The following is an essay I wrote for the Friend's of the Watertown Library's annual Spring Luncheon, at which I was honored to be the guest speaker. I decided to post it here for two reasons: One, many people should know about the work that is done "behind the scenes" for our library, not the least of which is raising funds for improvements. And, two, there are hundreds of Friends groups all over the state and country who are doing the same thing. The Friends groups are mainly retired folks who give of their time and expertise. If you haven't joined your local Friends group, it's a good idea. Our membership dues are $10 a year. Yours are probably equally affordable!
And if you haven't dropped in lately, go visit your public library and see what's going on there these days. I'll bet that it's more than you realize! So, in honor of the Friends of our town library, here's to the ladies who lunch...
Ladies who lunch is a phrase often used to describe well-off, well-dressed women who meet for social luncheons, usually during the week. Typically, the women involved are married and non-working. Normally the lunch is in a high-class restaurant, but could also take place in a department store during a shopping trip. Sometimes the lunch takes place under the pretext of raising money for charity.
The phrase "ladies who lunch" was introduced in the January 19, 1970 issue of New York magazine by the writer Merle Rubine, and she was describing ladies with enough fashion sense to buy at half-price but not admit it to anyone.
It was later popularized by a song of the same name in Stephen Sondheim's Company. The character Joanne, a cynical, middle-aged woman, makes a drunken toast to "The Ladies Who Lunch." Her song offers a harsh criticism of rich women who waste their time with frivolous things like luncheons and parties. At the end of the song, Joanne realizes that she is one of the "ladies who lunch." She spends her time criticizing the lives of other women, but she never does anything to improve her own life.
That is what Ladies who lunch used to mean. Now, at least for me, it means this:
A veritable army of women who, upon seeing a need, rally to address it in the most effective and efficient way possible.
In the summer of 2008, I had left a full time job without so much as a Plan B. While I looked around for other jobs, part-time or otherwise, I found myself in early September at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Watertown Library, held in the basement of the Oakville Branch. There was a presentation from a local businessperson and following that, the annual meeting. After that; refreshments. Some of the faces in the room I recognized from around town, but I didn’t know anyone well nor did anyone know me. One thing was certain: everyone knew I was fresh blood. You will not be surprised to hear that I was roped in to membership and a job before I even had my cake.
“Edit the newsletter? Sure!” I agreed and suddenly I was in. This may or may not have been when I also agreed to head up the annual Poetry Contest held for the grade 1-5 students in town. I left the meeting that day full of cake, and several new items on my once-empty calendar. I was a Friend of the Watertown Library Association.
Since my memory isn’t what it once was, (obviously, or I would have remembered to say “well, let me think that over” to those job offers instead of “sure, I’ll do that!”) there is not a clear trajectory to my involvement with the Friends. I do know that each time I attended a board meeting or popped in to the Book Nook, there were people getting things done. Much of the time it was women, but occasionally one of the Misters could be found in various stages of heavy lifting. But the work didn’t stop at volunteering to carry, clean, and cashier books. The opportunities of the Internet did not daunt this group and an Ebay store and Facebook page were quickly created and managed. Fascinating speakers and authors came to town with their books - old favorites or newly published - and offered personal glimpses into the writing process and story creation. Programs were developed, considered, improved and promoted. The Farmer’s Market added summer hours to the Book Nook and more opportunities for Watertown residents to discover its value. Thinking up ways to involve more members into attending the annual meeting were successful: Now why didn’t we think of lunch at the Miranda vineyard before?
Each Friend has a gift of her or his own which they bring to the organization that in turn builds it from simply a group of women connecting around books, to an intrepid operation whose forward motion is rarely stopped. The Friends consistently contribute to the Library Association at the Annual Spring Luncheon every year.
However, it is the love of books that brings us all together. Whether or not our Friends job is to clean, write or bake, what we really love to do is read. And talk about what we’re reading and compare authors and series and genres. Talking about what we love makes working together pretty much fun. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the Book Nook when there wasn’t someone laughing at someone else’s story or smiling at pictures of grandkids. Or at our actual grandkids. The first time I brought Luca to the Book Nook, we came down the dark, steep stairs and opened that heavy door into a world he still refers to when he comes over to my house. He remembers his first visit to the Book Nook (because we bought him over a dozen books) but also because it was like coming upon a wonderland. And the Friends are the keepers of that wonderland.
So, here’s to the Friends. Of this library and countless others across the country. Your quiet strength and relentless commitment is what gets things done. Thank goodness for ladies who lunch.