As teenagers in Ames, a college town of 53,000, the girls took summer jobs detasseling corn and scooping ice cream at Boyd’s, an ice cream shop with a big plastic cow in front. They joined classmates in cornfields for keg parties. They made their first fumbling forays into the world of teenage romance. Although they sometimes tested parental authority, they remained true to the rural values of family and hard work that surrounded them.
After college, as they settled into jobs in eight states, they were periodically drawn together by major events – marriages, births, divorces, deaths. One girl, Sheila, died under mysterious circumstances in Chicago when she was 22. Several have buried parents and siblings. And when Karla’s teenage daughter became seriously ill, the friends provided unwavering support.
Today all but one have married. They are parents of 21 children. Three of the women are at-home mothers. Three are teachers.
Among their ground rules: Don’t brag about husbands’ jobs or incomes. Don’t gloat about children’s achievements. Make every effort to be with each other for key events. In addition, Zaslow observes, “Ames girls learned early that the way to keep female friendships alive was to listen and talk, in that order.”
The women enjoy other friends, too, of course. But as Zaslow notes, “these more recent friendships are built mostly around their kids, their jobs, or their current neighborhoods. The bonds are limited to the here and now, and memory hardly exists.”
By contrast, the Ames girls share a lifetime of memories. As Cathy puts it, “With the other girls, there’s an understanding you don’t have to explain.” Marilyn also finds comfort in knowing that “there’s a group of people I can turn to at any moment in my life, and they’ll be my safety net.”