Sunday brunch at Jody Ellis' house in Selden is more than a meal -- it's a friendship ritual she and her pals have been feeding regularly over a span of four decades.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, for instance, potluck dishes and 1970s nostalgia were on the menu. Patricia Schaefer of South Setauket brought a chicken pot pie, Renee Michaelis of Smithtown made New Orleans-style pecan cookies and Denise Frangione of Huntington baked her stuffed bread. Decorating the kitchen table were vintage high school yearbooks and snapshots from their days growing up in the Huntington area.
"We're in this picture somewhere," Ellis said, pointing to a group photo in one of the yearbooks.
"That's when miniskirts were in," added Frangione, who has been buddies with Ellis since the fourth grade. They met Michaelis and Schaefer in their freshman year at Holy Family Diocesan High School in South Huntington. (Their high school merged with St. Anthony's in 1984.) Joining the group was Marianne Faeth, who went to Half Hollow Hills High School and now lives in Woodbury, Conn. She met the others at football games.
Now, they are all 54, married with children -- and one has a grandchild. These days, their paths cross at weddings, funerals and baby showers. But it's their inner circle get-togethers, attended religiously four or five times a year, that perpetuate that special bond.
Across Long Island, groups of friends who first met decades ago are maintaining the ties that were forged in earlier times -- on their block growing up, at school or years at the same workplace. The ties remain -- through retirement and despite considerable distances, in some cases. That bond brings them back to play golf together, attend Broadway shows or hang out in restaurants, diners or a member's home to gab about old times and catch up on what's new.
If you can't choose your relatives, this is the next best thing.
"We can go without seeing each other for months, and just pick up where we left off," Ellis said.
"When we get together, we are like teenagers," Schaefer added.
For the self-named Stooges, the bonds they formed in college have been unbroken for more than 40 years.
Twice a year, Stephen Berman, 60, of Northport, gets together with about a dozen buddies from his days as a late- '60s State University of New York at Stony Brook undergrad. They come from as far away as Rochester and call themselves the Stooges in tribute to the Three Stooges. Each year, they pass along a necktie depicting Moe, Larry and Curly to the winner of their semiannual golf games. At their last reunion in November, Mike Beloyianis of Dix Hills got to wear it with his black knit golf shirt to dinner in Commack after the crew played at the Crab Meadow Golf Club.
"We've been friends for over 40 years," Berman said. "When you raise your family, have kids, it's tough to stay in touch, so we keep connected with these golf outings."
Enduring friendships also thrive among schoolteachers.
In 1968, Lyn Walther got a job teaching fourth graders in the Sachem Central School District. During her 33-year career, most of her time was spent at Wenonah Elementary School in Lake Grove.
After she retired in 2001, "We decided to stay in touch," Walther, 63, of Lake Grove, said of former colleagues who are spread out across the Island. Every month, they meet for lunch at a restaurant in Centereach. The food's not fancy, but the conversation is comforting. They talk about vacation plans and show off photos of grandkids. And when someone in the group has a medical problem, they're there to offer emotional support.
Walther says these former colleagues feel like an extended family to her, now that her career has been put to bed. A recent lunch drew 18 school comrades, plus a special guest -- their former principal. She wants to keep the group as close as she can.
"The time just slips by, and sometimes you don't think of calling," Walther said. "This gives us a chance to catch up on things that have been going on -- both good and bad."
When old friends leave the Island, a dinner date can keep them connected.
"We were new moms and wanted a support group," she explained. The kids are all grown now, but Cupolo's group still meets four or five times a year, at a Broadway show or at restaurants in Floral Park and Mineola. Her longtime dinner companions include Gail O'Doherty, 59, and Toni Palamar, 53, both of Floral Park, Karen Facompre, 57, of Hopewell, N.J., and Ann Bozzo, 58, of Ridgefield, Conn.
Their bond has survived the geographic breakup of the old gang, and even the occasional sisterly rift, she said.
"Sometimes people have a way of rubbing you the wrong way," Cupolo said. But ruffled feelings can be smoothed over a meal together. She compares these friendships to a marriage. "In a long-term relationship," she says, "you have to weather the storms."