The waitress working the back dining room at the Scargo Café has no idea what she's in for. The patrons are staring, wondering, perhaps, if the four women seated at the corner table are actresses from the Cape Playhouse across the street. Their chatter is non-stop and delivered in one-liners that don't miss a beat. Or perhaps they're simply amused by the ruckus the women cause. There's an aura about them. There's electricity in the air. There's a familiarity among them, a closeness. Maybe they're not family, but they definitely are a team.
The question is, "A team of what?"
Actually, the corner table of four grandmothers is harmless.
"We're just dull," laughs Joan Robinson. Hardly.
The good-natured bantering is difficult to follow but intriguing enough to make the most polite diner eavesdrop. The comments come too fast to identify the speakers.
"Audrey's been here since 4:30."
"No, I haven't. Jackie was here before me."
"Not by long."
"We actually had a real conversation going."
"Yes, but we've forgotten what it was."
"We have that forgetting disease."
"Joanne started it."
"I don't remember that at all."
"You remember, don't you?"
"We have that forgetting disease"
They do, at least, remember to get together once each month to share a meal. It's something they've been doing steadily for more than 10 years, and occasionally for almost 60.
They might as well be actresses because their story plays out like a soap opera.
Joanne Thomas Jackson and Audrey Van Dusen Macomber became friends in the first grade. They were members of the first class to graduate from Dennis-Yarmouth High School's current Station Avenue location. As schoolgirls, they befriended Jackie Poole Johnson. Jackie graduated from the Yarmouth High School where grades 1-12 all studied together at what is now the Middle School.
Audrey is quick to point out, "She's old."
Jackie spiced up the group by introducing Joan Robinson Robinson. Joan quickly explains the apparent typo by saying, "I went down the aisle a Robinson and I came back up the aisle a Robinson." Joan hails from Attleboro but summered on Cape Cod before taking a local teaching job. She moved in with Jackie in 1963.
She says, "Jackie worked in the drugstore and I needed a place to live. I figured I could stand her and she figured she could stand me."
The four women's lives have been intertwined ever since.
"We've had our ups and we've had our downs," says Joan. "And we've had our way downs."
In the early 1960s, Jackie, Joanne and Joan all lived on the same South Yarmouth street. Jackie and Joan are still neighbors on that same street. In the early 1970s, Joanne and Audrey were neighbors in Yarmouth Port.
But those aren't the only ties.
Jackie and Joanne both married in 1959. Audrey was a guest at Joanne's wedding. She asked Joanne to be in her wedding party but, as Joanne is quick to explain, "I wasn't the maid of honor because Audrey liked someone else better." And, of course, Jackie went to Joan's wedding.
It wasn't difficult to stay friends once they settled into married life.
Joan explains, "We spent a lot of time being pregnant together."
Jackie had the first child, but there is still lingering envy that Joanne had the first girl. Both have three sons and one daughter. Audrey has one daughter. Joan outdid them all with five, three sons and two daughters.
She says to Joanne, "I remember lumbering into your house when I was 10 months pregnant."
Joanne smugly counters. "By then, I had three."
During an animated discussion about ordering dessert, they explain the godparent situation. Audrey is godmother to Joanne's first child and Joan to Joanne's second child. Jackie was pegged for Joanne's third. Jackie is godmother to Joan's second because "I waited until I had a girl to ask her." Joan finally made the grade when Jackie had her third boy.
"She was waiting for a girl, too" quips Joan, "but she was taking too long."
They chat non-stop about their grandchildren. Joan and Joanne are tied with six while Audrey and Jackie each have one.
"But," Jackie notes, "I am waiting for more."
In the meantime, they share their "back in our day" stories each month at a different restaurant. They marvel at the conveniences modern mothers enjoy. Their e-mail capabilities thrill them. Joan says, "I feel very 21st century."
Joanne and Audrey aren't quite as confident. They tried to use computers while planning their 40th high school reunion, and are currently trying to plan their 45th. Even modern phones scare them. Joanne says that she sometimes hears Audrey's voice coming out of her pocketbook when she's shopping. Both women have Nextel mobile phones and neither has a firm grasp of the special walkie-talkie feature.
The self-named "cronies" also discuss things like wrinkles and the aging process. After one particularly revealing comment from across the table, Joan remarks, "I could have lived 110 years without knowing that."
The dining tradition began after a dinner at Joanne's house. They had so much fun that they decided to do it on a regular basis. When Joanne asked, "Where will we meet?" she was met with a chorus of "Here, of course. No kids. No noise."
They cooked and brought different dishes each month, only 'screwing up" once in 10 years.
"I was supposed to make meat but made dessert instead. We ended up with two desserts," Joanne confesses. "So Audrey drove to the store and bought a barbecued chicken."
In 2002, they started eating out. Joanne pretends to be offended, "Either they got sick of my house or they got sick of cooking."
"No, it was too much for you," Jackie points out.
Audrey smiles, "And now someone serves us and cleans up after us."
"We're lazy," adds Joan.
Joanne pipes in, "The best part is that Joan can't nod off in a restaurant."
"Yeah," Jackie says, "she sleeps in the movies, too."
Joan sheepishly admits, "I do."
After a photo session on the restaurant steps that leaves the photographer shaking his head, next month's locale is discussed. It's like pulling taffy.
Joanne asks, "Where haven't we been?"
For the first time, there's silence.
Joan makes a face, "I'm not suggesting a place because Joanne will shoot me down."
According to Jackie, "Yeah, she will."
Audrey looks down at the table.
So, who ultimately decides which restaurant will have the privilege of serving "the cronies" next month? Joanne, of course.
Note to the Outback Steakhouse. Watch out!
Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com
Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.