Forty years of friendship

Published 8:20am Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The year was 1972 and it was time of promise for me and for the country. The Vietnam War was winding down and the country was ready to look forward to better and happier times.

I had just graduated from high school and was also looking forward to the future. I followed in my father’s footsteps and pledged the SAE Fraternity during the summer rush reason, even forgoing the traditional fall rush.

This past weekend was almost 40 years ago to the day that I met the 30-plus young men in my pledge class that I spent most of my time with during my four years in college. While there were many that I became fast friends with, two truly became my brothers.

David Williams of Atlanta, Bill Moench of St. Louis and I gathered over the weekend to celebrate those forty years of friendship and to watch the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. Even the loss by my Auburn Tigers could not dampen the enthusiasm we had for spending the weekend together.

It was made even better by the fact that our wives were there to enjoy the good times. All three of us married up. Our wives all make us better men and at least pretend to enjoy hearing the same old stories that are told each time we gather.

While the guys have seen each other fairly often over the years, it had been almost two decades since the guys and our spouses have all been together at the same time. There are plans each year, but the demands of careers and children always seemed to get in the way.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year acknowledged that for the first time since 1972, I had gone more than two years without seeing either Bill or David. I was determined that would not happen again.

Friendships are not accidents, even though our initial meetings may be. We were thrown together in the pledge class of our fraternity knowing nothing about each other. We were all from different states at the time and were each rooming with a high school friend from our hometowns.

It didn’t take long for us to form into a smaller group of friends that would spend a lot of time together. By the third quarter of my freshman year, Bill and I had moved into an apartment together.

We did all the typical things that college kids, particularly frat boys, did back in those days. We started traveling to the beach together. We often dated at the same sorority. And then there were the card games.

We started playing Spades on Thursday nights. Bill and I were always partners, while David drew another friend of ours, Brian Miller of El Paso. There were occasional substitutions, but generally you were expected to play even if you had a test on Friday.

We didn’t play for money. We played for the intense satisfaction of beating the other team, and the ability to talk about that win until the next game on the following Thursday.

I didn’t realize until years later that between the strategy, intensity, laughter and even anger of those card games, we also learned about each other. We learned what made each other “tick” and things that you don’t just tell to a casual friend.

Our friendships endured over these years. We have mostly shared the joys during those times, but there have been heartaches and personal issues that we have shared as well. We have called each other to celebrate, but more importantly we called each other when we needed a friend.

Even in those years when we don’t see or even talk to each other very much, there is that awareness that in a time of need you know who you would call and they would be there, no questions asked. We have had some of that too.

There has been no judgment of each other, only support. That is made all the more surprising because in many ways, we were all so different. An entrepreneur, an engineer, and a college professor. Our paths were always different.

Forty years later, you wonder will a visit like this be different this time. Do we have enough to talk about to spend three days together? Our children are all grown so we don’t even have that in common to fill any empty spaces.

Therein lies one of the two strengths of this long-term, long-distance friendship. We aren’t the same as we were 40 years ago. Our friendship has evolved just as we have. We can talk about politics and religion as easily as we talk about our increasingly aching bones and the frustrating need to go to the bathroom more often at night.

But there is always that brief time when we do revert back to those idealistic days of 1972. We recall with laughter and a somewhat challenged memory the things events of our past. “Do you remember?” starts almost every sentence.

The second reason I believe we have had this great life friendship, is that our wives not only are supportive of our relationships, they have become part of it. Only my wife, Mary Lou, knew all the guys in college. She will still describe the acceptance she felt when she was invited to the Thursday night card game once when I could not play.

Now, we not only know the stories of our shared college days, but the interests of each of our friends’ spouses. We are all accepting and supportive of one another. We are genuinely interested in each other.

Bill, David and I were the beginning of this friendship, but we all are part of it today. This weekend was as much fun as we have ever had together. We won’t let it go so long between visits again.

I write these personal stories because I believe that each person reading this column has similar relationships in their life. You can still call that friend from 40 years ago. Meet up with that person that has slipped away from your life. I hope your friendships from those old buddies are as richly rewarding and fulfilling as mine.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net

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