One day, when I was eight years old, I happened upon two neighbor kids playing with a large box, like the kind a refrigerator was delivered in. Now, kids are like cats in this regard – a box offers a world of possibilities, a spaceship, a western fort, maybe a castle. I did the obvious and joined right in the play. At one point I was outside the box and could hear the two boys talking. One said, “We didn’t invite him to play” and the other replied “Yeah, he just came right in.” Of course, kids can be cruel, but I was more astute than most my age and decided I would move on to friendlier ground.
What the boys did not know was that at my tender age, I had already lived at eleven addresses in four states and two in another country. 510 Henry Street, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was just the fourteenth stop on my childhood journey as an Army Brat. I had already learned that friends were temporary at best, and my first real lesson in friendship:
Lesson 1 – A Friend must be friendly
But that is not to say I didn’t value friendship.
The first order of business at any new place was to rustle up some new friends. Sometimes you struck gold, like later in Germany when a new family moved in across the hall with a boy my age. We became fast friends, and Mark and I were inseparable for the duration. We played together, walked to school together, ran around base doing what juvenile boys did. He is my earliest incarnation of a “best friend” that I can recall, and here’s where I learned my next truth about friendship:
Lesson 2 – A Friend is a part of everyday life
Just a few years later my dad retired from the Army, and we found ourselves in a vast sea of a subdivision in Northern Virginia called Dale City. Dale City was arranged alphabetically, as in Ashdale, Birchdale, Cloverdale – you get the idea. Your Dale-mates became your friends because they were right there with easy access via sidewalks everywhere. I made a new BF in Bob, and we were tight throughout middle school and the first year of high school. As a matter of fact, we both shared the same first girlfriend (although not at the same time!). I had other friends in the A-B Dales (because they were in walking distance) but after Bob’s dad retired, they moved (here we go again) back to his home state of Illinois. And I had learned an important lesson in the friend business:
Lesson 3 – Pals before gals
By this time I was a teen and discovered that I could hitchhike to other Dales and ended up hanging out in Darbydale and Evansdale with a good batch of friends. Ron and Rick and Mike and Steve and Mark – there was not a shortage of kids my age. And we ran around engaging in teenage shenanigans, the American suburban dream, while I learned another lesson, which broadened my horizons:
Lesson 4 – Friends are like a box of chocolates; you can have more than one and they are rarely the same
The whole process had become so normal to me that I have a tough time recalling why I changed friends, even in the relatively stable environment of Dale City. I had the same address for five years, a new record, but apparently I had a subconscious instinct to make new friends on a regular basis. So my D & E Dale friends made way for my new Cloverdale friends, Calvin and Rick and Joe and others. Calvin became my BF throughout high school, and we were as inseparable as Mark in Germany and Bob in Birchdale had been.
By now, out of school and headed into adulthood, I could list a solid eighteen BFFs, which is absurd, because how could they all be “Best”? The answer to that question is here:
Lesson 5 – You can have more than one best friend!
Early adulthood and “real” jobs brought new opportunities to make friends. I met and hung out with George and Frank and Tim and Merle and others, and we did more adult-oriented friend things, not all of them centered around drinking. Well, okay, most of them were. We camped and went to races and jumped out of planes, but always made it to work on Monday. And I learned an important lesson about friends:
Lesson 6 – A friend will make you grow
As I began a new adventure in Christian faith, I added a new circle of friends at my local church. We were all in the “College and Career” class, and Terry and Dave and Daryl and others became part of my life. We hung out, went to concerts, did church stuff. And that is where I met the best friend of all – one day this pretty lady walked in the church, and I was (and still am) smitten. Diana and I began our relationship at a friendly level, getting to know each other before tying the knot. And that is one of the most important lessons of all:
Lesson 7 – Marry your best friend
With my new BFF now a permanent part of my life, a whole new world unfolded. You see I had, ironically, married an active-duty Sailor. So there I was, back on the military move circuit. We formed friends in Washington, DC on base and all the previous rules applied, except #3: friends are friendly, a part of your everyday life, bring variety to life, and help you grow. But Navy orders beckoned, and we left our co-BFFs Brad and Rochelle behind and headed to Charleston, South Carolina.
