I’ve been thinking abut this post for some time. Last spring I reconnected with two old friends. It made me think about the friendship between my mother and her best friend and what it taught me about friendship.
My mother first met her best friend when she was just 3 or 4 years old. At the time, Mom spoke English, and Lil spoke only German. (Not at all unusual in their pre-depression era Chicago neighborhood.) But you know kids, a doll is a doll and pretend is the same in any language and they became friends. Lil moved away for several years, before moving back across the street in time for them to be high school buddies. They were best friends until my mother died at age 89. Mom used to say that their friendship as adults was helped by the fact that their husbands and kids got along, and I’m sure she was right about that. But I also think it was a long, shared history, a healthy respect for their differences, and their determination to not let the friendship ball drop. (That’s Mom, left, and Lil, in a WWII-era photo. )
I learned an important lesson from them. Friendship has to be elastic to accommodate changes large and small throughout a lifetime.
This spring I had lunch with a high school girlfriend I had not seen in decades. We rekindled our friendship on FaceBook in a group for an upcoming class reunion (it’s a whopper!) and that in itself is amazing since I am terrible at FaceBook. It turns out that we both have adult children and grandchildren living in the same city. (Which I guess means we also could have run into each other in a Columbus, Ohio, Barnes & Noble!)
As sometimes happens with old friends who knew you best and knew you when, time stopped and we picked up our conversation as if it was never interrupted by husbands, children, and careers. This is someone I went to Sunday school with and to algebra class, we sewed together and worked on the year book, and eventually we began to shape what would become our adult lives.
We didn’t waste time reminiscing; we were too busy filling each other in on the last few decades. As we recounted the joys and challenges of raising children, working inside and outside the home, and negotiating life with our aging parents, we realized we had traveled parallel paths and operated with the same values that had launched us years ago. There are some things that just never change.
So, Pris and I sat in a Panera Bread, talking for four and a half hours. Even then we only stopped because we had long drives home. And it got me thinking about the friends we leave behind however unintentionally because we get busy, move away, have babies, take another job.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of friendship.
A few weeks after lunching with Pris, my friend Barb and her husband were in town to visit family and they met us for breakfast. Barb is my Lil, my friend who lived down the street the whole time we were growing up. We spent as much time at each other’s houses as we did at our own. We have moved off in different directions any number of times, but always manage to reconnect. We just resume the conversation. (Which sometimes requires a marathon phone call!)
(Here we are, in late grade school I think. I’m on the left. And since neither of us has ever had a naturally curly hair on our head, I’m sure that was taken shortly after our mothers had worked their “home permanent” magic!)
Barb and I don’t just know each other well, we know each other’s extended families, and family histories. We understand, without asking questions, the little mini-dramas that play out. We share and laugh over memories that even our husbands can’t appreciate, because after 40-odd years of marriage to our spouses, Barb and I have known each other longer. We mourn each other’s losses as our own (Our breakfast together was all the more heart-warming since our last meeting had been for her father’s memorial service) and share our joys (we became grandmothers at about the same time).
There really are friends with whom you can lose touch for many months, then pick up the conversation as if it never ended.
Friendship is so quirky. Some friends pass in and out of our lives easily. We work together but then one moves on to a new job, or we have kids in the same class or on the same team, but then they grow up. And that’s okay, because I think we are enriched by any friendship.
But then there are the others, happily, that are with us forever. One of the real rewards of retirement, for me at least, has been the opportunity to spend more time with friends and nurture the friendships old and new that I often just didn’t have time for during those demanding career years. It’s a wonderful and surprising bonus!
See you next time!