Like most everyone, my life experiences have determined my friends. The first source was family. My sister, Brenda, was my very first friend. Even though she tried to tip me out of my bouncy chair when I was just a baby (she was still a baby, too, just one year older than me), and even though it often seemed like we were mortal enemies, I have always adored her. When she refused to play with me, though, there were younger siblings that could fill in. Stand-by friends, you might say.
Next came the children of my mother’s friends. Sandra, the daughter of Mom’s friend, Pat, who lived next door, was one of my earliest friends. Though there were many gaps in our friendship, we graduated high school in the same class and later both lived on Beaver Island. Our oldest daughters were the same age, attended school together, and became good friends, too. Patti and Tena, daughters of Mom’s friend, Peg, were the same ages as Brenda and I, so we became friends out of convenience…or by default.
Cousins, that we saw when their families came to visit, became friends, too. Uncle Al and Aunt Mary Lou had four boys; Craig was less than a year younger than Brenda, Gary a little younger than me. The rest of the cousins were younger, and played with my younger brothers and sisters. They often visited when my Dad had a big project going: butchering pigs or chickens, for instance, so age became secondary to all the exciting business at hand. When Aunt Margaret moved in next door with her eight young children, we roamed the big yard and the fields behind as if we were one big family. When we got a baseball game going, we needed to include everyone, to have full teams. When Dad was slicing watermelon, or Aunt Margaret was making ice cream, we were all the best of friends!
I was a painfully shy child and socially inept little girl, and didn’t make friends easily. I was in elementary school for five years before I had made a single good friend there. Emboldened by that milestone, more friendships developed, and many of those have lasted through my life.
Some friends were constant. Mary has turned up at weddings, funerals and other occasions big and small; her presence is always a blessing. Linda and I were attendants in each other’s weddings, and we’ve been together through raising children, attending college, poverty, divorces, and deaths. I can’t imagine who I would be, without her influence in my life. Other friends, I have reconnected with through class reunions and social media. It amazes me how those shared beginnings, now so long ago, have contributed to many similar values, life choices and even sense of humor!
As an adult, it seems affection develops from life experience. I formed lasting friendships with fellow students, advisors, and members of the faculty when I was in college. Every job I’ve held has resulted in new friends. Some were people that I worked with; others were regular customers. In both cases, the bond expanded well beyond the workplace. The internet has opened up an entirely new avenue for meeting people and forming bonds. I have many friends that I know only through on-line Scrabble; others that I communicate with through social media; many others that I know only from the blogging community. It’s surprising how well you can get to know people from simply reading and responding to what they have to say!
As the years go by, mutual history takes on more importance. Shared memories, broad or narrow, influence friendships. I feel like I automatically have things in common with folks that remember and love the Beatles, or those who identify with the hippie culture of the 60s. I’ve found that people who share a Catholic school education can always find things they have in common, no matter if their schools were in different countries and cultures. People who have given birth, or raised teen-agers, or worried over their adult children, will find things to identify with.
My children, who have known me only as an adult, but who now share many years and life-experiences with me, have become some of my closest allies. I have a special bond with the members of my family who have shared the same up-bringing, life-experiences, joy and grief that have shaped my values. So, in some ways, it goes right back to the beginning: family are friends, and friends are family!