Thursday, May 16, 2013

Old friends

A lot can change in 40 years.
Marriage, houses, jobs and kids can do a pretty good job of tying up the first few decades or so. More of the same, plus college bills, grandkids and hopeful retirement plans keep many of us hopping long into the next few phases of life. All that stuff, and the other events that occur as part of the passing of time, have had their effect on the group of guys I hung out with back in my college days.
We're a little older now. A little grayer, too, plus most of our haircuts have changed a bit since we spent time together in the late 60's and early 70s.  And I am, of course, absolutely sure we're wiser, though our wives might not totally agree with that generous bit of self-appraisal.
But one thing doesn't seem to have changed at all.
We're still friends.
Now, that in itself is no big deal, I guess. Lots of folks stay in touch with the people they met in college. Heck, I live in the town where I grew up, so I still regularly run into some of the boys and girls I met on my first day of kindergarten.
But there's something about my relationship with those college friends of mine that seems kind of timeless. I don't know why, really, but I suspect it has to do with the circumstances under which we met, and the times we shared together.  It was, after all, the end of the 60s and the first part of the 70s, both decades that saw great turmoil and conflict in our nation.
Think about it.
1968--the year most of my friends and I entered college--saw both the Tet Offensive and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. In America, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The next year, four students were killed on the Kent State University campus while protesting the war. And throughout the time we spent in college, young men we all knew went away to that war and never came home.
There was great unrest on the streets and college campuses.  It was a lot to absorb. A lot to process. A lot to understand.
We tried then. We're still trying.
A bunch of us got together recently on a three-day weekend in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, home of the Midwest Old Thresher's Reunion, space scientist James Van Allen, the P.E.O. Sisterhood, and our alma mater, Iowa Wesleyan College. Some of my friends have stayed to pursue careers and raise families in the Mount Pleasant area and, therefore, see each other frequently in local hot spots like the Hy-Vee deli, site of their every-Friday "geezer (as in old geezer) breakfasts." Others, like me, still reside in and near the midwest, and manage to make their way back to the old stomping grounds every few years, while a few live far enough away to make a trip to Iowa tantamount to a journey to the moon. A couple of the old crew made that fantastic voyage last weekend, with one of them visiting the Hawkeye State and the folks he knew there for the first time in 41 years.
We talked and sang and ate and laughed.
And we learned.
We learned that some friends stay that way because that’s the way it’s meant to be. We compared some notes on the phenomenon of growing a little older, while enjoying how young we remain in our hearts and minds.  We learned how little the essential values and beliefs that made us friends in the first place have changed over the years, despite the fact that we all have our own opinions and enjoy unique days and lives of our own.
And we learned, I think, that we like being together and that we’ll do it again.
Because, like one friend said when someone remarked on how nice it is that we've stayed kind of close all these years, "You don't need all that many friends. You just need a few good ones."

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