I had the good fortune to be invited to a “Tamalada” last week by a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. (See the Facebook posting by Lolita Cardenas) We grew up in Mexico City together and have reconnected through Facebook when we both moved to Texas. For all the recent bad press, Facebook does have some advantages!
Naively, I thought we were going to actually make Tamales. It seems, however, that we were just joining a number of her friends to eat them. To make tamales, as she reminded me, is a very delicate art. In the days around Christmas and New Year, when large Mexican families gather, the women still make huge pots of tamales for the whole congregation.
The trick to making tamales is not to overdo. Back in the 19th century, members of the family on the haciendas boiled a pig’s head and picked the delicate thin pieces of meat off of it. The corn was ground into masa, and the corn husks were softened by soaking in water. The women gathered around the kitchen table and, amid laughter, gossip and family banter, began the assembly-line process of making the tamales. Smear a thin layer of corn meal masa on the husks, place a few bits of meat down the center of the husk, roll it and fold the tail of the corn husk to keep it from unrolling. Place them in the huge steamer pots. Done.
As my friend reminded me, we didn’t really have the knack. We smeared way too much masa on the husk, put too much meat down the center, and when we tried to roll the husk, we created giant globs of corn that was never going to steam through. It was a total bust and we had truly pathetic tamales to eat for all our efforts. But we had a good laugh over it, and this time she left the tamale-making to the little old ladies who had learned it at their grandmother’s knees, which we hadn’t.
But being together with friends is what the tamaladas are all about, whether we make them or buy them (tamales, not friends!) And it isn’t necessary to eat when we are with friends, although that is usually the chosen activity. How often do we say “Let’s meet for lunch” or “I could go for an icy, salt-rimmed Margarita” or a glass of merlot with dinner? One of the tours I suggested for my Tour company is to take people to the local wineries on Friday afternoons. You would be amazed at the thunderous response.
New friends crop up everywhere. Our Chamber of Commerce Leads group has produced a cadre of supportive, entertaining, delightful new friends. Going on a chamber retreat in the “Joye Mobile” van (with the stripper pole) has created many new friendships. Failing to switch from heater to air conditioning on the way into town nearly roasted the members. They survived and the trip out, with air conditioning, helped when they discovered the massive speakers in the ceiling and the radio with popular music. Chatting, dancing and clapping with fellow passengers is so much easier when you are seated around the sides instead of stuck in rigid rows of a regulation van.
The people I particularly like to take on tours are new widows. The tragic loss of a husband through death or divorce can leave women almost catatonic in their grief. After a mourning period, it is important to get out into the world again. There is no better way to do it than to take a trip with other women who have suffered through the same traumas and need the support of other women.
There are many other venues for finding friends. I’ve begun teaching (that’s a stretch!) a Sunday School class called the Upper Room at our beautiful First United Methodist Church. The class members, most retirees, are the most understanding, supportive, loving and kind that I have ever met. We may not agree politically, but what they do to help the community gives the term Christians an inspirational and wonderful new meaning.
Gathering at Curves at 6:30 in the morning makes for amazing friendships. Is it the shared suffering? We may sweat a lot, and grunt a lot, and since some of us are more advanced in years, we don’t work out quite as hard as we might. Okay, its mostly about gossiping. I don’t think any of us have dropped huge amounts of weight for our 30 minutes of workout but at least we’re there. Don’t tell Tish, the owner, I said that!
Another friend, whom I don’t get to see nearly enough, insisted I come swimming in the mornings at the outdoor city pool. It would be the only time I could get to be with her, so it was very tempting. But when it is 37 degrees outside the temptation wanes. Yes, the pool is heated, and it is certainly good exercise, although once again, it is not so much about removing the excess avoirdupois, but more about getting to chat and be with good friends. However, the problem is leaping from the pool with a quivering wet, towel-draped body and racing for the car that is the challenge. I love her dearly, but wouldn’t a hot toddy at Starbucks work just as well?
I’m also sad to be missing a group of friends who gather once every few months in a tiny cabin in the brush country outside Fredericksburg. These are women whose friendship extends back thirty, fifty or even seventy years. We gather from all parts of Texas to eat (of course there is always way too much food), put together jig-saw puzzles and catch up on what everyone has been doing. Regretfully, the discussions now focus on our increasing ill health. But isn’t that what friends are for? To share our trials and tribulations? Most of us have shared divorces, deaths of parents or siblings, children gone awry, beautiful new beloved grandbabies who grow up and may or may not call, illnesses, aches and pains, and worst of all, forgetful memories.
None of us have many years left to share, so revel in the enjoyment of your friends while you can, even when its 37 degrees. Friends are truly critical to survival.