One is Silver and the Other Gold: Making Friends after 70
When I was about five years old and discouraged about some relationship with another child, I asked my parents how to make a friend. My parents were both young, in their twenties, but on this subject they were wise beyond their years.
“To make a friend, be a friend.”
Did my mother say it, or my father?
I can’t remember, but I do remember trying to puzzle out what those words meant.
How do I be a friend? How does a person “be”?
My first take on this advice was simply to “be nice” to someone I wanted to play with. Say “hi” and smile.
Often, this worked out well.
But in school it didn’t take long to discover that some kids didn’t respond. A few were even dismissive. They were the popular ones who had “fans” they enjoyed favoring or disfavoring. I began to recognize that school had a pecking order, and while I was not at the bottom, I would likely never make it to the top. I wrote about this dawning awareness in my childhood memoir.
I recently read an article in The Atlantic that convinced me that children today may have even more trouble adjusting to the social side of school than I did — and the the social side is absolutely crucial to the academic side. In “The Real Reason Kids Don’t Like School,” columnist Arthur Brooks says,
Having spent so much of my life on college campuses, I can attest that the need for a best friend does not end after high school. And having just moved to a new community, I feel just a little of the social anxiety that comes from unfamiliarity and uncertainty. “What has changed? Will my old friends still want to hang out with me. Will I be able to make new friends? That question has been answered due to the quality of people in our new environment. We are so lucky that we found a house that shares a wall with these two people.
By having two generous and fun friends we already knew, people who were six months ahead of us in getting to know the rest of the community, we had a great advantage when it came to making other friends. Jack and Gloria invited us to meals with their Lititz friends and introduced me to pickleball, a sport that feels just right for this stage in life. Having a regular time on the courts with the other people nearby who are learning the sport was an automatic entry to an existing social circle.
I was also excited to join my three closest friends (above) from college and to close another circle. All of us grew up in Lancaster County, but we didn’t know each other until we enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College (now University). After we graduated, we scattered — first living in Virginia, then heading to graduate schools in New York, Texas, and Utah. Then we took jobs in Indiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. As we retired, we eventually all found our ways back to Pennsylvania. Now we can gather around a table in Lancaster, State College, Lititz, or Mount Joy and pick up just where we left off last time. We’ve already had two lovely long lunches, and we’re looking forward to a third in September. We can also do spontaneous get-to-gethers with one or more members of this group.
Of course, the greatest privilege of our new location is the proximity to family — “old friends” of the most lasting type of all. My mother and three siblings and I all have Lititz addresses, and we have seen each other many times in the three months since Stuart and I moved north. Once was an all-family extravaganza on my sister Sue’s farm, one was a birthday breakfast, some were bike rides, and granddaughter play dates, and some were meals. I feel so blessed to be able to say truthfully: my siblings and my mother are some of my best friends.
As blessed as I feel about old friends and family, I also want to make new ones. One reason we moved, at ages 75 and 72 (instead of waiting 10 or 15 more years), was that we want to take advantage of the new location to find new recreation, church, and even professional relationships.
It helps, also, to live in a place, Warwick Woodlands, where the design of spaces and staff focuses on privacy within community, giving the residents access to a directory, and multiple invitations to events from Happy Hour to bocce, to book clubs, Bible studies, and much more. You choose how to connect and with whom, but the parade of possibilities dazzles. It will take years to find our favorite activities and share them with new friends.
New online friends
Whatever downsides social media bring (many!), most of us still have favorite online places to hang out online because our lives have been enriched by connecting across many miles and by meeting people we otherwise would never know. Every time I hit “publish” on this blog, 700 people get a message because they signed up to get “Magical Memoir Moments” (in the purple box on the right-hand side of this page). Some of those people found the blog by reading my first book, BLUSH; some are looking forward to the publication of THE MINDFUL GRANDPARENT. And some of those live near Lancaster, PA, my new home area.
So imagine my delight when one of those people, Melinda DiBernado, who read BLUSH and follows this blog, asked if we could meet up. We chose the iconic Tomato Pie Cafe, a mile away from my house, and Melinda invited a friend, Jane. What fun we had comparing our respective childhoods in the area and our careers in education and church work. The 1.5 hours flew by.
I am so grateful that this medium has brought people like Melinda and Jane into my life and hope to meet other readers and writers in central PA as my new book gets closer to the publication date. And that means I am also so grateful for you, dear reader, whether you live in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, or as far away as South Africa or the UK. As the old song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old. The one is silver and the other gold.”
Thanks for this great post about friendship. Your parents’ advice sounds simple but is just profound! I have so many friends all over the place, some of whom I haven’t seen since high school days, but still think about. Add to those Hardy’s friends and many are like family (because of our close relationship doing church work in Congo). These days we are keeping a list of those who have passed away within the last year and we now have 12 on our list since December 2020! We grieve their passing but remember the joy and laughter their friendship brought to us!
