Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Old Friends

Old Friends – Paul Simon

Old friends, old friends sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blowin' through the grass
Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears

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

I’m not that great at making friends. Sure, I have my work folks – whom I love. I have my students, my current best friends. But they move on and, most of them don’t look back much. There are some friends at church – but more like acquaintances really. There are nice people I play with in the praise band at church. But we don’t really hang out.

And I’m not very good at keeping up with people. My intentions are good, but when someone moves away, I don’t write or call much. Usually I write a letter at Christmas, but this year I didn’t even pull that off. I don’t consciously avoid correspondence. And when I do write, I usually try to write a real letter. You remember: paper, pen, an envelope that you seal, a postage stamp, mailbox, flag, the real deal. The problem is, I don’t write very often.

Last week, I saw my old friend Pete. We met about 15 years ago when we lived in a condo, all of us poor as church mice. I walked by his ground floor place and saw him playing guitar and singing with his brother. I stopped. We talked guitars. The same evening he had me over and we shared songs. It was the beginning of a 10 year gig. We met once or twice a week. When we lived at the condos we met in a neutral place, the pool cabana, and played and sang and tossed back a few, until the wee hours of the morning. Howling at the moon. When it was cold, we’d burn a little wood in Pete’s little Smokey Joe grill, just enough to warm our hands so our fingers wouldn’t be too stiff to play. It was probably terrible for the guitars but good for our spirits.

When we played in their condo, Pete’s wife Kathy and young son Ian sang too. Sometimes we’d have four parts going. It may have not sounded that great to anyone else, but to us? It was magic. I got to watch Ian grow up. Kathy was pregnant with Joe when we met. I’ve had the chance to watch Ian grow to a man. Joseph is a freshman in high school now. Both of them have the same dry wit and easy laugh as Kathy and Pete.

As we moved on and our families graduated to real houses, we lived near enough to get to each other’s house every week. When the weather was nice we played on the back porch listening to frogs and insects and night sounds. We fell in love with each other’s families. We learned and taught each other a ton of songs. We had a lot of songs in common with slightly different versions that fit together with slight adjustments. Pete could pick out a harmony easily and he taught me to do the same.

We both come from large families (litters really). There are 8 kids in Pete’s family. I had just 7. Our families had some remarkable parallels which were fun to talk about. We were both raised Catholic and, in some ways, lost our faith along life’s journey. We ended up finding it again right around the same time. I credit Pete a lot with the reexamination of my faith.

When I couldn’t read the songs on the music stand anymore, I got glasses. My beard slowly turned white. So is Pete’s hair. Our kids are growing up fast. We were there to bear witness to all of life’s changes over those years. I guess that is the definition of Old Friend.

In some ways we are very different people. Politically we are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, but we respect each others’ views and taught each other how others think and feel. We talked about everything. Nothing was unimportant. That’s the way it is with Old Friends.

So, last weekend, Pete and Kathy and Joe came up from Florida where they moved about 4 years ago. We got together at Ian’s house and sang some of the old songs, tossed back a few. And laughed. I played some new songs for them. And they listened. Hard. Harder than anyone. Joe is about three inches taller than the last time we saw each other. His hair is stiff curly. I met Ian’s girlfriend. I hugged Kath around the neck. She hugged me back. Hard.

It was coming home again. I got a little misty on the way home from Ian’s house. I miss my Pete and that beautiful family. But, how lucky I am for having had 10 years to hang around with them and to watch their garden grow, to share songs, to laugh so hard that my face hurt.

Like the Simon and Garfunkel song, I hope that if I do get to be an old man, that I can sit on a parkbench with an Old Friend like Pete.

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…


Gloria (The Mamafamilias) said...

Old friends are a gift.

Julie said...

Hey old friend.
For some reason, my blog did not update on yours. New LONG OVERDUE entry last weekend.
Hope you are well.


Chris Hass said...

How funny you should use "Old Friends." Just last week I was watching that very video on youtube after working to learn "Bookends" on guitar.

I loved your post. I can relate. We get back to STL twice a year and get to spend a day or two with our good friends Joe and Kathy. While we love it here, being there with them reminds us of the sacrifices we made to move away. We had so much in common and loved spending a day at the pool or on a hike together. They were about ten years older than we were and, in many ways, served as great friends and wonderful models for parenthood.

However, with time we're slowly finding nice relationships here.

I hope you're having a great break. With the hot weather and time off I actually got confused at one point and thought it was summer break!