Exploring Friendship on the River
Submitted by Peggy Ryan Tudryn '71
Joyful! Joyful! Joyful!
We are slowly making our way downstream, eastward, into Fairport, a small town in upstate New York, to spend our last night on the Skaneateles II. It is a beautiful July morning. The heat and humidity in the entire northeast over the past two weeks has been oppressive, but last night it rained, and today is already cooler. Actually, we are at the start of a glorious day....not just because of the beautiful scenery passing by, but because our precious friend, Joanne, is with us enjoying the adventure. We are four "Elmites" who have maintained a lifelong relationship with one another throughout some of life's most sorrowful, and most wonderful human experiences. Right now, we are happy in the moment, together once again with a full understanding of the richness of our lives shared over the past 45 years.
To keep this story short, I will reveal that one of us is very sick, and the others want years of more time with her...time that may not be possible. So, we have embarked on an adventure to seal our friendship in our hearts forever. The four of us are manning a very large houseboat, a 41 foot Lockmaster, up and down the Erie Canal on a five-day trip.
Come Sail Away
This boat sleeps six, so there is plenty of room. The Lockmaster is 41 feet long and weighs 12 tons. It has a kitchen, lounging area, "master suite," two heads (toilets), 3 sinks, a shower and a deck. We take turns being "Captain." We sleep overnight on the boat in bunk beds, cook most meals, and eat together in the evenings. We have been challenged daily. Going through the canal locks has been harrowing. The procedure includes wrapping the boat's ropes around cables in the locks and holding on tight for 20 minutes or more, while the lock either fills up (going west), or spills out (going east).
No two locks have been the same, which has provided confusion each time we've entered a lock. We are 63 years old and used to be stronger. It takes two of us to grab the cables while one of us drives the boat. We have been provided with a long pole with a hook at the end to assist in grabbing the cables. We dropped the pole in the second lock and watched it disappear in the rushing water, severely hampering our ability to stabilize the boat while in a lock. Later that evening, Barbara surmised that dropping the pole in the water proved just one thing–that none of us would make a good hooker.
Once the gate is closed, water enters (or exits) automatically. Each lock (we will pass through six of them) has presented its own intense, very scary moment. We almost rammed a $1,000,000 sailboat sitting across from us in one lock; another incident involved a 90 percent spin into the side of the lock which propelled us backwards toward the closed gates–right at the spot where tons of water rushes into the lock. We scream and yell a lot during our passages through the locks; we yell directions to each other, as well as shout encouragement and advice; and we use lots of curse words. But, somehow, we four "Elmites" have prevailed. I cannot describe the relief when a lock gate opens and we propel our boat through it–feeling like we have reached the top of a mountain!
There are other momentous situations, as well. Trying to dock this 12 ton boat has its own challenges. So far, Barbara has done the best job so she takes the helm at each landing. As I compose this, we are moving down east back to Macedon...and a window screen just blew out of the window! Someone shouts, another runs from the deck to the window, another joins her and we are able to grab the screen before it drifts away...another disaster averted. We laugh again because once every day we have dropped something in the canal while moving. Some of it has been retrieved, other articles have floated away. My proudest accomplishment has been learning how to turn this 41 foot boat 180 degrees and drive it in the opposite direction quickly.
Looking Back, and Forward Again
But, this story is not so much about the trip, as about the four people on it. Our friendship was formed at 18 years of age when we first met at Elms College. It's hard to figure out the exact ingredients that caused us to have so much love, care and kindness for each other; a devotion that has carried us from teenhood to adulthood and, dare I say, into the progression of old age. But, I do know that it all began at the Elms during long nights spent talking about life, parents, dreams, goals and Springfield College guys. We laughed often and much back then–big loud belly laughs and guffaws. That is how we act on this trip. We laugh so hard and so long that we are weak and gasp for air. We are exhilarated by our daily challenges. And, we know each other so well that we instinctively move about the boat accordingly. There are no daily discussions about who will make the coffee, who will wake up first and go out for the newspaper, who will prepare the snacks, make the drinks, or clean-up. It is a luxury for four friends to be so comfortable with each other and we are somewhat smug about it.
I don't want to let go of this experience. I want to keep my friends this close forever. Even before the start of this excursion, each of us understood that it would be special. Mary is our videographer and documenting it all. She narrates each day's experiences for her husband, Bill. She films each town we visit and provides historical facts. She gently guides her camera along the picturesque scenes as our boat passes. She documents our rotations at the helm. We all speak to Bill when being filmed and by default, he has become our audience. The rest of us take pictures, lots and lots of pictures because we never want to let go of one memory of this time together.
We are aware that, what we thought would never end, will end someday. I suppose this is part of the aging process when each generation must face its own mortality. This trip is allowing us to say the things to each other that have been unsaid for all our years together. Our hugs when we greeted each other at the start of the trip were stronger and lasted longer. Each of us has told the other that she is loved. We express our joy regarding this experience openly and often. We are able to revel in the glory and the joy of each moment. We express our gratitude for the gift of our friendship and ponder about our ability to never let it die, and how we were able to resurrect it time and time again by just a phone call, birthday card or letter. One of us said that it was not so much the great education we received from the Elms that is cherished, but it is the friendships that began there.
I have two daughters who maintain some friendships from high school and college. These relationships appear to be close ones but have yet to face the challenges of life and time. My wish for them is to find friends that endure and sustain them throughout their lives, to cherish and be cherished by women as remarkable as Barbara, Mary and Joanne, for it is friendships such as ours which are the ultimate human experience.
Editor's note: we are deeply grateful to Peggy and friends for sharing this reflection with us and invite all our alumni to keep sharing their stories and strengthening their bonds.