I was back on familiar turf – a new base, new people, new geography. So I did the obvious – I made friends. We started with some military connections, Joseph & Londa and Mitch & Debra, and then expanded to new church friends Tom & Leann and Kent & Brenda and Shawn & Tracy and George & Marcie, and way too many others to list. These were heady, fun, and fast-moving times for us, a time of living the life of thirty-somethings with babies and mortgages and cub scouts and camping. With all that came another lesson:
Lesson 8 – With couples as friends, you get twice the friendship!
As has been usual in my life, after a good season we loaded up the truck and moved to Tennessee. This being my wife’s birthplace, you would think the friend thing would come easy. But she had been gone twenty years, and I had never lived here, so once again we started from scratch. My first friend was Casey, and we became close pretty quick, since we worked together and spent six days a week on the car lot selling cars like candy bars.
Having landed in a church full of young couples, we added Tim & Kathy and Jimmy & Renee and Mark & Billy and Nolan & Darlene and a host of others to our history of friends list. This was likely the biggest concentration of friends at one time in either of our lives, and it really hammered home Lesson 4 as we eagerly explored this new box of chocolates. And along came the next lesson:
Lesson 9 – Friends are the epoxy that holds life together
Lemme explain. I do a little woodworking and use a variety of adhesives for different projects. Wood glue is the most common, you just squirt it on, clamp it, and let it dry. But when you need a permanent, unmovable bond, epoxy is the way to go. Epoxy comes in two parts, two tubes. Neither will bond anything by itself, but when you mix them in the right proportions the result is a powerful and permanent glue. Friends are like that, if they were ever friends at all, because it is impossible to break the bond. We make friends on purpose, with a common set of values, common purpose, common outlook. That doesn’t change because jobs change, or churches change, or kids grow up, or even if divorce happens. Friends stick like epoxy, even when calamity comes along.
Which is exactly what happened two years ago. When I was hospitalized and comatose, battling EEE, friends came from all corners to help Diana. Suddenly friends, old and new, were in steady contact offering help. Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of hospital visitors, but some came anyway. My friend Casey was there when I took my first tentative steps on a walker. My friend Carey stepped in and took over my real estate business.
One memorable visit came from our good friends John & Mary. Mary and Diana go way back as teachers, and I had done some real estate business with them. They were (and remain) among our closest friends. We love getting together, eating pizza, and drinking wine, so they showed up at Siskin with a pepperoni pie (Mary’s fav) from Community Pie, arguably the best pizza in town. They also brought along a good bottle, but the doctor nixed that. And that is a crucial test and a vital lesson learned:
Lesson 10 – Friends care
I have friends locally who have known each other their whole lives, have lived nearby the entire time, have worked and played and worshipped together since childhood. It is fun to see them post their ongoing adventures, now as grandparents with graying hair. I admire that level of friendship, but I do not envy it.
I recently built a quilt rack for our many heirloom quilts. As I was admiring my handiwork, and the quilts that hung on it, I was struck by the complexity of the creations and the randomness of the patchwork that make up the quilts. While most follow a pattern, like the lessons of friendship, they are all made of a collection of random scraps of cloth, collected over the years and patiently assemble together to make a beautiful blanket.
The rack was inspired by our newest friends, Steve & Terri. Steve has been a faithful friend in every meaning of the word. Since my illness I can no longer drive, and that was compounded by the pandemic. I have tried to keep a low profile during this crisis, and Steve makes the long trip from Ocoee at least once a month so we can share our common bond of music and audiophilia. We finally got the wives together for a night of pizza & floating in the pool, and so have added another piece to the patchwork of friends we have gathered over the last four decades.
I do not know how long I’ll travel this Earth, but I do know that I will continue to make friends along the way. I still occasionally talk to my old friend Bob, I got to meet up with my BFF Mark a few years ago in Virginia, I got a call from my DC buddy Brad from Kansas while I was in the hospital, and, of course, with social media I “talk” to my friends spread out over the country and the years.
And that is the biggest lesson of all. If you know people that have been friendly, that have been part of your everyday life, if they are a wide variety of fun, if they made you grow, if they cared when you needed care. Like the epoxy that bonded you together in the first place, this remains true:
Lesson 11 – Friends are friends forever
Time prohibits me from listing and naming all my friends, but if you have read this far, know that you are my friend too. It has been a rich and rewarding life if I have too many friends to list in this overly long missive. I value every one of you as you have touched my life, become part of my lessons learned, epoxied your place into my heart, and sewn a piece of your life into my quilt of friends.
“And these God-chosen lives all around
what splendid friends they make!” Psalms 16:3 (The Message)