Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Friends till the end

The ties that bind the really real Housewives of Transcona

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FROM LEFT: Rose Dyck, Wendy Johnson, Sandra Nilsson and Liz Venderbos.


FROM LEFT: Rose Dyck, Wendy Johnson, Sandra Nilsson and Liz Venderbos. Photo Store

We are a geographically remote city with a reputation for flesh-numbingly cold weather, yet it's our land-locked island culture and innate warmth that has bred almost mythical accounts of friendships that start in kindergarten.

And never end.

But how deep do most friendships really go? A recent U.S. study -- The State of Friendships in America 2013 -- suggests some startling, if not surprising, answers. Most Americans -- three quarters of them -- are not satisfied with their friendships. Almost a third lack confidence in even their closest friends. And almost half would rather have deeper friendships than more friends.

As author Dawna Hetsler says: "Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being."

So how, in the age of mostly superficial, distant and ephemeral Facebook "friends," do we create real, close and lasting friendships?

Heck if I know.

But I know four women who do.

"We're like the Real Housewives of Transcona," says Sandra "Sandy" Nilsson. "But we like each other."

I met with Sandy and her three best friends, Wendy Johnson, Rose Dyck and Liz Venderbos, on the same mid-December day those American survey results arrived in my email slot. Four days earlier, Sandy had written to me in response to a call-out to readers for happy stories.

"As I read your column," she began, "I was thinking about my group of friends and what they mean to me. We met 15 years ago through hockey and school when our boys were all young. We walked each other's kids to school, drove to hockey, hung out at each other's houses and enjoyed each other's company. Our boys now are all men -- just turning 21 -- but we discovered a new friendship for all of us. As the years have gone by we have kept our bond. We were out at Tavern in Transcona the other night to get together and watch a Jets game. At the table next to us were a group of boys that our sons had hung with through the years. I was thinking the boys have all grown and changed, but here we are still together. The reason I was thinking this is a happy story was the bonds that are pretty much placed in your life can go on forever. My friends have all lost their moms in the last year-and-a-half and through it all we have so come together. We have baked for each other, cooked for each other and I think most importantly, we have laughed and cried. We judge the success of an evening out by how hard our cheeks hurt the next day from all our laughing. We have one weekend a year at one of our cabins all together, that is talked about and looked forward to all year. Life gets so busy and it is easy to stress and worry about all we have to deal with, that is why I think it is so important to hold on to these bonds. I think this is the most important thing -- to take the time to tell the people around you how much you appreciate them and what they mean to you. Knowing someone cares and has your back to me is a real happy story..."

So what's their magic formula for friendship? In large part it has to do with how much they share in common. How uncommonly much, actually.

Three of them grew up in Transcona. Three have been married for 25 years, the other for 23. They each have two children; they're all big on family, and they all work outside the home.

More important than what they share in common, though, is what they are willing to share with each other. And what they have shared together as a result. When Rose became the first of the three to lose her mother, they were all there for her, as she soon would be for two of them.

"I think we felt it along with her as much as we could," Wendy says. "I think that's what friends do. You're there to laugh or cry. Whatever that person needs. Even if they don't know what they need."

Liz suggests another element.

"A good blend of personalities. We're all so different. Together we blend so well."

Liz offers an example; knowing which one to call, when and for what.

"I know how they all react," Liz says. "And if you want to get that reaction, that's who you call."

What about when one of them calls Liz?

"She's the strongest woman I know," Sandy says. "If you want the truth, she'll tell you. I'll phone. I don't even know what I need. And she'll tell me."

Sandy's words make the strongest woman she knows weep.

Wendy suggests another factor.

"We don't find fault in anybody. We're supportive."

"We're not judgmental," says Liz.

"We'd rather have fun," says Wendy.

"I think that's what our motto is," Rose says.

"That's why I wrote you," says Sandy, "Because I don't take it for granted."

What makes this rare, deep and deeply important relationship between four admittedly different women work? They do, of course. And they do because of who they are; the Really Real Housewives of Transcona.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 B1

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