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Are You My Friend This Year?
by Wesley Steinberg
"Are you my friend this year?"
I actually heard my youngest daughter say that over the phone to one of her school friends. Now, I thought friends were friends. You saw them every year at school, you talked to them, played with them, had a falling out or two over one thing or another, but basically stayed friends, or at the very least casual acquaintances. It was that way when I went to Elementary school. (Yes, there were schools back then!) Apparently, now you have to renew your school friendships like a library card. "Are you my friend this year, Tammy? I want to know so I can apply for a friendship card. School has just started, so we only have a month. You better get your request in, too. Okay? See ya' tomorrow."
That one question really got me thinking about friendships in general. My daughter got right to the honest heart of things in order to find out if her relationship was still good. She left the gate knowing she had a friend. She didn't have to wonder whether or not she'd have someone to talk to or chum around with at school. She didn't have to guess if her friend was mad at her or not. She didn't have to play games or sort through some hidden agenda. She knew. How many of us adults truly yearn for that kind of open honesty in our friendships?
I had more and better friends when I was a kid than I do now. I really don't know why. I'm basically the same person--a little older (okay, a lot older), a little wiser (okay, a lot wiser). Maybe it's because I look at things differently now. I'm less patient with friends than I used to be. Adults tend not to forgive one another as easily as they did when they were children. And I think adults are a little more paranoid about feelings their friends may or may not have against them. "I see the way John looks at my girlfriend. Best friend or no best friend, I'm not going to the game with him on Saturday!"
Okay, you guys. We've reached about an 8 on the serious scale. That just won't do. Time to reminisce a little. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and relax. I'm going to be like Donahue for a few minutes. It's time to share.
I remember the 70's most fondly. My Teen years. It hadn't always seemed that great at the time, but I loved those days. I spent a lot of summers with my grandma in Manistee, Michigan, when I was growing up, and it really made a difference in my life. Sure, I had the same problems and worries all teenagers face. But I saw things through fresh eyes. I look back and wish I would have had some of the insight into life I do now. Perhaps I would have enjoyed life a little more back then, instead of just skating through it.
I made some swell friends on the dead end road my grandma called home, although at first I wasn't sure they would accept me. I was a fat kid nobody really wanted to spend time with. I had no friends. Now before you start to break out the tissues, keep in mind that I was used to being alone and kind of liked it. I became my own man in later years because I had time to know myself, without a lot of outside influences. So I don't regret those lonely adolescent years. But I was a teenager now, and the time was right for me to explore some uncharted territory.
The kids I played with down on old Bowerman Road were special to me, and always will be. Len and Dan started it all. They are brothers who lived directly across the road from grandma's house. They were Christian kids who made me feel welcome right away. Because they chummed around with Paul and some of his brothers who lived down the road, they got me into the "gang". They looked at my size and nicknamed me Crusher. But they never laughed at me, and that meant something. The kids at home called me Porky. I liked Crusher better.
We played baseball in the small field at the end of Bowerman Road, near the railroad tracks. I wasn't good at the game, never having played before, but they were patient and worked me through it. After awhile I got better. I still couldn't keep up with the other kids, but it didn't matter. We were out to have fun. And we did.
Sometimes we would explore Billygoat Hill, a steep incline about half a mile away from our makeshift baseball field. We'd snake past the fences and ascend to the high country, looking for adventure along the way. Once we made it to the top, we'd stop and look down at the town spread out below us. It was a magnificent sight. So was Indian Springs, a pleasant grove on the leeward side of Billygoat Hill. It was quiet and lovely to look at, especially during autumn, when the sunlight would beam through the trees just enough to make it seem like Heaven. In the winter we would slide our toboggans down the hill, always trying to avoid the trees on either side. (I couldn't always avoid them, but I became adept at leaping off my toboggan at just the right moment before impact.)
Friends are wonderful. I think back and wonder if I could
have the same kind of relationships now that I had back in
Manistee in the 70's. If I became myself, as I was then,
would that do it? Could I make those kinds of friendships
today? And keep them, honest and unspoiled,
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