Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes, of the high shoes, of the old friends
Winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy
I spend quite a bit of time in the car. Driving from one appointment to another can take hours. To pass the time I like to listen to music, a bit of talk radio, but most of all I like to talk with my mom in California. For some reason, having a chat with mom is the perfect way to finish off a long day. It kind of reminds me of being a little kid, sitting at the kitchen table, pretending to do homework and rambling on as mom cleaned up after dinner. In those days the conversation was 99% about me. Come to think of it, I did 99% of the talking while mom just smiled and listened. I talked about the usual stuff – school and sports, but most of all, my friends.
These days our conversations are a bit more diverse. Mom recently turned 84 and no longer spends much time in the kitchen and my homework is all done. She does however spend a bit more time reflecting on life. I remember my grandma doing the same so I guess it is normal as you age. Either way, I enjoy the stories. The other day we started talking about friends, but this time it wasn’t about my friends at St. Dominic Savio, it was about hers. We started off with some neighbors, people she’d met while visiting the old neighborhood, but then got to the good stuff – the old friends.
One by one she rattled off names of people from my childhood. First came her friends. There was Mrs. Robertson, the lady with 112 hair clips who filled our house with Shaklee vitamins; Mrs. Dodd, the lady down the street who seemed to be 98 when I was 9, but lived for another 30 years; Mrs. Alpago, who ran the Church’s Guild like a tight ship, always leaving time to make homemade donuts, Mrs. Armijo, my beloved Godmother, and several others whose names I did not recall, but somehow remembered from my early days. Then came my dad’s friends. There was Joe Miller who always wore a smile on his face especially when he was winning at poker, Ron Delude whom everyone called Frenchie for a reason I never figured out, Johnny Miller who’s cool demeanor and slicked back hair made him memorable to me, Uncle Robert who was the neighborhood James Dean, and many more.
One by one she relived the old days. There were stories of how the friends met, poker games at the house with homemade pizza, this wedding and that wedding, church events, and lots and lots of laughter. To me it seems like so long ago, but she spoke of the times and places like yesterday. The level of detail was great and even though I don’t recall all the faces, the people came alive in story. I’ve heard many of these stories before and I’m sure I will hear them again, but I don’t mind. The story of friendship will never grow old.
I started to think about Old Friends a few weeks ago when I received an unexpected Facebook invitation. I don’t get on Facebook as much as I used to. Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I spend too much time in front of the screen in my 9-5. Either way, when I do check in, I’m usually off after a quick review. So when the friend invite popped up, I took a glance and closed it for another day. Something funny happened though. Rather than getting lost in the business of the day, that photo stuck in my head. I thought about it over and over trying to figure it out the mystery, but no luck. I somewhat recognized the name, but could not place the photo.
That next Saturday I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee, and looked closer at the picture on my screen. As I set the cleanly shaved head and twenty plus years aside, the photo came into focus and a rush of emotion filled my eyes. Suddenly I was looking at my old friend from high school whom I had not seen in twenty-five years. All I could say was, “Wow!” as I came across a series of photos from days gone past. There were photos of vacations, photos of school events, and photos of friends whose faces came to life after seemingly being washed away in time.
I don’t remember how I lost touch with my group of friends. It just seemed to happen slowly. We went to different colleges, dated different girls, got married, had kids, and started to work. At the time I did not think too much of it as life was moving fast and each new adventure brought new faces, new names, and new friends. However, just like my mom, I’ve begun to reflect a bit more. I guess I have my kids to thank for that. When they were little I didn’t think about the past too much probably because I didn’t remember being that young. But, when your kids hit middle school and high school your memory becomes a bit clearer. If you’re like me, you remember that first day walking the halls of high school and all the adventures that came your way over the coming four years.
I reviewed my old friend’s Facebook page and discovered names of people I had almost forgotten. After searching a bit more, I sent out a series of friend requests and happily received responses. With eagerness I read notes regarding what had happened to those I once held so dear. There were stories of their lives today and stories of lives missed out on. Some brought joy while others brought disappointment. Everyone seemed to be doing well. Some like me moved far away from home and got busy with marriage, kids, and jobs, while others drifted away purposely, never to be heard from again. While I read some stories with a touch or regret for missing out on all those years, in the end I was the lucky one. With a few clicks of the mouse I had reopened my past and rekindled old friendships, which will carry me into the future.
Earlier this month Maddie’s middle school put on a roaring rendition of “The Music Man”. Months of hard work after school and on weekends culminated in a weekend of sold out shows and many smiles for all. At the end of the last show tradition calls for a party after everyone cleans up the sets and puts away the costumes. Set to the beat of a DJ and fueled by pizza, snacks, and drinks, the kids dance away celebrating a job well done. Emma had participated in a few plays and play parties in middle school as well and I can reassure you they all end up the same way. The kids stand together, tears in their eyes, as they reminisce about the great times they had together. Usually those tears are mixed in with a bit of laughter about this funny thing or that crazy thing. Either way, the emotions are raw, honest, and focused on one thing – friendship. As much as they will miss the songs and the dancing, nothing compares to what they will miss the most, their old friends.
That night I picked up Maddie and quietly drove home. Her eyes were a bit sad, but she was focused on texting. Just as fast as a new message arrived, a new one was sent out. The emotion of the day was still in high gear and they needed to stay in touch. When we arrived home we spoke a bit about the weekend before she went up to bed exhausted. As I walked in to check on her I found her updating Facebook. Amongst a series of posts about the friends they made during the play and the sadness they felt now that it ended, she posted something that brought to life much of what I had been feeling as I relived the past with my mom and rekindled old friendships online. Rather than being sad about old friends who have passed on or disappointed for years missed out, she offered the following:
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
Bravo my dear! Bravo!
------------------------------------As a way to capture some unique moments in time I thought you’d enjoy the following:
Time it was and what a time it was it was,
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you…
Dad and his high school buddies
Mom and Dad on graduation day
Poker games with Frenchie, Uncle Robert, Joe, Johnny, Mom, Kath, etc.
Matt and his high school friends circa 1987
Maddie and her friends from "The Music Man"