Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Missing my former "partners in crime" on State Fair Eve

Some of my Principal friends at daughter Caroline's graduation party, 2009
When a person gets to be my age, chances are pretty good that she has worked at a number of different companies in a number of different capacities. Chances are also pretty good that each of those places has come equipped with equal parts good and bad, and that through the benefit of time's long lens, we can discard the negative and be pleased with what's left.

I spent some of the most important years of my life, about nine of them, working for the Principal Financial Group. I didn't always love my job -- as my dad used to say, it's called a job because it's work -- but I loved many of my co-workers. When I left PFG for another company, I spent my first month at the new place in tears because I missed my friends.

The memories of those days are many, and they're poignant; it's because of my former manager, Alane, and her manager, Dale, that I was able to leave the office on a particular Thursday in just enough time to be with my dad at the moment he passed away. They shooed a persistent client out of my office just in time; Dale, in fact, handed me my purse and coat and all but pushed me out the door. I'll never forget that day, and I'll never forget their kindness.

I was working there when I married Kevin, when my kids graduated from high school, and when I had two knees replaced. My friends at PFG were the ones who had to hear, ad nauseam, about hockey trips and baseball games and show-choir competitions.

My best friend there, Kim, and I organized a bake sale for another friend to help with expenses when the friend's baby was sick; Kim was also the one who gathered up my belongings after I had run from a meeting in searing pain the day my gallbladder had begun to rupture. (We also wanted to start our own radio show ... why did we never do that? We were funny. Just ask us.)

Of course I remember the dramatic times, but I also remember the just-plain-fun ones. And today, because of the date the calendar is showing me, I'm thinking about one in particular: our annual trips to the Iowa State Fair the day before opening day.

One year, Kim and I were charged with going to the fairgrounds on that day to pick up tickets for our annual state-fair team-building event. We went at lunchtime and were surprised to see that the fairgrounds were busy; although there was no admission cost, food stands and some attractions were open. We took a long lunch that day, munching on our corn dogs as we vowed to come back the same day the following year.

Come back we did -- the next year, and for the next few after that. We invited others, most memorably our onetime intern, Tyler, who had amazingly never been to the fair (as I recall, we peer-pressured him into eating a foot-long corndog). We tried new foods-on-a-stick, sampled red-velvet funnel cakes and mashed-potato sundaes, viewed the butter cow and the giant pig, and generally behaved like seventh-graders on a field trip. After all, we felt we were getting away with something: spending the day at the fair for free. (Never mind that when we looked around, it was clear hundreds of other people were in on the secret!)

We were joined by our shared experiences, naturally -- co-workers spend an awful lot of time in a relatively small space, doing the same things -- but many of us also were joined by our phases in life.

Most of us were about the same age, with similarly aged kids; we were able to speak the same language about aging parents and teenage angst and college tuition. We commiserated when someone's child got into legal trouble and laughed when someone else's teenager bypassed parental rules by letting girls into the house through the basement window. I don't think I experienced any kind of life event during that time that wasn't followed mentally with, "I can't wait to tell Kim," or "Kim won't believe this."

The job for which I left PFG was fine; I ended up with a couple of close friendships, but my teammates and I often worked from home, which creates a different dynamic. My new job has great potential for relationship-building, though.

But nothing will come close to resembling my time at Principal. Think, perhaps, of The Office -- a group of quirky people joined together in a certain place at a certain time, sitting back and allowing the strangeness and hilarity to meld together in a way that leaves you shaking your head and rolling your eyes, yet laughing hard.

As we grow older, we sadly come to realize that what's gone is gone; we can't recreate space and time. So I'll console myself with gratitude for all the memories of my friends, and during the next couple of weeks, I'll raise a glass of Iowa State Fair lemonade to each one of them.

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