I don’t know if I’m a cat person or a dog person. Love them both. I’m also a chicken, cow, goat, rabbit, and children person. Just know that I am not, with few exceptions, an adult people person. My adult friends tend to include struggling farmers, struggling artists and writers, and others struggling to make it at something they love while maintaining their dignity. To nearly everyone else, I am friendly, but there is a difference.
It is easy to befriend most animals–they expect so little from us–and the few that betrayed my trust tended to meet rather swift ends. An example was a particular doe (rabbit) who bit the fleshy web between my thumb and index finger. I know exactly what to expect from Arlo the cat, who currently lives with me. An aging Maine Coon, he spent his younger years on the farm, where he had access to acres of fields and woods filled with juicy little critters. He was pretty self-sufficient. Like a dog, he did his business outside and let me know when he wanted to come in, which, unfortunately for me, was usually around 1:00 a.m. We have been friends for about 12 years now.
A neighbor goes about telling people we are friends. We are not. We are acquaintances. Men who have befriended me tended to want something, like food, or tools, or a seamstress to shorten their pants. My female friends and I have done the following and more for and with each other:
- Shared pantry items
- Nurtured a flower garden
- Birthed farm animals
- Ogled hot young men
- Rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night
- Timed labor pains
- Protested over labor issues
- Hiked through wilderness
- Removed ticks from body parts where the sun don’t shine
- Gone fishing
Friends are truthful with each other, even when it’s a bit painful. Criticism is always a last resort and expressed only when absolutely necessary. It is never spoken to anyone other than the friend about the friend, or about the friend’s children or grandchildren. There are some things that just won’t fly, because while we can acknowledge our own flaws, our offspring are flawless. Spouses are often an exception.
It is gratifying to befriend another person and not expect anything in return. When we are young, we are strong and flexible. Many tasks become difficult or impossible as we age, such as sweeping snow from a car or walk, carrying heavy bags or trash, standing from a kneeling position. Until it happens to you, it’s hard to imagine how tough these things can be. Reaching out, including to pull the gardener to her feet, may make you a new casual friend and you theirs. And one or two of these may develop into the real thing. BTW, those 400 people you are associated with on Facebook are not the friends I’m talking about.
Excerpt from “Old Friends, ” written by Ben Watt for Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical Merrily We Roll Along, which debuted in 1981.
Most friends fade
Or they don’t make the grade.
New ones are quickly made,
Perfect as long as they’re new.
But us, old friends,
What’s to discuss, old friends?
Here’s to us!
Who’s like us?
And as for my friends, hey, you know who you are!
Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.