One of the great things about getting older (yes you read that correctly) is that by the time you hit your sixties you have accumulated a long list of friends and acquaintances. You can tell the difference. I’m OK with the fact that not everyone I’ve met over the years has become a friend. But, I’ve also come to really value friendship at this stage of my life.
Some of my friends go back all the way to high school. Some are friends from various jobs I’ve held over the years. Some are friends because of common interests, like raising kids, or liking music, travel, food, or wine. Some friends I’ve met because of where I’ve lived.
Planting Party Friends
Jed and I had joked about the idea of roping our friends into helping us plant grapevines almost from the moment that we bought our farm. As the time to plant got closer, we developed some trepidation about the wisdom of a planting party. How would our various friends respond to an invite to do hard work like planting grapevines? Various people had already visited the farm, and even driven the tractor, or helped us haul rocks from the field. Many, when we would mention the idea that we planned to have a planting party, replied ‘Great idea! Count me in!” We found ourselves wondering if they really meant it. This kind of work would really be a test of friendship. We didn’t want people to feel pressure to say yes. Finally we agreed that the only way to find out was to send out an invite.
When over 30 people said they were willing to help us with a planting party we were astounded – and we counted our lucky stars to have so many cool folk in our circle of friends. Not only did everyone agree to come, but many brought food or wine to celebrate the day. Some friends volunteered to handle all the kitchen prep and clean up – no small task with a group of 30+ to feed. The day was a lot of fun as well as productive, and we were humbled and grateful to all these people who are truly friends when it was over.
We knew we wouldn’t plant the whole vineyard that day. We tried to get a bit of a jump start with hired help before people came. We wanted everyone to see what planted vines in the field were supposed to look like. But we knew we’d have to finish the planting job by ourselves. After all, the vineyard was our idea (well actually mine as Jed is fond of reminding me on occasion) and so the planting was our responsibility.
Walking Buddies, Now Planting Buddies
The week after the party my friend Karen texted to ask if we were still planting and did we want help? My first reaction was that she was surely kidding. After all, she had not only showed up herself, but had roped both her daughters, Emily and Beth, her friend Mark, and a visiting friend of Beth’s into planting. That’s a lot of help! Amazingly she was serious.
Karen falls into multiple categories of friend for me: she is a former neighbor with four kids. She seems to know everyone in Haddonfield, probably because she has had half the kids in town go through one of her pre-school classes at the Presbyterian Church. She’s friendly, always upbeat, and easy to talk to. Karen’s hand touched most of our neighborhood events, from summer block parties to Christmas luminaria. Her house hosted dozens of get-togethers: people moving into the neighborhood; people moving away; gatherings before weddings, and after funerals. We’ve shared food after raking leaves and after shoveling snow, and sometimes just because we were around and starting to BBQ at the same time. Sometimes kids were there, and sometimes only adults, but there was always good cheer and a no fuss sensibility about last minute arrangements. Karen is the glue that helped hold our neighborhood together.
But besides being a great neighbor, Karen has been my morning walking buddy for over three years. Every weekday (alright, not every) we would meet in my driveway promptly at 7AM and walk for almost an hour through the streets of Haddonfield. We’d head up the hill to Tavistock Country Club, and down the hill toward Crows Woods, then past the softball fields and up the hill toward the middle school, and down Washington Avenue back towards our neighborhood. We walked in hot humid weather and in winter snow – only rain kept us indoors.
One year we followed the walk with an exercise class in town. Another year we enrolled in Weight Watchers. Our goal was to lose weight, get fit, and be healthy. Our morning conversation frequently included comments about our weight, or more accurately our frustration about not losing more weight. We talked about other exercises we were trying, or healthy recipes, or what we had eaten that we shouldn’t have . We talked about clothes that didn’t fit, muscles that ached, things we saw along the way, books we were reading, movies we saw, and of course our families.
We shared our worries and our joys. We offered advice with no expectation that it should be taken. We marveled about being lonely when kids grow up and move out while at the same time enjoying the freedom. We shared whatever was stressing us out, from the insignificant to the life-altering. I have several friends who have walked with the same people for years, and initially I wondered how they could possibly keep it up. But now I get it. This time is about mental health and not just physical health. It’s the time in which friendships become golden, and irreplaceable.
Then we moved away from Haddonfield. It wasn’t unexpected, after all Karen had spent many hours with me pouring over the plans for the new house, offering suggestions and considering options for patio stones, stuccos, paint colors. Plus the neighborhood was clearly changing. Older neighbors had died, or moved to assisted living. Younger neighbors sought out other young parents for play dates and baby sitters. Many of us ‘old-timers’ talked about how high the taxes had gotten, and where we might move once we retired.
Karen, my walking buddy, with Mark, planting buddies
The day came when I was part of the group that “used to live in Haddonfield”. I was excited about the country, but I missed my old neighborhood and my friends there. I know I was surprised by the enormity of the hole that was left by not having the companionship of a daily morning walk. Phone calls aren’t really the same; they seem to need a purpose. The beauty of the conversation in a morning walk is that it doesn’t have a purpose; it is just there, comfortable, and friendly.
Karen and I spent still got together regularly for lunch after I moved, and then we realized we’d be smarter to substitute a walk for that glass of wine. We can no longer manage walks on most mornings, but we do manage most weeks.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised that my friend and walking buddy would go the extra mile to help make sure that my dream of a vineyard would really happen. She and Mark not only put in another five hours of planting but they brought along lunch. It was a nasty row we tackled that day: full of rocks, some as big as the shovel Mark used to dig them out. Some holes had so much clay that we needed shovelful after shovelful of peat moss to bring them into balance. Because it was so muddy raking the planted vine bed took extra effort and extra time. Each hole took three times as long as in other parts of the vineyard, but we still got to the end of the row, including the blue grow tubes. Of course we had fun, teasing each other about who was going too fast or too slow, and having the same conversations we would have had if we had been on a morning walk. It was great.
Maybe I should buy more acres and more vines so we can do it again. Just kidding Karen! See you on the next walk. Thanks to you and Mark for a wonderful day. Thanks to all our friends who are affirming their friendship simply by driving all the way out to the country now to see us, and sometimes to plant vines.