This lovely piece by Howard Englander of “Cheating Death” fame speaks about the deathless common ground old friends stand on together.
Friends have always played a hugely important role in my life. Never more so than during the pre-teens years when I was in the middle of a growth spurt with pants two inches above the ankle and a voice box vibrating between alto and baritone.
I ran with street kids and trust fund heirs alike. Together we shared acne and raging hormones and the faux courage we gave each as we took the first, tentative steps on the path to the frightening concept called adulthood.
We went to high school together and conspired and confided without a trace of snobbery. For more than half my friends, college was not an option. I hung out with future stenographers, carpenters and mechanics without condescension. Tuning the motor on my 1935 Ford was no less important than my score on the College Entry Exams.
We played hooky and rode the bus into New York to see the Alan Freed Rock ‘n Roll Show at the Roxie. On Palm Sunday my pals walked by my side so I didn’t get my ass whipped by the frond-wielding posse of vigilantes spilling out of Saint Anthony’s looking for the kid who killed you know who.
The soul mates of my growing up years were my best friends forever…until years later when I can picture the ducktails and cigs in the cut off sleeves of the tee shirts we wore, but can’t remember their names. What I’ll never forget, however, was the connection, the lack of pretense, the love we had for each other although we would be caught dead before admitting to anything suggesting the emotion.
The same criteria for being friends prevail for me today. I hang with blue color and white collar guys. I relate to them the same way as I did sixty years ago, ignoring where they have landed on the Social Register. We share age spots and the faux courage we give each as we take the first, tentative steps on the path to the frightening concept called aging. Our connection is the shared experience. How reassuring, how nurturing, how fortunate to be understood!
I cherish the friend who recognizes that heartache is not a medical condition; the friend who intuitively senses my distress, feels what I feel in his or her own way, and offers me a strong shoulder to lean on whenever it is needed.
Having close relationships has been the one, constant in my life. I call them my all-weather friends, sharing both my joy and my sorrow; eschewing advice for the most part; being there for me by simply…being there.
Howard Englander has no interest in the early bird special at the pancake house. After a life-long career in advertising and marketing, he remains active writing about the realities of aging, making it a point to debunk the Hollywood and television stereotypes of “the grumpy old man” and “the ditzy grandma.” His collection of short stories, entitled 73, probes the true feelings, inevitable problems and unexpected opportunities that lie ahead for America’s growing senior population.
As the stories vividly express, when old age hits, you can either fall down or hit back. Howard is also author of an ongoing blog for the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow blog called CHEATING DEATH of which the following piece is a part. He writes movingly here on how friendship can infuse life with beauty and even redemption. His essays and stories appear regularly at The Third Act Project.