The Nourishment of Friends

“Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.”

–Anonymous

I used to sing this song when I was a Girl Scout—a million years ago, or so it seems. At that time, the words meant little to me. After all, at age 8 or 10 how old can your friends possibly be? But I understood the intent, that we were supposed to welcome everyone, new and old, to our Girl Scout troop, and I did enjoy singing the song as a round.

         Truthfully, at that time I did not have real friends, other than my younger sister—my first and my always and forever friend. I was the shy, nerdy girl who always had her nose in a book. My family was from Philadelphia, and I did not readily embrace Texas culture. The girls in my 1960s Dallas, Texas classes and troop were not mean to me, and I was not bullied, but we had little in common, and I did not know how to make friends with them.

         I’m still not the most outgoing person around, but I do have friends. One of my friends (see?) and I used to joke that since we don’t like to mingle at parties—we should sit and let people come to us. (This works best if you abscond with the spinach dip–and perhaps the wine and best chocolate dessert, too.)

As most people do, I have different types of friends. My very best friends are my sisters. But others are friends of specific time and place—gym buddies, blog friends, and people I connect with and talk to on Facebook but seldom see. They are all real, and I enjoy the interaction. And sometimes, such casual friends “crossover” to become “real” friends.

I met one of my good friends years ago when she sent me an email asking about submitting an article for a book I was working on. For over a decade, we’ve written long—sometimes very long–email “letters”—about history, our children, husbands, houses, books, and of course, food. “Have you read this?” “What are you making for dinner tonight? I’ve made hummus with mint from our garden.” We’ve had long catch-up phone conversations, and a few chances to get together in person, too–most recently in Philadelphia when her husband attended a conference and she came with him.

Long before telephones or the Internet, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814),the political playwright, essayist, and pamphleteer, kept up an extensive, transatlantic correspondence network that included both intimate friends and valued political leaders—Abigail Adams, Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, among them. In June 24, 1793, she wrote to her friend Sarah Cary, “No my dear Mrs Cary I have not forgotten you. I am not one of those who ever forget their friends.”

         I think it’s important to have friends who do not forget you.

         I have a group of friends who have been my friends since college or shortly after. We went through what one of my friends calls “the lost years” when our children were young and our lives were wrapped—bubble wrapped–around their school and extra-curricular events, leaving us little time to get together. Yet, while we may have gained a few pounds, wrinkles, and gray hair during the “lost years,” whenever we’re together it’s like no time has passed. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Emerson is correct. I’m certain I’ve been stupid with mine, but they are forgiving. Old friends are tolerant of your flaws. They are also supportive of your successes. They share your joys and your sorrows. We’ve shared life events—the births of children—and grandchildren. We’ve mourned the death of parents. We lived through (literally) serious illnesses together. We’ve seen our children succeed and fail. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve eaten fabulous meals and enjoyed fabulous—OK, sometimes totally stupid–conversations. And we’ve laughed and cried—sometimes at the same time—and we’ve ranted.

         I understand equating friends with gold and silver because they are valuable. But the value of gold and silver is artificial. The metals are precious because they are rare and people have decided that they are beautiful—and so we attach value to them. I think friendship is better expressed as bread and chocolate. (Yes, I do relate everything to food, and if you’re my friend, you will go along with that. What’s more, you’ll even expect it.) Food is more valuable than gold or silver, isn’t it? Beautiful jewelry may adorn our bodies, but food—and friendship—sustains our bodies and souls. Like bread dough, when we carefully nurture it and treat it correctly, good friends rise to help us. They supply us with strength and nourishment as bread does, but they should not be neglected. We speak of “breaking bread” together. Bread is fundamental. Friends bring sweetness and pleasure, too, like chocolate—and sometimes it’s bittersweet.

         So here’s to my friends—the old, the new, and the yet to be found. You are my bread and chocolate. And while we’re at it, let’s say you’re my wine and cheese, too! L’chaim!