Yesterday my friend Mollie turned 94.

She greeted her many friends, seated in the living room of her fashionable retirement home and surrounded by her loving family. Mollie looked beautiful; eyes sparkling, bright smile, makeup perfect and as always, fashionably dressed with not a hair out of place.  Sharp witted, she had words for everyone who came to give her a hug. “Oh Betty,” she said to me. “I’m so glad to see you. I’ve truly missed you.” I’ve missed her too and was feeling a sharp pang of guilt for not making plans to see more of her.

Up until a few months ago, Mollie lived alone in her lovely home where everywhere you looked was a feast for the eyes. She and her husband Frank had traveled extensively and brought many exquisite pieces to furnish their lives and their fabulous antique store. But then, dear sweet Frank passed away and Mollie’s hearing got worse. Still, she is not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself. She moved to a place full of nice people and brimming with activities.

On this day, most of her new friends and many of her old celebrated her birthday with an array of delicious snacks, drinks and two different cakes, both with thick, creamy icing. Then her family, aided by noted performers, recounted her life with famous songs from the year of her birth to the present. I found myself humming and clapping alone on a journey that spanned almost a century.

Clayton and I joined ‘the fishing gang’ in the fifties. Frank was a builder back then with Mollie his willing assistant as well as homemaker and mom to two growing boys. We and four other couples went fishing twice a year, four days in the spring and four days in the fall. We drove to Boal Shoals Lake in the Ozarks and stayed at a hidden lodge  in the woods. The house contained a living room with deep, comfortable furniture, a wood burning fireplace, five bed rooms upstairs, each with two double beds and one bathroom for the whole place. It was owned and operated by two middle aged sisters who had lived in the vicinity all their lives.

An additional building served as a dining hall where the two women whipped up real down home country breakfasts; thick sliced, home cured bacon and ham, chunky sausage, biscuits and gravy, fresh country eggs, homemade bread, and thick molasses to pour on our hotcakes.  With guides and rented boats and armed with sack lunches we pulled away from the dock at six AM sharp, not to return until dusk. After cocktails we hurried back to the mess hall for delicious roasts, homegrown vegetables and three or four different kind of homemade pies.

Then we sank into chairs around the fire and traded fishing stories, laughing uproariously at some pretty tall ones. Finally, after one last nightcap, we’d drift off to bed.

One spring, Clayton had to go back to Kansas City early. I stayed on to fish that last day with one of the couples and drive home with them the next.  When we returned to the dock that evening, our guide asked if I’d like to do a little night fishing and lured me with stories of lunkers.

Silently, we drifted along the shoreline with only the moon for light. He told me to caste what he jokingly called garbage towards the bank. The lure was a weighted black and silver twin spin with a long piece of black pork rind trailing off behind. He told me to throw it to the edge of the bank and slowly retrieve it. On the first caste, I thought I’d hung up on a log but my guide told me to reel in my lure and when I did, a nine pound bass came with it. Wow! What a thrill. We boated that fish and several more before calling it quits.

Dog- tired, I dragged myself back to the lodge, brushed my teeth in the one bathroom, went upstairs to our bedroom, undressed in the dark, fished out my P.J.’s,  and crawled into our bed. Almost asleep, I heard a soft snore. My eyes flew open. Since my husband had gone back to Kansas City, who was that?

I jumped up and raced down the hall to my friends’ room. Just as I burst in on them, I saw a man run out of my room and down the stairs. My friends returned with me to my room and crawled into the other bed. Comforted by their presence and too exhausted to care, I too went back to bed and fell fast asleep.

The stranger didn’t return. Later, we discovered he and his buddies had arrived late at the lodge and went to the rooms they were accustomed to renting. He was as probably as shocked as I.

Happy memories, Mollie and many more happy birthdays.

Fishing Ladies’ Fiftieth Reunion: Molly in the Pink

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