Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.
Do you remember singing that song in grade school or in Girls Scouts? Pigtailed little girls holding hands in a circle, ensconced in a swirl of harmonies. I, for one, didn’t know what the hell the song was about. I still don’t have a lot of long-time friends but now I understand why they are golden.
I had a tumultuous growing-up and I haven’t exchanged Christmas cards for forty years with anyone in the world. My longest-known friend is a roommate from college. I am convinced the only reason we remained friends over the years is because we didn’t live in the same city and though the contact was regular, it was also long distance. Very few people were equipped to survive my early adulthood at close range.
At Whitman College Mary-Ellis had the energy and joie de vivre of a 5th grader at camp. She was a magic elixir. Her laugh that came from deep inside her was gurgling and infectious. She could do a spot-on imitation of the Cowardly Lion singing “If I were King of the Forest,” and on rare occasions, would jump on a table and do Elvis.
We sang together with our guitars. Mary-Ellis taught me the kinds of songs I would never have learned at Black Lake Bible Camp. Songs like “I’m a ding dong daddy from Dumas and you oughta see me do my stuff.” I, for one, had no images for “ding-dong” and I’m certain neither of us had opinions about what his “stuff” was but we loved the song.
In our twenties, we saw a lot of each other. We made a trip to Victoria together and explored Seattle where I live. I spent months at a time with her when she worked at the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco. We explored the city by bus, two twenty-somethings in the 1970’s, not as characters from Armistead Maupin, but more like pig-tailed girl scouts.
I helped Mary-Ellis move from a boarding house in Pacific Heights to an apartment in the Marina district. In those days when you left a residence you had to physically take your rented telephone back to the phone company. At large in the city with an unattached telephone, I pretended to have an argument with my mother (an easy gig for me) over the phone while waiting at the bus stop. Once on the bus, Mary –Ellis held the phone out the window to pedestrians, “It’s for you!” Good clean fun.
Except for a cousin in Wisconsin, I no longer have any family connections. When I did have family, we were like hillbillies defending our property with shotguns, receiving each other with suspicion, not welcome. So I don’t take for granted the continuity of an old warm connection.
Mary-Ellis spent last weekend with me. It was the biggest chunk of time we had spent together since I visited her in the Bay area in 1997. I was so excited to have my old friend staying with me that in the morning, I wanted to wake her up and play with her like she was a Christmas present. We smoked a few Mrs. Madrigals this weekend, but since Mary-Ellis has a position in society and I work with children, beyond that I will not elaborate. It was good clean fun.