Alfrieda, Stuart and I are just returning from attending the funeral, in Virginia, of his 94-year-old Aunt Doris. So we know the sadness of your list. One reason to keep making new friends as we age, is that we inevitably lose many. I didn’t mention that, but thanks for bringing the connection to mortality to bear on this subject. It’s a strong one!
Shirley — I loved reading this joy-filled post. And oh, the photographs!
What have my years taught me about friendship?
I know a person is my friend when we’re aware that each of us hangs the other on our respective “laundry line divine”—holds sacred space for the other. Some refer to that as prayer, but that’s just one of many terms for that act of friendship. It’s a lovely way to fall asleep—knowing that a friend is lifting you up.
Laurie, I think I remember your using that laundry line image some time ago in one of your Tuesdays With Laurie posts. Yes, being a friend means being willing to hold the other in sacred space, especially in the low times. “We get by with a little help from our friends.” Actually, with a lot of help in my case, at least.
Such an important conversation!
One of the things I’m learning in my older age is the distinction between “community” and “friendship.” They are both significant in my life, but I believe they are fundamentally different. When I expect them to be the same, I can easily feel disappointed – and may even devalue them and their presence in my life.
Marlena, ooh, you have opened a fascinating door here. Two positive kinds of relationships. But different. I hope you say more.
Shirley, I love this topic and you certainly do it justice here. Your parents’ advice sounds a lot like the biblical one: Proverbs 18:24 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly . . . .”
My circle of friendship widened when I began blogging at age 72 and met you. Then, some of my blog friends helped me write my memoir a few years later. Like ripples in a pond, the written word has connected me to kindred spirits online, some of whom feel like my sisters. About two weeks ago, a new “friend” found my website and is reading my book, giving me progress updates that make me smile.
While I have enjoyed friends of old, I’ve been able to weather this season of strife and suffering a little better with a little help from my friends: church friends, faculty colleagues, Pilates Zoom people, a walking partner in my neighborhood.
By the way, your mention of the Tomato Pie Cafe which I’ve visited several times reminds me of another edible bit, this one from Aunt Ruthie’s autograph book: “May your friendship ever spread like butter on hot gingerbread.”
Marian, thanks for looking up that verse. I am almost positive my parents quoted that to me at the same time they gave me my first lesson in philosophy — making me ponder what it means to “be.”
You are an extraordinary exemplar of how to make and keep blogging friends. You are so diligent about reading each post, thoughtfully reflecting and responding with insight to each one. You have the gift of remembering past information about each person and then pulling up a luscious quote, like the butter on gingerbread one that fits perfectly.
P. S. The internet tells me that the quote “to have a friend be a friend” comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Don’t know if that is true or not, but it sounds like something he could have said.
I also wanted to include this link in the post because it’s so good!
This American Life, David Sedaris: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/198/how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people/act-one
Also this one from “This I Believe” https://thisibelieve.org/essay/38689/
Thanks for the links. I enjoyed them!
As I think about this wonderful post a bouquet of thoughts about new and old friends opens up. My most important focus has been staying friends with friends who have dementia, when so many folks stay away as if it were contagious. My husband and I are both only children and three of the four parents died of Alzheimers disease so I am not particularly afraid of it or do I think that the brain is the person. Sometimes it seems like I am the only on-family member visiting. And sometimes I receive such amazing blessings. But I kow that it is important for me to find some new friends as well.
Maren, thank you so much for bringing this issue into our conversation. I recently heard of three children who found it hard to visit their elderly mother because she had dementia. If (and probably when) I face this challenge among my friends and loved ones, I will remember these well-chosen words. And I will go to the bedside. If I myself become the person who no longer recognizes my friends, I hope I have some among them who will overcome the inconvenience and discomfort of visiting me.
From Judy Sargent: My best story about friends is that we have a group we refer to as The Old Gang – five couples and a single woman – whose friendship started in youth groups at First Presbyterian Church of Flushing NY in the 1950s. We try for at least one annual gathering each year, but enjoy smaller visits whenever can can arrange them. All but one couple moved away from Flushing. It takes a lot of doing to find a date/location that works for everyone, or even most.
There are sometimes three more generations involved now. We’re The Originals; our children are The Next Gens; their children are The Grands. Maybe the fourth generation will be The Littles – they haven’t been named yet. We’re all thankful that our children and grandchildren regard these folks as chosen family, too!
In 2019 we had almost 30 people/three generations here – Lancaster County – for a long weekend, from as far away as Atlanta and Ticonderoga NY. We’re all mighty put out with COVID for interrupting our momentum.
To Judy: I love the names of these groups and the fact that you have kept friendship alive for decades.
I hope we all get vaccinated and that you can resume travel plans!
