I have just returned home from my friend Marlene's adorable cottage in Quebec, on Lake St. Pierre. She held a party celebrating her Mother Odette's 90th birthday today. The house was filled with family and friends, and I was honoured that she'd included my husband and myself for this momentous event.

I sat next to Odette, who is quite sprightly considering her age, but has definitely lost a few of her marbles, bless her. Every so often, she'd reach other and grab my arm. As I turned to face her she'd say "You know, you look very familiar to me."

"Odette," I laughed. "I'm Jo and you've known me for 44 years."

Each time this happened, face would break out in a big smile. "Oh of course, Jo, I remember you well. I love you."

"I love you too Odette," I'd answer, and I meant it. She is the sweetest and kindest person I've ever known, who treated me like a fifth daughter. Since my own Mum was thousands of miles away from me living in Rio de Janeiro at the time, Odette became my adopted second mother.

She was quite a naughty lady in her youth. Marlene is her eldest, followed by Susan - they share the same father. However, Carol and Anne both have different Dads and the wonderful part of it all is that it doesn't bother them in the least bit - or anyone else for that matter.

Even at the ripe old age of 90, Odette still has a naughty twinkle in her eye and flirts outrageously with any man in her vicinity, including my husband who, being a somewhat stiff and starchy Brit, is vaguely uncomfortable about it!

On our way there, he said "I suppose Odette is going to flirt with me?" and heaved a big sigh.

"Oh come on, play along with it and give the old dear a thrill."

As I sat there in their cosy living room, sipping my drink and looking around at the large gathering, I started reminiscing about my life back when Marlene and I first became lifelong friends.

I met her 44 years ago and the reason I can be this precise about it is because she was wheeling her oldest son, Tyrone, in a pram along the street, and I was pushing my oldest son Paul, along in his buggy. I remember looking into Marlene's pram and thinking to myself "Cute baby, but not as cute as mine." Marlene told me some time later that she'd glanced at Paul and had thought that he was nowhere near as cute as her Tyrone!

Marlene lived just down the street from me, and we'd often get together with our kids.

I used to sing in a woman's barbershop chorus and roped Marlene into joining, although to be honest, Marlene can't carry a tune in a bucket. Every year, barbershop choruses from the U.S. and Canada all congregated in the same designated hotel for the big annual competition. We used to have the time of our lives and it wasn't a matter of concern to any of us that our chorus didn't win!

I was 8 months pregnant with my son Mike, and Marlene 4 and a half months pregnant with her youngest son, Vern,at competition time, which that year was being held in Burlington, Vermont. Everyone in the Chorus were concerned that I'd go into labour on stage, and end up by having a little American, instead of a Canadian boy. They were kidding me that if this were to happen, I'd absolutely have to name the poor little blighter "Burl" in honour of the city where he was born. As if ...

At the U.S. border, out of curiosity, I asked the customs official what I'd have to do if I had the baby in the U.S. and was bringing him back to Canada.

"Madam, you'd have to declare him," the customs official said.

I honestly thought he was kidding, and laughed uproariously.

"No Madam, I'm serious. You'd have to declare that he'd been born in the U.S. for official reasons!" Well pick my peas ...

Mike was not born in the U.S. - he was born 3 weeks later in Montreal, by C section. But that's another story.

Marlene and I both decided to be stay-at-home Mums, even though it meant living from our husbands' pay check to pay check. In my case, I opted to go out at night selling Tupperware in order to help the family finances. The money I brought in covered birthday and Christmas presents - a luxury at the time, where our family budget was stretched to the limit.

Neither Marlene nor I were earth mothers. We didn't get off on finger painting on the floor with our kids, and found the lack of mental stimulation very hard to take. I can't tell you how often I'd walk over to Marlene's house, kids in tow, (she always claimed it was shorter for ME to walk to HER house than vice versa!) with a bottle of vino tucked under my arm, confident in the knowledge that she and I would kill that bottle before the afternoon was over. We'd giggle, tell jokes, laugh our heads off and I'd totter home with my kids in time to prepare the family dinner, feeling happy and stimulated - not just from the wine either.

