A time to think about old friendships

    This has been a time for me to think about old friends.
    First, I found out that one of my oldest friends suffered a slight stroke. He appears to be OK, but it still was distressing.
    Second, for the first time in years I saw “Stand By Me,” one of my favorite movies.
    Third, I attended Brian Harchelroad’s funeral.
    To take them in reverse order, I was impressed with the sheer number of people at Brian’s funeral. Any time the number of mourners doubles the number of people in a town (might’ve been more than that), that’s a sign this was a well-loved man. I only had the chance to talk to Brian a few times, but I always found him to be a lovely man, with a lovely family. I think the number of people who turned out last week was testament to that.
    As for “Stand By Me,” no movie before or since has ever captured so well the friendship of adolescent boys. If you’ve ever been one, as you watch it, you can almost smell the sweat and brown dirt and feel the unspoken and deeply confusing emotions of that stage of boyhood. Maybe the movie spurs the same feelings in women, but never having been a young girl, I can’t really say.
    As for my friend, well, that was a shock.
    Don and I have known each other since we were 13, a year older than the boys in the movie. We had a lot in common; he’s only five days younger than I am, our Dads were both salesmen, our Moms more or less traditional housewives (and rockin’ cooks). Our respective families were the others’ second families. Don had a sister and, while I had a brother and two sisters, my brother was considerably older and we were never close. Don was the brother I never had. We were best man at each others’ weddings. And we had the experience of burying a mutual friend at a young age, which is a horrible bonding experience but gives us a special connection.
    And when we met, we were in that confusing time of life when a kid is just trying to figure out his place in the world, and exactly how he will fill that place. It’s one of the reasons the very last lines in “Stand By Me” resonate: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”
    When I finally got a hold of Don, shortly after he got out of the hospital, it was the first time we’d talked in something like eight years. I know this, because the last time was my Mom’s funeral. And, of course, it’s like we’d just talked maybe a week earlier. We had a lot of catching up to do, obviously; he didn’t even know where I was living, and I didn’t know where he was working. But the old familiarity washed over us, even as the information was new, and it was a lovely conversation. (When I told him Karon and I were married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator, his comment was, “If anybody else told me that, I’d call B.S., but with you, I believe it.”) Best of all, the stroke was relatively minor and he dodged a pretty good-size bullet. Could’ve been a whole lot worse.
    Because I’ve been a journeyman reporter, I’ve bounced around a lot and it’s been hard to keep in contact with the friends I made at each stop. I’ve lived in 11 places since I left home at 18, and have been blessed with good friends at each place. Still, there are some friends from some places I never talk to any more. There are a few that I keep touch with sporadically. Facebook has been a blessing in reconnecting with old friends and I’ve actually renewed some friendships. I always think it’s funny, though, when that “people you may know” feature pops up; I have to look at the mutual friends list to see which stage of my life they belong to.
    That’s one reason I’ve always sort of envied people who have spent their whole lives in one place. Brian, for example, built up enough friendships to fill the high school gym to bursting. My friend John still lives in his hometown of Hendrum, Minnesota, which has about half the population of Wauneta, and he still has close ties to everyone he grew up with there.
    If I were to rank, say, my five closest friends, including Don, I met two in college, one on my first job and another on another job. And that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
    And each of those has been a good friend in a distinctly different way. I got to know Bill and Jeff during some of the best years of my life in college, and we still get a huge laugh out of some of the memories. I met John on my first job when I was just launching my career and we could dream big (he also helped me navigate some of the little things about small-town life with which I was unfamiliar). I met Helmut on the biggest paper I ever worked on, and we shared the joys and frustrations of working for a company that was run by people who were, by and large, not good managers. He’s still there, as are some of the managers, so we can commiserate about what he’s going through.
    I haven’t made any hanging-out friends here yet, but I hope to. But even if I make a close friend in Wauneta, I’m sure the quality of that friendship will be different.
    People here have been extremely welcoming and kind, but I know I’ll always be an outsider here. Most of you who live here have built up a web of associations and relationships over a lifetime. There’s no way, really, for me to do that. Even if I live here until the day I die — a distinct possibility — I simply won’t have time to do that. And that’s OK. I didn’t come here expecting to instantly be accepted, but I (and Karon, for that matter) have been accepted to a degree we didn’t even think possible.
    And any friendship, of any degree, is a good thing. It’s one of the few things in life you can’t have in excess.
Tom Pantera is the news editor at the Wauneta Breeze. He has a passion for storytelling, obscure trivia and family. Email: breeze.editor@jpipapers.com


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