Thank you for this heart-warming conversation about friendship Shirley and everyone. I moved away from my small town Texas home a long time ago and now–at 75–rarely connect with old friends there except sometimes on Facebook. Here in Norther Ca. I do have a fairly strong friendship network and I love the community gatherings that are still happening here even in these Covid times. I belong to a wonderful local gang of folks, the Love Choir, which gathers regularly–outdoors these days–to sing old hippie and folk songs…love it that our motto is “Just show up and SING!!!” The music–and the dancing around that we do togeter forms a rich connection for us all and if someone needs help they just put the word out and help quickly arrives.
Lilith, the Love Choir and its mission, “just show up and sing!” will stick in my memory. I left behind a wonderful choir, the Blueridge Threshold Choir, which I wrote about this choir several times in this blog. Here’s one, toward the end: https://shirleyshowalter.com/the-purpose-of-memories-the-question-i-am-carrying-from-may/ . So far, no new choir. But who knows?
You have found, and contributed to a strong community away from your small town Texas home. Good for you! I wonder if you have ever thought about Marlena Fiol’s point above. Is there a difference between community and friendship for you?
Shirley, I find myself in similar circumstances, having begun my journey into retirement by moving to a new state. I have moved a number of times during my life, but here in lovely Fairfield Glade, TN, I began knowing no one but my realtor! While Fairfield Glade is not age restricted, the majority of folks are retirees from across the country. Once I had (mostly) unpacked and taken nesting time I started venturing out. While I have sometimes had some social anxiety in the past, my approach regarding making new friends has been to talk to everyone. I make the first move, striking up conversations with everyone from fellow shoppers at the grocery store to folks at the pool. I figured that if I wait for others to make the first move I may be waiting a long time. I try to listen as much or more than I talk, and it seems that those who are likely to become friends sort themselves out fairly quickly. While making new connections I remain grateful for the varied friendships I maintain and hold dear from earlier stages of my life.
“I began knowing no one but my realtor!” What a great beginning to your memoir about moving in older age, Connie.:-) It’s a great line. Thanks for letting us know your new location. Sounds like a beautiful, congenial, place. Do you think it’s easier or harder to make new friends now?
Good question, Shirley… a little harder on the one hand, because of fewer natural opportunities like in much younger days. A little easier because I’m more confident in just being myself, not trying to “fit in”, willing to try new things and take risks, etc.
My best friend Deb from high school and I have been able to intentionally keep in touch these 50 years even though living 600 miles apart most of these years–since I still have family near Goshen. My first real friend from first grade (plus church) and a neighbor, Martha, get together less often but we stay in touch. Today my closest friends are from church or former office friends, and Stuart’s nearby relatives, including my dear sis in law, Barbara, a saint if there ever was one. Thanks for helping me appreciate the richness of these relationships even though the connections are not as frequent as I would like!
Melodie, your mention of your BFF Deb from high school reminds me of one of the pluses of moving to a retirement community within a mile of my high school. Two of my classmates live here, and many others are scattered around the area. What fun it is to attend a virtual class reunion whenever we connect. I was not as faithful as you were in staying in touch over the years, so now I have to rebuild. But we have so much in common — four years together in every class moving through high school. I don’t think schools do this anymore, but it has many advantages.
I know you have many friends. Thanks for showing up here to contribute.
Oh, and just realized I didn’t name my walking buddy and long time former neighbor, Barb in my list of dear friends! (Just in case she somehow reads this!
Ha! Thanks for adding this note. I hope Barb finds it. And you give me the chance to say that I have many friends unnamed and unpictured in this post. I hope none of them takes offense!
Many years ago Jack Rutt, our teenage neighbor, came to our door expecting to beat my husband at croquet. He did, too, many times over. Those back yard games were the glue which held our families together. We visited Jack’s parents many times over the time they lived in their retirement home, (where they still reside). Once, several years ago, his mother presented us with a book detailing the genealogy she had carefully presented in the book she had written about their family. She made sure that we caught the fact that Jack was her child that completed the printing of her book. We visited them two weeks ago when they eagerly welcomed us. The friendship glue still holds!
Jane, I hope Jack finds your comment here. In fact, when he gets back home, I’ll make sure he does! His mother’s book was one of the greatest gifts he gave her, and I think he may have learned his own love of service to others from her. Maybe we’ll meet some day. We like introducing our guests to Jack and Gloria, and often we get to meet theirs too.
Yes, friendship is a glue — a Super Glue!
It’s great having you in our community and being part of your pickleball friendship circle. My 9 year old grandson started 4th grade at a new school yesterday. He came home and reported that he had 3 new friends. His dad asked how that happened. He said I asked them if they’d be my friend, and they said yes. What a kind affirmation for a nervous boy in a new environment. Gave grandma some piece of mind too.
I love that story, Norma. Children can make friends with a kind of open ease that amazes their elders. Yet it isn’t always easy — and it is never without anxiety — to take the first step. I am so glad you are here and we’re getting to know each other and share grandparent stories, among others. And some day I am going to master that lovely, low pickleball serve you have. 🙂