The Bingham Bench Bunch

It’s Christmastime!!! Bring on the endless cups of eggnog (the adulterated version is perfectly fine, thank you), unstring the balled up knot of multi-colored lights (it’s always that middle bulb that doesn’t work too!), and make a list of gifts for the jolly bearded man in the red suit to deliver on Christmas Eve. There’s something quite nostalgic, something spectacularly special about this time of the year. Sadly, this merry holiday has already passed, yet one tradition I have partaken in for the last 12 (or 15?) years is the one I look forward to ever since “Jingle Bells” starts playing on the car radio and my husband unearths the blow up Santa in our front yard.

This wonderful tradition is the annual Bingham Bench Christmas dinner.

A little background information for those that don’t know what a Bingham bench is. Waaay back when, when I was an oboe-playing, flannel wearing, Doc Marten totting high schooler, I hung out at the Bingham bench. At our high school, cliques were noted by where one hung out during breaks: the football guys decked out in aloha shirts by Pauahi Hall, the skaters with their stickered boards in the middle of the quad, the drama folk dressed all in black by the theater building, and us by the math classrooms which were located in Bingham Hall. Every time I had a free moment between English and history, I would trek over to those wooden green tables, unload my Calculus and Physics textbooks, sit on those slats, and talk story with whomever was around. Among the number of fellow band geeks, orch dorks, science whizzes, and bookworms that congregated at the bench, was a core group of gals–around six of so–I always gravitated towards. It may have been because I was the extremely shy, almost mute, incoming freshman who knew no one on campus, and they were the sweet individuals who would smile at me as I made my way to the hang out spot and move their bags to let me sit next to them. It may also have been because they lived nearby me in Aiea, so we naturally exchanged phone numbers and car pooled to band rehearsals and cross country practices. Whatever the case, I loved these gals. And so when we got our diplomas and headed off to all corners of the world for university, I was quite overwhelmed with the thought of losing touch with these lovely ladies. This was before the age of the internet and cell phones, so I resorted to using a calling card to keep in touch with my bestie at the University of Washington, or writing snail mail letters to my other pals way up in Boston.

Although some time has passed (more like 18 years, gasp!) since we walked across that Blaisdell stage to shake the President Scott’s hand and receive our high school diploma, happily, we are all still friends. One of the reasons why I think we are still in contact with one another is because from the first year we all left our Bingham bench behind to pursue degrees in medicine, art, law, and the like, we made it a point to try to reconnect with one another during Christams break for a leisurely dinner. There have been years when I was struggling with recovering from anorexia that I could not muster up the energy to go to these meals, but these restaurant parties were events I secretly looked forward to, as this band of high school gals always made me feel safe and comfortable. Initially our conversations at these dinners revolved around the guys we were dating, the newest bars to frequent for the best drinks, and what we would do after college graduation. As time went on, those same talks turned to the difficulties of not stressing out at work, planning for upcoming weddings, and what having a child would be like. Now that we are all basically married with kids (or babies are on the way), there is a new ease, a comfortability that comes with age.

This past year’s dinner in particular was one to remember. Not only was there a torrential downpour that started before the sun rose and did not stop even after the sun set, but we had planned the potluck meal for the day after Christmas, which meant my family (and I’m sure the other gals’ families) were extremely exhausted from the kids tearing open their wrapped gifts and sufficing on sugar cookies and milk for energy. Physically, I wanted a nap. But I needed to see my friends. So the four of us bundled up, grabbed umbrellas, and headed to my friend’s home.

As always, the spread of fried chicken, thai noodles, strawberry kale salad and other delectable dishes were wonderful, yet the real highlight of the night was just sitting. Sitting and talking with my friends. One just got married a few weeks ago. Another is due to have her third child in 2018. One other is on vacation from her medical research work in Boston. There were a few more gals at the dinner, and I had the pleasure of sitting on the plush sofa, chatting with all of them. The rain was still falling heavily and there was a nip in the air when we left four hours later, but my heart full and warm.

After this past year’s dinner, I laid in bed for awhile, thanking God for such tremendous friends. I know that no matter what may happen in the future, they are the ones I can call with any problem. I was reminded of the times when they didn’t quite know what to say or do when my mother passed away in college, but rather than leave me alone to battle the fears and worry I had, they just listened to me. No words of advice. No “tough love”. They just WERE.

And so, on this eve of a new year, I wanted to write a post to tell my high school friends thank you. I wrote about it before, and I will probably write about it again, but thank you. The fact is, they were, and still are, just like me. We came from middle-class households where our parents worked as teachers and accountants. Our fathers drove Camrys and we thriftfully shopped at cheap boutiques when looking for prom dresses. The prestigious high school we went to is known for many of its’ attendees coming from affluent backgrounds: homes on Hawaii Loa Ridge complete with elevators and fountains in the front yard, new BMWs for birthday presents, and the like. My pals, however, knew what it meant to have to work hard to achieve what they wanted–rarely did they complain about staying up into the wee hours of the morning studying, as they saw a dazzling report card and stellar test scores as their way to a better and brighter future, namely entrance into a prestigious university with scholarships to match. I hung around a persevering bunch, and to this day, I greatly admire how they were able to power through sleepless nights and numerous years of college classes, endure even later nights studying to get into medical or law school, and beyond that, eventually achieve their dreams of becoming successful general practitioners, pharmacists, engineers, and civil lawyers.

Many would see their professional accomplishments as the end all be all, yet despite their titles and accolades, these gals are still the same down-to-earth women I hung around with during those crazily embarrassing braces and permed hair years. One switched career paths to become a science teacher after going to college for engineering, and then took time off from the classroom to be with her two sons. Ensuring her boys grew up in a loving and supportive household was of utmost importance, and so she spends her time nurturing them and sharing her motherhood advice with fellow new mommies. Another one of my friends moved back to Hawaii to be closer to her aging parents even though the pharmacy field in the islands was scarce and it was challenging for her to find a job. My friends are incredibly intelligent women, yet they know what their priorities are and embrace the jobs they have, the families they have grown, and the places God has led them to.

These ladies are something special. And so every year when the tinsel starts coming out of the box and the kids adorn their gingerbread homes with gum drops and icing, I look forward to the annual Bingham Bench Dinner. This meal is more than a connection to the past–it’s a reminder of the blessings God has bestowed upon me throughout the years, and more importantly, is another reminder of how He has designed us to uplift and encourage one another. As 2017 draws to a close, I look forward to the memories I get to make with this lovely bunch of gals in 2018. Happy New Year, indeed.

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