I recently had to go out of town for some surgery. I needed a place to stay between the time of surgery and the day I could return to Alaska. I stayed with an old friend, Janis.
On the day of the surgery, I came down with the flu. We didn’t know this till I came out of surgery and was quite ill with symptoms that obviously had nothing to do with the procedure. After almost crying when the doctor told me he wanted to keep me in the hospital for an extra day, he finally agreed to discharge me to her house.
So for the next week I sat on my friend’s couch and coughed. At night, I’d go into her spare bedroom and cough some more. Then I’d get up in the morning, she’d drive me to my latest follow-up appointment, we’d return to her house and I would fall back on the couch and cough for the rest of the day.
In order to be comfortable in a situation like that, you have to be very dear friends because the ties of friendship are obviously being strained to their limit sometime around hour 60 of sitting on the couch coughing.
I remember at some point in the week taking a break from the cough long enough to look at Janis and tell her how lucky I felt to have had a friend like her for so many years. In fact, I said, the length of our friendship had allowed it to mellow it into something so soft and comfortable that I wasn’t sure anyone younger than 50 could truly understand the feeling. And I wasn’t saying this simply to keep her from suggesting I check into a motel to cough for the rest of the week.
Old friendships are, to my mind, the most rewarding of relationships. You’ve been together through thick and thin. You’ve seen each other at your best and worst. You’ve commiserated over marriages and relationships and kids. You’ve shared colds, clothes, recipes and sympathy.
Despite the physical distance between Janis and me, the friendship is so tried and true that little can cause it to stretch too far, tear or break.
My friend Grace, who will be my last official visitor for this summer, is another such friend. I met Grace when I was three and one half years old. My mother tossed me out of my dad’s store one day when I was bugging her while she tried to wait on customers and told me to go meet the nice little girl who moved in two doors down. So I walked to Grace’s and there she was, outside her dad’s store, having apparently been given the same marching orders from her mother.
We’ve been friends ever since. We went through grade school and high school together. I was in her wedding. I never traveled East without seeing her. She was the person who escorted my mother to Alaska the one and only time mom was willing to come.
I tried to explain about old friends to Janis’ daughter the day she drove me to the airport. I told her how Grace was the one my mom caught piercing my ear with a sewing needle and potato. To this day the holes in my ears are at different levels. Grace and I learned to dance together in her mother’s living room while a Ricky Nelson 45 played on the record player. Thank god no one saw us.
When we “became women”. Grace and I shared the exhilaration of finally being grown up enough to shave our legs. And as the cycle of life moved us towards the distaff side of womanhood, we were even more exhilarated at the freedom it brought.
Old friendships are like your favorite weekend outfit – not the ratty shirt and pants with no elastic and holes – but your “most comfortable but can be seen in public with it” weekend outfit. It has all the comforts of home built in, wears well and can be paraded in public with pride.
Grace and I are going to have a good time while she’s here. Some of that fun will involve seeing Alaska. But a lot of it will involve giggling and laughing like the kids we still are with each other as we remember all the life that has been poured into our friendship and all the fun we’ve had along the way.
Does it really get much better than that?