*Friends are……………..*

Generally speaking, life is good; very, very good, as a matter of fact. But “sometimes sadness is all there is”, a partial quote borrowed from Rick Bragg’s recently read memoirs entitled _ All Over but the Shoutin’_. Sadness overcame me during the month of February, 2010, for within a two week period, three long time friends passed away. One was a gentleman who had been part of a cluster of family friends dating back to the early 1960’s. The other two gentlemen were also long time friends, but even more crushing was that they were mates of two very close girl friends. Ouch!

These happenings stirred me to reflect on friendships over the years that have certainly helped bring richness to my life. Webster defines a friend as a person (or persons) whom we know well and are fond of; a close acquaintance; one who is helpful and reliable. I go on to add more personal definitions of a friend throughout the following passages.

“Friends always have a special place in the heart, have special understanding and are thoughtful; one who shares and cares”. Enter *Elaine. B*ack in 1962 she came into my, I should say our, lives with her husband and two young children around Jill’s age (then two years old). Our family and hers seemed to have so much in common: loved our kids, attended a newly-formed dance club in town, participated in church activities, hosted dinner parties, sun-bathed, picnicked on the beach; you name it. We moved to San Jose in 1964 after Harvey’s Cal Poly graduation, had our second child, Jodi, in 1965, relocated in Santa Maria and returned to Morro Bay in 1968, stepping right into our life of four years previous. Then things changed drastically for her and her husband (and, consequently for us too). They separated, reunited, separated again and finally divorced. A totally contented stay-at-home Mom was forced to plunge into what turned out to be a successful career, but not without some very difficult times that brought us even closer together. To this day, no matter the miles that separate us, we are able to continue right where we left off from the last contact. One of our very close long-time mutual friends is one whose companion of thirty years passed away in mid-February, as mentioned above. Our shoulders are there for her to lean on through this troubled time. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s path who help us appreciate the journey.” Enter *Mary*, dating back to the late1960’s. We first met when a large group of stay-at-home Mom’s congregated at a neighborhood vacant lot to play volleyball three mornings a week after the kids were sent off to school; except for Jodi, who was still a preschooler. She became very adept at amusing herself along the sidelines during the games! An off-shoot of the volleyball group was our own Weigh-in Club, of which Mary was also a part. Any resemblance to the popular Weight Watchers meetings was purely coincidental, for we rushed into a member’s house, removed every article of clothing short of indecent exposure, hesitantly stood on the scales, cheered as though we had won a million dollar jackpot when we we would eek out even one-eighth of a pound loss from the previous week, reluctantly placed $1.00 into a kitty for every pound of weight gain, and hastily gathered around the table for, you guessed it, refreshments! I shudder to think of the collective number of pounds gained and lost over the period of the two or three years we went through the motions of dieting. No matter, we all have fond memories of that time in our lives.

The outgrowth of the weigh-in group was the formation of a Birthday group, if which Mary was a part. To this day, we gather to celebrate each of our six birthdays over lunch, we break our necks to find the best “You are special” cards and bring small token gifts to replace the lavish gifts we once exchanged.

It was Mary’s husband who became quite ill before this past Christmas, was whisked off to the Hospital Emergency several times, but was ultimately sent home to be surrounded by his family before losing his fight against lung disease in mid-February. Helping her get through one of the most difficult journeys of her life by listening, caring, and attempting to bring cheer, love and kindness to her has been, and will continue to be, my mission.

