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One is silver, the other is gold

A hundred years ago I was in fifth grade, at another new elementary school, my fourth. My parents had divorced and my mother returned to teaching. She moved us to the neighborhood near her school, which also happened to be the area a single mom could afford. The neighborhood was vastly different than the cushy middle-class suburbs we'd grown up in.

It was a rough school in a tough neighborhood of what at best could be called working class and at worst could be called future gang territory.

There were a few other wide-eyed new kids, other suburban exiles, and a couple of other more seasoned suburban exiles. We must have sensed a sort of recognition of one another, because we gravitated and bonded rather quickly.

I made friends with Shannon and Kellie, and formed a competitive and slightly antagonistic friendship with Neeley, who had never been challenged for Top Academic Dog before. My heart was broken by Ruby, who rejected my poetically offered friendship request with, "I don't play with white girls."

My friends and I, as girls will at that age, formed a tight club. We all answered to White Girl as if we were one, but we had names: Julie, Kellie, Shannon and Lori. Until Lori moved away and Becky and Kristine moved in...two other girls who moved down from the suburbs after a divorce. We played tennis after school and joined Girl Scouts.

Among other things we learned in Girl Scouts, we learned a song that stuck with me the rest of my life:

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other is gold.

I believed in this song, but I don't think it believed in me. I kept moving, and when you're young, it's hard to keep in touch. I managed to keep in touch with a few friends for a few years, and Shannon through college, but eventually, when maps grow too distant and no longer overlap? You forget the gold. Or the silver. Whichever means old friends. I always thought old friends were gold, because it's a soft, comfortable, subtle, malleable metal, not as shiny and sparkly as silver, and I knew how easy it was to get sucked in by shiny and new.

We moved again in seventh grade. Where I made a great best friend in Emily, and discovered the two sides of myself, the contradictory sides. Other people weren't as keen on these various edges to my personality; they seemed more fixed that I was. You were either a good girl (Emily) or a bad girl (Carrie). I felt like both, and I liked both, equally. But people preferred you to stick in your assigned stereotype, as we learned during cheerleader tryouts.

I remember in the Spring Kristie was the only one from our group in the Pep Squad who tried for cheerleader (in my case, what was the point---we were moving again and I sucked at gymnastics). Watching her audition was painful. She looked awkward, out of sync, so much younger and smaller than the others---typical of seventh grade, where we all ran on such a wide range.

But I remember our friend Roxanne saying, "You gotta love her for trying, bless her."

And that opened up a window in my mind. It made me realize something about friendship, about sticking by friends, and about worthwhile friends. Roxanne was a wise and kind girl, and I wish I'd gotten the chance to know her better and longer. It might have made a difference in my growing and evolving friendship skills.

Instead, we moved again and I changed schools again in eighth grade.

I lost touch with all of them, even Emily eventually because she moved too, to another state even, and airfare...well, flying wasn't something you did a lot back then.

And we both got caught up in our new lives, and in high school.

I've recently found and reconnected with some old friends from the past, some good friends.

I'm trying to figure out what to do with these friendships from the past. Is it enough simply to know they are Okay in the Now, but the friendship belongs in the past? Or should I take the song literally---as is my wont---and make them friends now?

I am Retriever level loyal, and my heart never lets go of those it loves.

My actions, sadly, are not so consistent. I get caught up in the present and lack the talent of making and keeping new friends and old ones, too. I attribute this to so much moving around, which often seemed to necessitate letting go of the past, and paying careful attention to the present and future.

Still, I yearn towards these friends from the past. I have learned how important the past can be to the present, and how valuable some people are.

I think I finally comprehend the song's message.

However, a lot of time elapsed, and my mind and body are constrained by the here and now; I have friends now, good friends, nice friends. Friends who are both Carries and Emilys and friends who are one or the other. I can barely pay them the attention they deserve. Two friends this week are sick, or dealing with catastrophic health issues. Two friends are dealing with major life alterations (divorces). One friend confided a surprise pregnancy. And so on.

I am lucky today in the people I know, as I have been lucky in the past. What a quality round-up of good friends, in so many ways.

But how do you combine the past and the present? I've never stayed anywhere long enough to have the two overlap. Suddenly, though, now, they seem to be.

Are the past and present like oil and water?

Or like silver and gold, complimentary, even though a little against traditional rules?

How do you make new friends, and keep the old?

The Girl Scouts still sing that song, by the way. My daughter's troop sang it at the induction ceremony. I felt a pang in the region of my heart, wondering about Shannon, and Kellie, and all the rest.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Emily said…
Someone once told me that the most poignant thing about high school graduations is that -- for many of these kids -- this is the first time that they will learn the following:
Sometimes, for no particular reason, we lose touch with people we like very much.

(Why is the date on the post off?)
Suz said…
I think that it's wonderful and says a great deal about you that you still want contact with so many of your high school friends. I don't know; I'm not sure that I like the person I was at that time, so I have a much more ambivalent attitude towards the people I knew, if that makes sense.
Another excellent post, Julie.

I don't have any answers either...I moved a lot during my childhood, and always blamed that for not being able to stay in touch. My husband, meanwhile, has been able to keep at least one childhood friend despite moving *across the world* from him. So obviously, it isn't always physicial distance that's the issue.

I never thought myself as very *aware* as a child -- I was always ready for the next thing. Never living in the past. Maybe that was part of it.

Kyla said…
I have always, always been awful at staying in touch. I'm a bit better now with all the fancy electronic ways to do so, but still very few friendships have made the leap from my past to my present. A few have been there for the long haul, though. It helps that I haven't moved from this area since we made the move here when I was four.
Michele said…
I've always had a hard time making friends because I'm somewhat shy, especially around new people. And since I got married and had a child, I don't even seem to have time to make or keep friends. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try so I invited two coworkers I don't know very well to lunch. I invited two more this week. It's been fun getting to know new people.
Julie @ Letter9 said…
Your post makes me long for the days when whether or not to be friends wasn't something you decided, you know? You were friends because you sat together on the bus or walked to school together in the morning. You were friends because her mom let you guys get away with murder and you liked that freedom. You were friends because it was convenient and because you both needed a friend. I find adult friendship so much more difficult because of all the effort and choice involved.

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