CRANBERRY TWP — The young women's Sunday school group at the former United Presbyterian Church in Plain Grove, Lawrence County, started simply enough.
A few women decided they would have lunch together after church. They would take turns hosting and providing a meal for their fellow members. Agnes Peebles, who at the time was 29 years old, said the luncheon also came with much conversation.
“My dad used to say when I'd come back, 'Well, what gossip did you hear?'” she recalled with a smile. “And I'd say, 'We don't gossip!'”
The group grew to 11 women, who over time married or moved away. Still, they'd come together each year for lunch and fellowship.
Last week, the remaining four members met for lunch at the Sherwood Oaks retirement community in Cranberry Township. It's where Peebles has called home for 28 years, and as host she was joined by Evelyn Smith of New Wilmington, Jane Book of New Castle and Helen Hammerschmidt of Plain Grove for a meal, some dessert and a chance to look at pictures of past meetings.
“We make an effort,” Peebles said of the group.
She pointed out that over the years, the group has met despite some occasionally challenging logistics. One member, she said, married and moved to Texas, but would return home each summer for the lunch meeting. Another took a six-year sabbatical to serve as a missionary in India.
The meetings moved from homes to restaurants, the size of the group proving too much for a hostess to feed. The lunch would inevitably end up back at one of the member's homes, however, for dessert and conversation.
“We'd usually shoot most of an afternoon,” Peebles said. “We have lunch, then we go back and we talk, and then we have dessert. We talk about our families and what's happening.”
Over the years, the group has gradually gotten smaller — “attrition happens,” Peebles said. But for those who remain, all now in their 90s, the annual meeting is an important appointment to keep.
“Otherwise, we wouldn't see each other very often,” Smith said.
“Friendship means a lot to us,” Book added. “At our age, we appreciate it more every day.”
Peebles, who will be 100 years old in January, said the four talk a few times per year via phone or letter. She said this being the 70th year the group has met seems impossible, and holds greater importance as there is no guarantee it will happen again.
“I think it's an attachment to the past,” she said of the lunches. “It is a long cord that goes way back, and you just keep holding onto it and it stretches out.”
That attachment is clear as age and time seem to slip away when the women get together. They greet each other with large smiles and hugs. They sit around the lunch table, looking at old photographs of past meetings and reminiscing about those who are no longer able to join.
The commaraderie is obvious — as is the enjoyment and familiar comfort the meetings give them. Smith was quick to point out they are lucky to maintain sharp mental abilities at their ages.
“We have all of our marbles still,” she said.
“Even though we don't always roll 'em,” Book quickly added, stirring a loud laugh from the lifelong friends.