(This story was written in July 2016. Bob Hancock and John Bynum have since passed on.)
Ninety-year-old friends are in a class by themselves. I am a few years short of ninety but am privileged to be friends with some of these older folks. Ninety-year-olds have learned what is most important, namely friendships. I am privileged to have six such friendships, three with men and three with women.
Bob Hancock, father of my son-in-law, John, turned ninety last month in a rehab facility in Baltimore while recovering from pneumonia. Along with a birthday greeting, I sent him a printed copy of my thoughts on religion. I am told he was excited to receive it and read it immediately. He has said kind words about my writing before and has shared some of his writing with me. I approve of his son, John, and Bob approves of my daughter, Clea. In addition to our interest in each other’s writing, Bob and I also share pride in our fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Anna Rose, who we agree is exceptionally brilliant, talented, sophisticated, and beautiful.
I met my 91-year-old friend, Ruth Bates, almost thirty years ago at the Thomas Center. Ruth was new to Gainesville and dealing with a husband near death due to cancer. We happened to sit next to each other. When I saw Ruth enter the ladies room in tears I followed her to offer support. We have been mutually supporting each other ever since. We accompany each other to cataract surgeries, colonoscopies, and other medical necessities. We also do movies, operas, art museums, and dinners together. We treat each other to lunch on our respective birthdays. For several years we hosted Thanksgiving dinners together. We water-walk together in The Village swimming pool. We discuss books we are reading. In 2007, Ruth and her son Jeff attended my husband’s burial in Arlington Cemetery just because I wanted them there. When Ruth was released from rehab following surgery for a broken hip, she stayed in my guest room for ten days until her son could get here from California. Ruth was with me when I sold, and later when I closed on, my husband’s Little River Airport hangar. Since neither of us have family in town, Ruth and I serve as surrogate sisters to each other. Ruth is an excellent “sister” to me.
My relationship with Dudley Parker goes all the way back to the day of my birth, when his mother, Miss Ethel, gave me my first bath. Dudley was three and most likely was standing there watching. Our farm houses were across Ribbon Branch creek from each other. Our mothers were best friends. As pre-teens and teenagers, Dudley and my older brother, Dale, hung out together. They played with toy trucks using exposed tree roots in our yard as pretend roads. Together, the boys once put me atop an old gray horse, and I slid off. I remember lying in the dirt road watching the horse’s left hind foot step over me. Dale and Dudley were just kids and relieved that I was not hurt. Dudley married my oldest sister, Dot. In later years, the three of us enjoyed front row seats many times at The Grand Ole Opry. We hiked together in Nashville as well as in the wooded hills around Standing Rock Creek where we all grew up. Dudley was a wonderful and devoted caretaker for Dot through several years of Alzheimer’s disease until she died at age 97. Since her death, I call Dudley every other Monday at 8:00 a.m. Nashville time and we talk for an hour. We discuss current Standing Rock Creek gossip, old times, the absurdity of current politics, his new lady friend, and my gentleman friend. A few months ago Dudley and his daughter, Dotty, drove down from Nashville to visit me in Gainesville. We three drove to Daytona Speedway and toured the famous racetrack aboard a tourist-filled tram. Dudley will be 90 in October, and having known me since the day I was born, he knows my family history same as I know his. Whenever I need an answer to an old codger question, Dudley is the one I call. Technically, Dudley is my brother-in-law but I love him like a brother.
My neighbor, Opal MacDougal, like me, is an old-timer in The Villages of West End where we both live. Opal is 94, still travels widely, and writes about her travels. One such piece of writing was about a three-week tour of Australia with a woman friend, soon after the death of Opal’s husband. Opal knows I am a birder and occasionally sends me some very interesting bird photographs via e-mail. Opal is active in our community, and I am not. Our paths don’t cross a lot because I don’t play bridge, mahjong, bingo, hand and foot, nor do I attend monthly luncheons or Friday night socials. The last time I saw Opal we were downtown and happened to be parked next to each other in “disabled only” spaces. We stood between our cars and had a lovely visit and hugs. Opal is beyond remarkable, solid as a rock, and wise. I am proud to call her a friend. I contacted her this week to verify her age and learned that she is going on a twenty-four day cruise of Northern Europe this summer, starting in Copenhagen. You go, Opal!
John Bynum, 91, is the widower of my best friend, Sunny, who died one year ago this month. John is wheelchair bound at The Rose Court Assisted Living Facility at The Village. Richard, my relatively young 87-year-old gentleman friend, and I visit John about once a month, and he obviously enjoys our visits. When Sunny was alive, we four did things together. We joke, we laugh, and remember wild goose chases we used to go on in search of birds or old family grave markers. It takes a lot of patience to have a conversation with John now, but the reward is worth waiting for if you give him time to get the words out. My favorite thing is when he reacts with that guttural “Gawd-a-Mighty”.
Mary Boze and I met as Air Force pilots’ wives in 1958 at Paine AFB near Everett, WA. Our husbands flew together in F-89’s, Mac as the pilot, and Bozie as his RO (Radar Observer). Mary and I bonded then and have stayed in close touch for the ensuing 58 years. Mary loved my little children, especially Casey, as she believed I was partial to Eric. There was much partying in those days. Bozie and Mary and Mac and I drank and ate together a lot, mostly at our house because of our babysitting issues, but also at the Officers Club. We were never stationed together again, but both couples lived in Florida after retirement and visited back and forth. When Bozie died, I went to Tampa and stayed with Mary for a few days until she was ready to go it alone. We talked endlessly by long distance phone calls. Mary grieved with me when Casey died. She and I spent some weekends at St. Petersburg beach together. I went shopping with her for a retirement facility when that time came. We developed a habit of communicating every full moon, much of that by e-mail. We are both sky watchers. We like to say we just “keep on keeping on”. When Mary, now 95, was told about my recent episode of passing out and falling in the bathroom, she called to say she needs me to stay alive. Though we seldom see each other, she just wants to know I am here and I understand that. The strength of a friendship such as ours is powerful support.
Clearly, my life is enriched by knowing these six old friends who are old. As the Mayo Clinic says “Good friends enrich your life and improve your health”. The Mayo Clinic will be happy to know that I agree with them, and the older we get the more mindful we are of the truth in that statement.