Table of Contents
Jeffrey Zaslow is a
Wall Street Journal
columnist and, with Randy Pausch, coauthor of
The Last Lecture
, the #1
New York Times
bestseller now translated into forty-six languages. Zaslow attended Dr. Pausch’s famous lecture and wrote the story that sparked worldwide interest in it. He is also the coauthor of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s bestselling autobiography
Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.
Zaslow lives in suburban Detroit with his wife, Sherry, and daughters Jordan, Alex and Eden.
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First trade paperback printing, April 2010
Gotham Books and the skyscraper logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Zaslow All rights reserved
Photos courtesy of: Teness Herman: pp. 30, 79, 118, 160, 198, 280, 291, 311, 329; Karla Blackwood: pp. 2, 51, 130, 172, 180, 208, 276; Jenny Litchman: p. 310; Marilyn Johnson: pp. 27, 208; Kelly Zwagerman: p. 78; Jane Nash: pp. 30, 154, 230; Angela Jamison: p. 60; Cathy Highland: p. 118; Diana Sarussi: p. 160; Karen Leininger: pp. 94, 136, 242; Sally Hamilton: p. 118
The girls from Ames : a story of women and a forty-year friendship / Jeffrey Zaslow. p. cm
eISBN : 978-1-101-22298-0
1. Women—Iowa—Social conditions. 2. Women—Iowa—Ames—Biography. 3. Female friendship—Iowa—Ames. I. Title.
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For all those who’ve known the gift of friendship . . .
On pages ii and iii:
The Ames girls, circa 1981—
Karla, Sally, Karen, Diana, Jenny, Sheila, Jane and Angela
t first, they were just names to me.
Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny.
Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana.
They arrived, unheralded, in my email inbox one morning in June 2003. The email came from Jenny, who offered three understated paragraphs about her relationship with these women. She explained that they grew up together in Ames, Iowa, where as little girls their friendship flourished. Though all have since moved away—to Minnesota, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana—they remain a powerful, loving presence in each other’s lives. Now entering their forties, Jenny wrote, they’re bonded by a lifetime of shared laughs, and by more than a few heart-breaking memories.
After I read Jenny’s email, I sent her a quick reply, thanking her for writing. Then I printed out her message to me, bundled it up with a couple of hundred other emails I received that day, and put it in the bottom of a filing cabinet, where it remained untouched for three years.
Jenny had contacted me because I write a column for
The Wall Street Journal
called “Moving On.” The column focuses on life transitions, everything from a child’s first crush to a dying husband’s last words to his wife. Though the
covers the heart of the financial world, my editors have embraced the idea that we must also tend to the hearts of our readers. And so they’ve given me freedom to do just that. There are a thousand emotionally charged transitions that we all face in our lives, and most come without a road map. That’s the territory of my column.
Jenny decided to tell me about the girls from Ames (and yes, they still call themselves “girls”) after reading a column I’d written about the turning points in women’s friendships. The column focused on why women, more than men, have great urges to hold on tightly to old friends. Sociologists now have data showing that women who can maintain friendships through the decades are healthier and happier, with stronger marriages. Not all women are able to sustain those friendships, however. It’s true that countless grade-school girls arrange themselves in pairs, duos, threesomes and foursomes, vowing to be best friends forever. But as they reach adulthood, everything gets harder. When women are between the ages of twenty-five and forty, their friendships are most at risk, because those are the years when women are often consumed with marrying, raising children and establishing careers.
For that column, I spoke to women who had nurtured decades-long friendships. They said they felt like traveling companions, sharing the same point on the timeline, hitting the same milestones together—thirty, forty, fifty, eighty. They believed their friendships thrived because they had raised some expectations and lowered others. They had come to expect loyalty and good wishes from each other, but not constant attention. If a friend didn’t return an email or phone call, they realized, it didn’t mean she was angry or backing away from the friendship; she was likely just exhausted from her day. Researchers who study friendship say that if women are still friends at age forty, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll be lifelong friends. “Female friends show us a mirror of ourselves,” one researcher told me.
That column ran inThe Wall Street Journal
on a Thursday, and by 5 A.M. that morning, emails from readers had begun filling my inbox. Every few minutes, well into the weekend, I’d get an email from yet another woman proudly telling me about her group of friends:
“We’ve gotten together twice a year ever since we graduated high school in 1939 . . .”
“We met in Phoenix and call ourselves Phriends Phorever . . .”
“We’ve had lunch together every Wednesday since 1973 . . .”
“My girlfriends and I joke that when the time comes, we’ll all just check into the same nursing home . . .”
“I’m only 23, but your article gives me hope that I will hold on to my friends for life . . .”
One reader told me about her grandmother’s eight friends, all from the class of ’89—that’s 1889! They stayed remarkably close for sixty-five years, and even when they reached their eighties, they still called themselves “The Girls.”
And then there was the letter from Jennifer Benson Litchman, an assistant dean at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Jenny from Ames.