Saturday, April 01, 2006

Keeping up with an old friend

(From March 27, 2006)
I first met ‘John’ when the two of us were about two years old. Both of our parents were beginning their lives with very modest incomes. Our friendship was, first of all a matter of convenience. Neither family could comfortably afford baby sitters. Trading off was a a more economical option when one couple or the other wanted a night out or a weekend off. We shared ambitious projects, including one to dig through the earth to the center and out the other side. Our discussions explored the engineering of this feat in considerable detail (we were about five years old). Interestingly both of us included engineering in our subsequent careers, he as an inventor and me as a computer modeler, briefly as an engineering professor and now as an IT manager. When I visited him, I could read comic books, forbidden by my parents. My mother, on the other hand was less draconian about discipline and personal cleanliness (though, as a mother of the 1940s she was draconian enough).

Our birthdays were close – his on March 20th mine on the 12th, which may provide one reason why we have kept up, though our lives have followed somewhat different paths. For a number of years now we have at least checked in with each other around our birthdays and when ‘John” comes to Washington, we occasionally visit.

This year we only spoke over the telephone, he from California and I from Washington. Both of us are still working, the only two among our immediate friends who have not retired. He has eight grandchildren, his three daughters all live close by with their husbands, making family gatherings possible. My two children, one stepchild and four grandchildren are farther afield. Perhaps this is best since a traditional grandmother role would not be my wife’s cup of tea.

Surprisingly, he as given up tennis – he was on the team at Princeton as I recall. I continue to play. I sent him a copy of my latest book, which he had not seen. Our conversation ranged over topics from the profound (life and death) to the trivial (how we are coping with the vicissitudes of aging).

Keeping up with old friends is worth the effort, though I am not particularly good at it. Many of the experiences we share no longer have any reality, apart from that which exists in our common recollections.


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