Friends old and new are silver, gold
"Make new friends but keep the old.
One is silver; the other is gold.
A circle is round; it has no end.
That's how long I will be your friend."
— From the poem "New Friends and Old Friends, written by Joseph Parry, Welsh poet, composer and musician (1841-1903)
As I had sung many years ago, my daughters, too, chirped out the lyrics of this song as Girl Scout Brownies. The extended song was a musical guide about the value of initiating friendly gestures to new acquaintances and of maintaining established friendships. A simple message it seemed until one day an inquisitive daughter asked, "Which is gold, old friends or new friends? When do silver friends become gold?" Interpreting the lyrics in a sequential manner, I'm sure I answered "gold" for old friends and responded to the second question with descriptions of caring actions between long-time friends.
In the past 15 years I've lost almost all "the gold." The list includes my mother, the three men whom I loved and loved me back, my high school "bestie," Karen, and my dear college friend, Lynne. Life's journey has brought many other friendships: spouse's friends, professional colleagues, children's peers, their parents. Yet, these friendships waned with the years.
As retirement approached, I looked forward to long lunches with the few "gold" friends remaining. Sadly, they seemed to pass away in a domino wave. (One "goldie" remains and I cherish our visits and ongoing conversations.) The Brownie song took on an updated meaning.
Foreign to my nature, I pushed myself to meet people. My friend and neighbor, Judy, was also newly retired. We took golf lessons, saw movies, and occasionally shared a Happy Hour dinner. I joined a church study group and a writers' group, meeting lovely people but not ones who have yet become close friends.
Max-the-dog and I began attending weekly dog-play sessions on Saturday mornings. (Best $2 ever spent!) Again, we met friendly people. (If you care enough to watch your dog play for two hours while standing on the sidelines, you are a good person!) It was there that I met Jean. She and often her husband would come with their energetic poodle. I came to love those Saturday mornings. It was like meeting your neighbor at the mailbox and having a relaxed chat with no planning or calendar checking.
In time we learned that we had much in common. Jean's husband had known mine many years before as well as college friends. Jean, a former nurse, and I had loved our medical careers and missed them in retirement. Yet, we two were somewhat a contrast. Jean was elegant, tall and very slender. Much to my lifetime dismay, I am not. Quiet, shy me loved my sometimes-outspoken friend who dared to say what I often was thinking.
Together we went to the Lake Oswego Art Festival where Jean, also a gemologist, provided an educational field trip while we perused the displays. As Jean's health became increasingly frail, we shared long, lingering lunches where we talked and laughed about life and family, dog antics, earlier travels and our Gaelic heritage. Jean and her husband invited me into their home for wine, barbeques and even a Thanksgiving dinner. We celebrated New Year's Eve 2017 with Jean's delicious French canapes. Arriving home long after bedtime, I bumped my car against the garage door. A small dent reminds me of that fun night.
Jean would phone me on my way home from an emergency room visit to make sure I was OK, to ask pertinent medical questions and, of course, to badger me to be more assertive with medical personnel.
When my contractor suddenly ordered me to pack up my dining room buffet days before a kitchen remodel, Jean announced that she was arriving the next day to help; and that she did, wrapping crystal and china with nurse-like efficiency, refusing even a tea break, saying she was there only to work. What a friend!
My knee replacement surgery loomed. Jean's husband found a $6 walker at Goodwill. Too frail to physically assist me after surgery, Jean would phone my daughter daily for a medical update, offering long chats and advice for both of us. Visiting, she brought an enormous container of probiotic yogurt. Soon our lunches resumed much to our mutual delight.
The last lunch we shared was to celebrate her July birthday. The long afternoon conversations continued through September. That last call was interrupted with Jean's promise to phone back in a few days. Her call never came.
Thinking that Jean and her husband were traveling, I waited a few weeks and then left a phone message. Unmarked phone calls with no message began showing on my phone in early November and were erased. One day, in desperation, I answered and was prepared to be Jean-assertive with this annoying caller. It was Jean's husband who wished to tell me personally that she was acutely ill, having suffered a cardiac event on vacation. Now returned to a Portland medical facility, she could soon have visitors. Most visits, Jean was asleep. On one visit though she was awake. Not able to speak, Jean clasped my hand as I told her how much I had missed her and prayed for her recovery. Blown kisses and hugs were shared as I left. Knowing that Jean knew that I was there that day, as she had always been for me, brought — still brings — solace.
As I had the year before, I went to visit Jean on New Year's Eve, this time in the morning. Jean was no longer at the hospital. Later I learned that she had passed away a few days earlier. My heart was and remains so saddened. My friend, though not her influence and caring, is gone from this life.
Was Jean a "silver" or a "gold" friend? Did "silver" become "gold?" Yes.
Josie Seymour is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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