Golden Oldies?

Old Friends and New


“You can make wonderful new friends, but you can never make an old friend,” my friend, Carol, told me a few years ago. I’m not sure what she was referencing, but its truth still reverberates in my head. Although I have made fantastic new friends since we moved to Palm Springs, there’s a tie that binds you to your old friends that is enduring. A shared history cannot be created anew.

Carol and I have been friends since seventh grade. We both are educators, although within the field we took different paths. We now take a Girl Trip every year with two other friends we’ve known since we were—well—girls. Judy I’ve known since first grade. Joan, since I was ten. These get-a-ways have ranged from staying at a cabin on an island in Washington state to a spa experience in Napa. But it doesn’t matter where we are—at The French Laundry or grilling in the backyard, each trip is an immersion in memories, talks about what we are doing and thinking now, and always, always, laughter that evolves into outright giggles.

When we go on these trips, we share a room. I haven’t shared a room with anyone but a family member for a long, long time. I was a little nervous about it. I like to stay up reading until pretty late, and I’m not a good sleeper. Would I disturb my roommate? What about bathroom issues? Closet space? Plucking a hair on my chin?

It ended up that I shared with Judy. She and I have very similar handwriting for two reasons. One, we were both in Mrs. Dorn’s class and we learned to write from her. (I know this for a fact because I recently looked at my sixth grade picture. On the back, Mrs. Dorn had written something in handwriting that is close to identical to mine.) The second reason is that although I was actually sloppier, I loved the way Judy’s writing looked so I copied her.

But, I digress as usual. Back to sharing a room. Although we share similar script, our lives had moved in very different directions. Judy became an executive in a large company. I taught in a small school, and did diapers. We hadn’t been close for decades. Would this work, I wondered. My fears were put to rest as we put out our products on the bathroom counter. Toothpaste, the same. Shampoo, the same. Vitamins, the same. Etc, the same. It was truly astounding.

I come away from these trips knowing more about me than when I arrived. My old friends have memories of me that I have forgotten. It has become a merging of who I was with who I am, and brought me a sense of wholeness that I didn’t even know was lacking.

Last night, we had two couples over for dinner that we have known for a thousand years. We all got married within a month of each other. As I set the table, I thought of all the times we’d had each other over before—how as young brides, we’d been trying to impress with our limited hostess prowess. As young parents, we’d have the gang of babies lined up in high chairs. Then, in a flash, our kids had grown up and we all have grandkids.

We aren’t as close as we once were—geographically we are spread out. Our lives have diverged, but we know each other so very well. The conversation last night could have been on the same topic—childhood pranks and travails—but it couldn’t have been the same with new friends. That’s because when Gloria told the story of how she had gotten her older brother into trouble, I could picture it exactly. Her brother was my brother’s best friend. When Mike talked about his mother, I could picture her exactly—because I knew her. And that’s how the night unfolded—story after story that we all connected to.

I am leading a writing workshop with Carol this winter at an assisted living facility. One topic we had the seniors write about was what they cherished now that they didn’t before. Ava wrote that it was friendship. Before, she’d had her husband and children, her music and her place in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Now, she cherished her closeness to her friends.

So I guess the Girl Scouts have had it right all along: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

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