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In spite of ones own actions, the list of friends has a way of growing

(Stan Prier is a Tualatin resident who contributes an occasional column to The Times.)

I didn't have many friends while growing up. Being the smallest, least coordinated, spectacled, last-to-be-chosen-for-the-team introvert, I was lucky to find even one person at a time who thought kindly toward me, and that included members of my own extended family.

The fact that my parents firmly believed that an Englishman's home was his castle and that their son's friends were generally not to be allowed over the drawbridge didn't help the situation. I can count the number of times I had a friend round for a visit or meal on the fingers of one thumb.

Even in the navy. I only had one close buddy, with whom I had long talks during the evening and shared a desire to become skilled in creative writing. Even our girlfriends were close friends. Being a callow youth, I immediately lost touch with him upon being discharged.

This all changed when I started my new career in electronics and met up with a group of about a dozen kindred spirits and discovered the gift of being able to make others laugh - a real ego booster. We all had motorcycles, the only kind of independent transportation we could afford, and did all kinds of things together.

We visited Paris several times at Easter, when people generally had a four-day weekend, and toured various parts of Europe, either on our bikes or eventually in a very wornout prehistoric SUV converted from an American army vehicle of some kind which we repainted using two hideous shades of house paint on the theory that anything was better than camouflage. (It was also less conspicuous in a Europe in which Germany was still divided into zones run by the allied armies.)

Our less insane group activities also involved discovering old pubs and ethnic restaurants and becoming aware of the pleasures of classical music and other cultural treasures. Periodically, we would rent a hall and hold parties at which skits were presented with me as the resident script-writer.

At one of these, one of our members, who was wrapped in a white sheet and laid on top of the piano to play the part of a corpse, stayed in character while sliding down behind the instrument without any of us being aware of the mishap. My parents were often blissfully unaware of the details of these activities, which were occasionally somewhat hazardous and about which I have often warned my own children.

Later, after I emigrated, when someone asked me about my closest friends, I would always cite this group, even though most of them lived several thousand miles away. Many years later I read an article which, among other things, stated that women tended to make close friends for their entire lives, while men typically made theirs during their 20s, and that was it.

I nodded sagely to myself and thought, 'Ain't that the truth' (I had learned to speak American by then).

I continued in this frame of mind until one day, when asked that question, I started to think about that group of 12 and the difficulties we had experienced trying to contact some of them when we were planning a nostalgic reunion for a trip abroad. On mature reflection, I realized that all but three of them were dead, and of those still alive, one lived in eastern Canada, another in Southern California and the third, who was in poor health, in London.

Not feeling very much like a person with only three friends whose health and remaining life expectancy were unknown quantities, I decided that it was time to reassess my position.

I started to mentally list the people I knew who were important to me.

Many in the historical society; people with whom I had worked; my swimming buddies; some relatives, as much as one can have relatives who are also friends. Then there were those associated with my wife's activities: like a few at the Broadway Rose and at the Oregon Donor Program. Members of our wine tasting group, even a newspaper editor or two in a long-distance, e-mailish kind of way.

I ended up with quite a list, which keeps getting longer all the time. Some are quite casual, but all are appreciated and frequently mentioned when anyone asks me that age-old question. As the saying goes, 'Too soon old; too late smart.'

Now, ain't that the truth!