they drove the RV to Alaska or arrived on a cruise ship in Seward and questions like "what do you do when it's dark all the time?"
At least no one asked if we lived in an igloo. A few had even been off the highway and understood that remote means no Wal-Mart.
It didn't take long to assign nicknames to the others. We had "the Witch," not because of any personality defects, but because she always wore a black hoody with a pointed top, and had the most unnerving talent for just "being there" when you turned around. Her companion-helper was "the Ding-a-ling" and that was because of a personality quirk.
"The photographer," "the loud one," and "the shopper" were also with us, as were "the ladies" -- four women traveling together -- and "the Loner." It is funny that even as you quietly assign these nick-names in your own mind, if you mentioned one to someone else they immediately knew who you were talking about. Makes you wonder what name they have assigned to you!
But the most fun in a group like that is the opportunity to watch people. When you are with friends you already know the dynamics, but with strangers you gain a new perspective on people and their relationship to you and others. The ding-a-ling is always going to get lost. The same couple was always late. The Witch will ask an inane question and one of the ladies will ask for the nearest rest room. In other words, people really are the same no matter where you are and being from Kansas or California doesn't change it.
When I was a kid I attended 4-H camp at a lake in the summer. While it was boys and girls both, we were well separated after dark into dormitory cabins. Of course we sneaked out after bed check and got together but I'm sure the counselors knew where and when, as, in retrospect, it was too easily accomplished. The counselors would be playing cards or monopoly in the mess hall as we tip-toed by. We always found an empty cabin with lights still dimly lit and a conveniently open approach so when the counselors came checking, in an hour or so, we could see them coming, flashlights scanning the bushes and path. We'd sneak out the back way and hurry to our respective cabins. They had to hear us giggling as we ran. The younger campers were sworn to secrecy and they loved the intrigue. It's hard to remember how really innocent the 50s were, and how much fun we had trying to be bad.
Two weeks functioning in this adult group was an experience. If we can turn this into a life lesson I guess it would be the poem by Brian "Drew" Chalker that goes around e-mail a few times a year: People come into your life for a Reason, a Season or a Lifetime. These people were there for a season, as the poem says: "it is because your turn has come to share, grow or learn ..."
While we ended the time well acquainted with most of the others, the ones whom we originally believed would be the long-lasting, e-mail buddies became just part of the group and a couple who came out of left field proved to be more compatible with us. Such is life. Sorta reminded me of high school: You start ninth grade with a set of friends who by senior year are dispersed to the outskirts of your life and an entirely new group has replaced them. Your BFF turns out to be the kid who in sixth grade snubbed your invitation to be lab partners.
I don't expect a BFF from this group, but I'd sneak out after bed check with any of them, even the Witch and the Ding-a-ling.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.