The guys began filtering in on Thursday, each arrival met with big hugs. We came from Sacramento, Texas, all over New England. Since we’d first met 50 years ago, all of us had gone grayer, some balder; we’d gotten heavier, but hopefully wiser. There were 12 of us in all. There used to be 15.
We had become fast friends as freshmen at Colby College in the fall of 1969. We still used the old nicknames: Savage, Gomez, Speedy, Goat, Smitty, Spike, and others. The passing years had only deepened our bonds. We’ve gone through marriages and divorces, raised our kids and spoiled our grandchildren, endured illness and mourned the deaths of close friends. All of life’s circumstances had affected our group, but nothing had changed our friendship one bit.
In the early days, we gathered in dorm rooms to talk Vietnam, Watergate, fraternity life, sports, who was buying the beer, who was dating whom, and that new-fangled thing — marijuana. Now, in our beautiful bed and breakfast in York, Maine, the subjects had turned to artificial hips, knee replacements, failing prostates, our medications, grandkids, and tales of the days of yore.
Over the 50 years since we first met, we have always stayed close, getting together for weddings, vacations, all-night poker games, funerals. We tried as best we could to always stay in touch, over e-mail or Facebook or phone. It seemed important to all of us. It certainly has been to me.
Other friends have always commented on how truly unusual this lasting friendship was, in both duration and in level of affection. I never felt that way. It’s just felt so normal.
As the weekend passed, it was not surprising to see that not a thing had changed between us really. We watched football and yelled at the TV over bad coaching decisions. We mocked each other’s golf games and stupid poker gambles, argued about politics, gun control, and religion, and shared stories of most everything — good and bad. Wine had taken the place of beer for most of us, but we still drank a lot of it.
But somehow this 50th anniversary, marking the time between ages 18 and 68, seemed different.
On Saturday night, the 12 of us we went out for a lovely dinner. We’d invited the widows of our three dear departed friends. Luke had died from pancreatic cancer about 15 years ago; he was gone in just three weeks. Steve passed on two years back, after a long battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A heart attack had taken Brian in his sleep just a few weeks earlier.
We toasted our missing buddies and their wives. As we were leaving, Luke’s widow, Linda, pulled me aside. “You guys really have no idea how special this group is,” she said. Later, somebody asked how our story was going to end. “Probably with a dinner at a table full of widows and one of us,” a friend replied. It was unanimous — nobody wanted to be the last of us.
As the long weekend wound to a close, I found myself looking to Sunday morning with trepidation. Was it melancholy or would I just miss these guys? Would all of us be back next year? We parted on Sunday as we greeted on Thursday. With hugs and promises to do this again soon. I drove home with a smile.
Later that night I checked e-mail, only to see notes from a few of my friends already planning next year’s get-together. I can hardly wait.Lloyd D. Benson is a writer living in Salem. Send comments to email@example.com. To submit your story for consideration for Connections, e-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.