Then Marlene's husband got transferred to Ottawa. I was heartbroken. My best friend and drinking buddy was leaving. My sorrow was deeply shared by her Mum Odette, who lived in Montreal at that time. Little did we know that just a few years later, my husband would be transferred to Ottawa too and we'd be reunited. Or that Odette would come to live with Marlene and her family.

I remember Marlene, Odette and myself, sitting around her kitchen table, killing not one, but two bottles of wine. Every so often, one of us would start bawling over her impending departure, and the other two would join in. We howled and cried our eyes out, but I believe it was very therapeutic and did all three of us the world of good.

I remembered all this at Odette's birthday party today. When she grabbed my arm and said "You look familiar to me," I felt tears prickle the back of my eyes remembering how much she'd done for me all those many years ago.

Odette, I love you. Happy birthday sweetheart.

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Published in Senior Friends


  1. morvenna

    Lovely memories JoJo…..I met one of my oldest friends when we were pregnant with our first children…we are still in touch today after nearly 40 years. My next two oldest friends have been in my life 30 years. although I have made many more friends over the years these are the closest to me still. As we have re-located we keep in touch on the phone now more……your story brought back a memory of me with 2 extremely small children in a buggy. I was on my way home one day and a friend called me in for’coffee’…as we were chatting she told me that her husband had been making wine as a hobby. There were at least a dozen large demi-johns ready for consumption. We spent a while with very small glasses….testing each one….I then had to get my kids home……so funny….don’t think I walked in a straight line..and probably got home more by chance than anything else!!!!Those poor little kids…..what a mom!!!!

    xxxx M

    1. jojo Post author

      Haha Morvenna – I imagine that by the time you tottered home, you were feeling most excellent! A dozen large demi-johns and you sampled each of them? Crikey!! Well done you!

      Old friends are the best friends because you have history with them – many many years of memories you’ve gone through together – that can’t be replaced. I lost my two dearest friends who both died long before their time, and now I have just two Marlene (who goes back 44 years) and Noella, whom I met in hospital when she’d had her first child and I my third, both C sections, both over the Christmas period. We had to remain in hospital over Christmas, and we cried on each other’s shoulders.

      We both were in a Salvation Army maternity hospital, and on Christmas Day, their band came in to “entertain” us. Now a Salvation Army band out in the open air sounds grand, but in the confines of a hospital corridor, they sound … deafening. Noella and I were laughing our heads off and putting our hands over our ears to muffle those blaring trumpets! It really was funny.

      Thanks so much for commenting – I really appreciate it.

    1. jojo Post author

      Thanks so much Kingfisher – I’m really happy to hear you enjoy my writing. It’s feedback like this that keeps me writing. Thanks again.

  2. sathya

    Old is gold in a friendship. You are right Jojo. Reason being they are part of our life, they have stood with us through our thick and thin. With them we have spent our youth. We now look back at bygone years and friends as if they will come back to our life. But times has marched ahead which will never come back. Meeting them like you did in rare occasions bring us lots of nostalgia and value of good old friendship. I do experience the same whenever I go back to India during my annual vacation. With a heavy heart, I do part them cursing myself why I lost my youth and good friends.Yes time wait for none. Keep up your writings Jojo. You have a touch of originality to real life and its ups and downs.

  3. annemarie

    Jo love this story and I just spent yesterday up home in Greencastle, Pa. with 7 of my girlfriend’s that I went to school with and they get together ever month and have lunch and also play cards. I go up usually twice a year and have lunch with them and I went up in May. One of my best friend wasn’t there as she was down in Flordia and so I did see her in May. On of my girlfriend’s is my cousin who I didn’t know that her grandmother was Dorothy Lear who father Williiam was my grandfather’s brother and they lived in Greencastle down the street from Barbara’s home on Dahlgreen St. in the house that my great grandfather Alexander Lear built and it is still there today. My siblings just recently sold the house as Barbara’s children lived in it and rented it and then after my father died his children my half siblings decided to sell the house. So I miss seeing my girlfriends and so it is nice when I can go up and have lunch with them every so often. It is a hour and a half drive to Greencastle from Timonium and I go up back country roads so it is a nice scenic drive. So thanks for sharing you story about you friends Mother’s birthday.