“Bestest” buddy. Favorite memories wrapped up in our friendship. Our paths crossed; forever grateful”. Those and similar phrases appear on greeting cards or face-to-face frequently from *Cindee*, a friend since the 1980’s, when our paths crossed at Morro Elementary. She was working as a clerical aide and I was teaching. Harvey and I had just started getting into bicycling and I encouraged her to venture out… and the rest is history for us. What adventures we’ve had! A couple credit-card bike touring trips with our husbands to San Diego, a week long Pedal the Peeks tour in Colorado to celebrate her 50^th birthday, a week’s tour looping around Idaho, Utah and Wyoming with another friend Maureen for starters. Cindee and I were also instrumental in organizing a group of six other Bike Club gals (named ourselves Wild Wacky Women) who were interested in loading our touring bikes with all the necessary gear for an annual four or five day camping trip, pedaling as far north as Carmel and down Highway #1 on one trip and south to Ventura and back on another trip. In the past two or three years, the Wild Wacky Women trips have been greatly reduced to a day ride, without packs, followed by a nice lunch, where we can catch-up with each other’ happenings. Cindee and I continue to bike as much as her full time job schedule will permit and we also are two of a Morro Elementary alumni group of six, self-named the *Sexy Six*. Who but ourselves would bestow that title upon us? Periodic get togethers keep our friendships alive and well.

Another group of seven Morro Elementary alumni, again self-named the *Nymphs, *also add dimension to my well-being. If laughter is good for the soul, and I truly believe it is, it’s no wonder that I have these “laugh lines” a.k.a. wrinkles as a result of our gatherings throughout each year. Truly a terrific group!

“You know, we are the luckiest people in the world to have a circle of friends who get together almost every Friday night for food and fellowship!” Truer words were never spoken than by one of our *T.G. * (short for Thank God It’s Friday) *Group* last Friday night as we were sitting around our dining room table; a fire blazing and several lively conversations swirling around over dessert and coffee. This group is comprised of nine people; three couples and three widows and for most of us, dates back to the early 1980’s. The idea was born while we were all still working and looking forward to unwinding at the end of the work week. We are all retired now, but still look forward to getting together almost every Friday night at someone’s house to unwind, as some of us lead almost as busy a life as we did before retirement. We’ve been there for each of our widowed friends, one whose husband passed away in 1996 and the other two who lost their husbands in 2002. But we’ve also shared many happy times. Our relationships are even further strengthened through involvement in organizational and fitness activities.

“Friends always seem to go out of their way to make other people feel special”. This statement certainly holds true with the *San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club*. The Club’s mission statement is to promote safe and legal bicycle riding for recreation and transportation. But in all the years I have been involved in the Club, I have witnessed a much broader unwritten mission; that of being there for our members in times of need, whether it be a death, a major injury, a surgery, an illness, an accomplishment or any reason to make someone feel special. Connecting with members through choices of daily organized rides, special rides, lunches, bi-annual potlucks and volunteering for our big fund-raiser rides helps build friendships. Gatherings with a small intimate group is an added plus!

“Friends are fun, fantastic, fabulous, warmhearted, free-spirited, amazing, amusing, extra-special, super sensational…. and a whole lot more!” This message came to me in 2008 from a wonderful eighty-six year old gentleman, Walter, who was one of the participants on my *2003 Cross Country* bicycle trip. He passed away last year, but this was exactly the same feeling I had for him and the other cyclists on that trip, particularly Elizabeth, my roommate; Daniel, my riding buddy, Steve, Bob and Peter (who succumbed to a heart attack last October).

“A Friend is one who listens and cares”. Relatively speaking, the *Life Story class members *are the “new kids on the block” of acquaintances for me. For two and one-half sessions, I have had the privilege of listening to a member who has shared about her growing up in Hollywood (a sharp contrast to my early years on an Iowa farm), the trials and tribulations of traveling cross country with toddler twins in a Volkswagen bus, the wife’s exacting memoirs of a husband who unfortunately was unable to write his own story, a daughter who has patiently, but happily, recorded dictated stories of her mother’s life, the on-going debate of whether the toilet paper should roll over or under the roll; to name just a few of the heartfelt interesting readings that I have had the privilege of listening to each week.

Sadness *had *overcome me when I started to labor over this segment but by the time I finished, I took to heart the belief that friends have a gift for seeing the sunny side of things. They have a natural enthusiasm for living that flows out to warm the hearts of those around you. My heart has indeed been warmed through the many friendships over the years. Hopefully your heart has been warmed in the same way!

Joan Petersen

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