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Here’s to the ladies who brunch

by Peggy Haymes

I walk into the room with the usual tables and linens and a breakfast buffet down one side. Sometimes I see people I know and eagerly greet them. Most of the time, many of these women are strangers to me. Still, this is the thing more than any other that pulls my heart back to Furman at Homecoming.

I love the football. I weep like the silly alumni we used to make fun of when I see the fountains and Bell Tower and lake and Paris Mountain. I love the quirky thing that time does during reunion years when decades fall away at the drop of a hat and we are all 20 again.

But the thing that pulls me most, the thing that makes me try to make it possible to go back home to Furman for Homecoming, is the Senior Order brunch. When I was inducted in 1981 someone said to me, “This is the best honor of all to receive,” and I didn’t quite understand it then. I do now.

The women’s honorary society is the last tradition from Greenville Woman’s College that is still celebrated at Furman. It was begun in 1937 by Dean Virginia Thomas. Requirements for membership include scholarship, character, leadership and service to the university. It is a high honor for a Furman woman to receive. But it’s much more than that.

Every year Senior Order members gather on the Saturday of Homecoming for brunch, and the range of ages is quite amazing. Because of various life demands I’ve not been able to attend for the last few years. But when I was last there, we had a member from the class of 1947. And of course, the newly inducted members of the Class of 2008.

Every year the program is quite simple. We take turns standing up and briefly telling the group what we’ve been up to since the last time we were there. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but let me tell you — it’s magical.

There are the stories of life transitions, like marriages and graduate schools and babies and retirements and moves joyous and moves hard. There is always someone who is making such a contribution in this world that it takes your breath away for the strength of their heart and their head and their will of spirit. I always walk away from the brunch glad. And hopeful. And grateful.

Sometimes they’re stories of accomplishment. Sometimes they’re stories of struggle. One thing is consistent: They are all the truth of the stories of our lives.

The temptation of reunions is for our lives to assume a Lake Wobegon glow: We’re all doing just great. In the Senor Order brunch we can be as honest among this as we would be with our old roommate, late at night when it’s just the two of us.

Sometimes life is just great. And sometimes the lump is malignant. Sometimes our days are blessed and joyous, and sometimes they are just plain challenging. Sometimes we have taken fabulous trips, and sometimes we’ve been rehabbing that broken hip. Joyous, hard or heartbreaking, it doesn’t matter. It’s life, and we live it.

There aren’t many places in our segmented culture where women of such a wide range of ages get to hang out together. Some women tell stories of being admonished because “no self-respecting Furman girl would want to learn the twist.” And some tell us of achieving things that would have been undreamed of, much less unheard of, a generation or two ago.

It’s not often you get to have breakfast with those on whose shoulders you stand. And it’s not often you get to have breakfast with those who are seeing with fresh eyes, creating and making new and astounding ways in the world.

Some of us were Furman girls and some of us were Furman women (along with those who came from the Woman’s College days). We’re a part of Furman, and Furman is a part of us.

And every year we gather for brunch with sisters we’ve just met.

This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Furman magazine. The author, a 1982 graduate, is a counselor, writer and minister in Winston-Salem, N.C. She received the Richard Furman Baptist Heritage Award in 2005. Visit www.peggyhaymes.com.

Photo: The Senior Order Class of 1969 at a reunion last summer on Hilton Head Island, S.C. From left: Ethel Martin Childress, Rosemary Kiser, Flossie Black Bonner, Fran Jackson, Marsha Hobson Johnson, Pam Burgess Shucker, Mary Ann Kluttz Hanna, Julie Evatt Leake, Betty Kay McGlothlen Wasserman, Nan Herring Scott. Photo courtesy Betty Kay Wasserman.

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