You can’t make old friends.

“No one knows you like they know you
And no one probably ever will.
You can grow up, make new ones,
But truth is there’s nothing like old friends.
‘Cause you can’t make old friends.”

Ben Rector, “You Can’t Make Old Friends” from the album Magic

On the first day of school when I was 10, the new girl asked me to play at recess. I was not new – she was new. I had been attending our small Christian school since kindergarten. I remember Tricia’s voice so clearly, “Do you want to play?”

I heard her voice again this summer, for the first time in 15 years. We had just stepped off the ferry to Whidbey Island in Washington to visit Tricia and her family, and she was calling to make sure we found a place to eat. A few hours later, I got to see her, and meet her three sons for the first time.

The year I met Tricia, I had very long blond hair which my mom fixed in two braids almost every day. I also had thick glasses and preferred to stay in the background always. My parents said I was “painfully shy.” Tricia was petite and beautiful, with long brown hair, and perfect skin. We played that day at recess and just about every day for the next 8 years.

Tricia and me in 6th grade

Her house was 7 minutes from mine. We played volleyball in her yard and had sleepovers in the screened porch off her garage.  She was friends with everyone, so her house always seemed full of kids. I loved that her parents talked to us like we were interesting people and went out of their way to shape us. Her two younger brothers felt a little like brothers to us too.

Tricia and Julie

Tricia was the first one of us to get her license. Many teenagers piled into her family’s full-size van to go to every game and movie and party. When it was just the three of us (Tricia, me and our friend Julie), we would take her Dad’s big peach car into the city for coffee at Third Coast, windows down, listening to Pearl Jam.

She was the most popular girl in our school the whole time I knew her, although she would tell you she wasn’t. She was homecoming queen. She smiled and said hi to every person walking down the halls of our high school. Everything about her exuded generous humility. In 46 years, I have never met anyone like her.

Who was around for all your firsts? Who remembers when you had your first kiss or tried a cigarette? Can anyone still dial your childhood house phone from memory?

Me and Tricia on our last trip before she joined the Peace Corps

Tricia chose to go to college in Seattle and I moved to Michigan, and we saw each other on breaks.  After college, Julie and I flew to Seattle to soak in a week of Tricia before she moved to Bolivia with the Peace Corps. After that visit, I didn’t see her for a decade, until her wedding. It was an easy choice to fly 2000 miles west to her wedding in Washington, even though I was very pregnant.  I wanted to meet the lucky guy who ended up with Tricia. (She chose well).

That was 15 years ago, and 2000 miles is so far. In that 15 years, we each had three sons, and some big life challenges that come with growing up.  But she hadn’t changed when I saw her this summer. So generous, so creative, so full of joy. Boy, did I miss her.

Our families enjoying a meal together this summer

What is it about old friends? There is something about having people in your life who “knew you when.” They helped shape your identity. For me, Tricia chose to befriend this shy girl and made me feel more like I mattered in high school. We figured out life together.

Last Saturday we attended a 50th birthday party for one of my husband’s friends. A milestone like 50 brings people from far and wide, so my husband was surrounded by his favorite guys from way back. On the car ride home, he said, “Why is it that the best people I know are the ones I met before I was 20?” This question was on my mind too, since I had just reconnected with Tricia, so I asked him what he thought about old friends.

He said, “I guess they just know why I am the way I am.”

Who are the old friends that know why you are the way you are?

  • The ones who knew your parents and siblings as well as their own.
  • The friends who were there for all your adolescent choices – the good ones and the stupid ones. (Choir or band? Date that guy or break up with him? Try out for volleyball or cheerleading? Go to business school or art school?)
Jamie with his old friends at the birthday party

I love this old quote from Mary Schmich, in her column from the Chicago Tribune:

“Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”

I second that. It was not easy to bridge the gap of geography and lifestyle to see Tricia and her family this summer, but it was so worth it. Our family went out of our way to make it happen on a busy vacation, and her family went out of their way to squeeze in two days with virtual strangers.

Consider reconnecting with one of your old friends or share this with them if they’re still a big part of your life. There is something sacramental in the ordinary relationships between people that deepen over years and decades. Let’s celebrate the relationships we’ve got…we can’t make old friends!

“And I’ve got some good friends now
But I’ve never seen their parents’ back porch.
I wouldn’t change how things turned out
But there’s no one in this time zone
Who knows what inline skates that I wore.”
“I can still find Wiley’s house
Riding on my bike with eyes closed
I could name every girl that he took out
And from my memory, dial his house phone.”

Ben Rector, lyrics from “You can’t make old friends”

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