Sometimes I wonder if true, deep, and meaningful friendships are of a bygone era. A neighbor of mine called on New Year’s Eve to wish us well. When I asked her plans for the evening, she said she and her husband were having dinner and martinis with the same group of friends they had spent New Year’s with for the past 50 years. I marveled at this tradition. My neighbor agreed it was wonderful but added, “Like any good relationship, it takes a lot of effort.” I had been planning a large dinner party with dancing and a midnight toast—until most of the people I invited dropped out at the last minute.I have tried to keep a tight group of friends together to meet every month or so to catch up. But inevitably, people are too busy or life gets overwhelming and months go by. Not a day passes when I don’t envy my grandmother. For 60 years, she had a group of girlfriends who met every month without fail to eat, drink, argue, comfort each other. These women were well known around Cuernavaca, Mexico, where they all lived. There were 12 of them and their reputations preceded them. They could drink any man under the table, they outlived several husbands, they survived botched plastic surgeries and implants, they endured the deaths of children, kidnappings and divorces. They were known as the Intocables—the Untouchables.
It all began in the 40s, when my grandmother began meeting some of the young mothers at Red Cross charity dances. Several young families had recently moved to Cuernavaca, then a placid resort town on the outskirts of Mexico City. They began meeting every month for their tanda, to collect money for the Sisters of the Holy Trinity.
But this was no pious group. They were wild, raucous and irreverent. When my grandmother married for the second time in her 60s, the Intocables hosted a bridal shower for her where they all dressed like brides in virginal white and one dressed like a groom. At another tanda, they dressed like Carmen Mirandas, danced cumbia and drank tequila.
Men were not welcome—except occasionally for Pony, Lulu’s husband who was allowed only as bartender. My step-grandfather warned my husband when the Intocables surprised my grandmother on her 80th birthday with a mariachi at her doorstep: “This is no place for a man. Let’s get out of here!”
When I was a teenager, I would sit in awe of these women. This was where I learned how to be a woman. There was my grandmother, a beauty whose outlook on life was to worry about things tomorrow and to see life as an adventure. I would watch Margot, the youngest of the group, put on her Chanel red lipstick, luxuriously opening her compact to inspect her full lips until they were perfectly, evenly red.
There was Guera, a striking blonde, tall and elegant who married Wally, an American composer who knew Frank Sinatra and called the girls, ‘broads.’ Angelita modeled a different kind of beauty and one I aspire to when I get older: trim with beautiful gray hair pulled back in a bun, a little eyeliner on her large brown eyes and large chunks of jewelry made of natural stones like coral or turquoise always outlining her neck and ears. Noemi taught me to make delicious mini tacos, called tacos sudados. I learned that the table had to be bountiful with good food like cactus salad and cilantro mousse and mole Poblano—woe to the hostess whose lunch was mediocre.
Despite the tragedies that had befallen some of them, there was no point in living a gloomy existence, they thought. As they began to age, they still referred to each other as niñas but would celebrate each other’s birthday’s six months in advance—just in case. They looked at time passing with humor, changing their name to the Bastoneras (the Majorettes) and used their walking canes as batons. They found comfort in each other and, of course, the tequila helped.
Naturally, they fought. And there were some doozies! One fight was so bad that one of the girls dropped out of the group. They were an exclusive group who would not accept just anyone. One governor’s wife tried to join them, but she turned out to be such a bore, they discreetly found a way to keep her out. Even now, as they are in their 90s and some have died, they continue to meet. My grandmother’s friends never left Cuernavaca and they will all likely die there.
My mother and I have always longed to have a set of friends like this. But distance and time make it more difficult. We live in a society that is constantly on the go and where being in touch or finding long lost friends has never been so easy. I can phone, email, text, Skype, Facebook any of my friends at any time. And yet. There is no quality time. And so this year began auspiciously for me. One family, who has become dear friends, did come to our dinner party. We drank champagne, ate delicious food, laughed and enjoyed some quality time. It was definitely worth the effort.