Two weekends ago I went to St. Louis in order to attend a memorial service for the father of my oldest childhood friend Maureen. She and I have been friends since we were eight years old, when we lived on the same street and spent nearly all of our spare time at each others' houses. Naturally, we used to spend a lot of time around each others' parents, but less and less over the years as we've become adults. When I'd initially heard about Tom's death, I'd walked around feeling melancholy for a several days, but by the time of the St. Louis memorial, weeks later, I was really more focused on the chance the trip gave me to see Maureen, who lives far away in Texas now.
On the day of the memorial, my dad kept the kids for me, and I was able to meet my brother for lunch first. So pleasant was this rare child-free time with Ian that I kind of entered the church in a light mood. I saw Maureen, her husband, and her kids outside of the building as we pulled up, and actually felt excited to see the family I used to be around so often growing up. That's the irony of funerals; they're so good at bringing people together, but under circumstances nobody wants.
Walking into the church and seeing Maureen's mother sobered me right up, though. Being there, I had to confront the fact that Tom died, and that I would not see him again. And, as older-looking versions of Maureen's once-familiar relatives filed by, I also had to confront the fact that I don't really know them anymore. That, despite our occasional exchange before he handed the phone over to Maureen, I didn't really know Tom anymore, either. As people talked, I thought about how he'd held jobs I wasn't around to witness, had health problems I was only vaguely aware of, even moved to a city I've never been to in order to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren.
I started thinking about how when you've known someone for 25 years your concept of them isn't just who they are now, but who they've been throughout your whole history together. I still think of Tom, and probably always will, as a funny, athletic, boisterous man who teased us about boys (and our overly-hairsprayed bangs, for saying "like" too much between phrases, and for thinking being on the debate team made us cool). I will think of him every time I see a Diet Dr. Pepper or a Wonder Bread truck, or a picture of fireworks over the Arch. I have no idea whether Tom still loved the DDP as much at the end of his life as he did 20 years ago, but I know he hasn't delivered or sold bread for ages and did his photography in Houston these days. But when you don't see your old friends very often, they become like a legend in your head, stuck in an era that, to you, will describe them forever. When I was a kid, Tom's laugh was sometimes so loud and so sudden it would frequently startle me. I'm sad I missed my chance to hear it again.
The morning after the memorial, I did get a chance to catch up some with Maureen. I met her for brunch, along with our other close childhood friend Brittyne. We easily filled an hour and a half with updates regarding our kids, our schooling and work, how our husbands like their jobs... Maureen talked some about her parents, and then we just had time to snap a quick picture or two before it was back to our lives.
Brittyne complained before we left that we didn't have time to get to the reminiscing, the rehashing of the mutual exploits of our youth (like roller figure skating?!?). It occurred to me later that just the fact that we were there, in St. Louis alone together, was kind of reminiscent of another time, considering the seven (soon to be eight) kids between us and the fact that two of us don't live there any more. We do all have separate lives now, in different places. And, though I read Brittyne's blog and talk to Maureen on the phone every month or two, this is just frequently enough to maintain our relationships while forcing us to share only a very narrow version of what is going on in our lives. I have to admit that my perception of the two of them must also be somewhat the stuff of legend, built partially on my memory of who they were as girls. Though I do feel that they (Maureen in particular) know my core in a way that doesn't change over time, I wonder if aspects of the way they see me are somewhat dated, as well.
Despite the distance and the amount of time that has passed, I am very pleased that I can still call these two my friends. Maureen and I were "spit sisters" (too squeamish about cutting our fingers to be blood sisters) after all; if I cannot maintain a lifetime friendship oath sealed by drinking after each other, then what good is my word, really?
It's hard to describe my mood driving back to Kirksville after that weekend. I had a pretty good cold going, and was missing my husband. The kids slept in the back, and I just enjoyed the silence for most of the three-hour trip. I thought about the drive; how quickly I regain my comfort driving in the city on these trips to my hometown, how hopping from one suburb to another or one highway to another feels like an old sweater I forgot I liked. I thought about another faraway friend, Melynne, who'd kept me company on the phone when I'd been drowsy on the way to St. Louis a few days before.
Mostly, though, I felt melancholy again for a bit. I thought about how Tom was the same age as my own parents, and about how I'm now old enough to have a 25-year friendship with someone. About 30 minutes away from home I turned on the radio, and there was someone talking about Bob Dylan. The person was discussing the song A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, which Kyle and I agree is one of Dylan's best. In high school I was obsessed with the version sung by Edie Brickell, and have grown into the original version in recent years. It's not a cheery song, but the sadness and loneliness of it matched my mood, and it was so familiar that hearing it felt like the comfort of an old friend.