"You Can't Make Old Friends"
Driving along a familiar route, a tune caught my ear. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sang: “It was me and you, since way back when / You can’t make old friends.” That’s it—the reason I’ve felt peaceful and buoyed for the last few months. Longstanding friendships are the dots connecting the times of our lives. I calculated the total number of years combined in these friendships and stopped counting when a comma appeared. No higher math!
Here’s what happened, much of it planned and some of it by cherished chance.
Over approximately the last three months I’ve taken time and spent it well with the following: My high school English teacher and her husband traveled from New Jersey to Charlottesville, once by design and another time for lunch passing through town. The first person to greet me, when I started my college teaching career in 1982, whipped up a tasty lunch and used the peaches I brought to make a cobbler, one of her mother’s specialties. I relaxed for an evening with a coffee-roasting, merry-making former student from that same first year of teaching. I sipped wine with the financial adviser to my grandmother and mother. Several staff members, mainstays from my days directing a tennis camp, got in call and text touch with me during Wimbledon—we debated strategy and applauded the drop shot just as we did thirty years ago. Surely we’ll “hang out” again with the start of the US Open. A friend, who showed up at one of my tennis clinics when I was in graduate school, joined me for an afternoon poolside. It’s hard to talk underwater!
Then, a road trip to beat all commenced.
My college roommate drove from Florida to fetch me in Charlottesville and off we went. (I’d forgotten Eleanor’s love affair with ice cream, but was reminded at many a pullover.) I met Eleanor my first homesick night at Hollins and Road Trips R Us. She brought books-on-tape but we never hit play. As Dolly and Kenny sing: ”Who’s gonna finish the stories I start / The way you always do?” We traveled 3,000 miles, combining a vacation and a book tour. First stop, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We two baseball lovers were surrounded by mutual old friends: Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Tinker to Evers to Chance, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige,Ted Williams, Mariano Rivera. We met the women in the “All-American Girls Baseball League” and so wanted to hop on their traveling bus. We recalled where we were way back when…before we met, young girls collecting baseball cards, keeping scorecards. Stand down, time.
And then to Plainfield, New Hampshire. Jan, another student from the early years, hosted a Leaving 1203 book party, using my mother’s linen napkins, serving tray, and her for nighttime soft-glowing lamp. Eleanor and Jan picked up on queue where an oft-told story, by one of us, left off.
Family members make true old friends. Eleanor and I made a point of seeing my godson in Barre, Vermont. Will, once a little boy sitting on my knee while grilling corn on the cob, now masters his very own big grill, our buddy-ritual intact. In Greenwich, Connecticut we stopped to see my cousin Daniel, Eleanor having met him as a seven-year-old in our first year of college. I’ve loved Daniel and Will since the days they were born. The ties that bind lasso us together.
Old friends root our lives—our bonds remain the same despite time’s passing. I no longer wonder why I feel comforted and assured, despite chaos rumbling, local to global. In the midst of an ever-changing world, old friends stand taller than the test of time.
Today I was shocked at the sight, for the first time in years, of the grinning physical therapist who gave his healing touch to my broken arm. Though we’ve known each other a shorter time, the relationship between mender and mended grows close and feels old quickly. He’s returned to ply his trade in the town we share. Two lit faces! And who did Carter and I discuss? The only dog who ever earned his learner’s permit behind Carter’s wheel—Billy, the terrier hero of Leaving 1203.