Monday, August 31, 2009

First Friends (Cambridge, NY)

Childhood often only vaguely resembles what our adult lives end up being. It is where the seeds are sown, but ultimately how a life blossoms and matures is totally unpredictable at the age of 10. I left the protective shell of my childhood in West Hebron at that age when my family moved to Harare, Zimbabwe. We left behind more than a town. We left people and families who had been our world and I remember feeling very scared.

Of course, I was mostly sad about having to leave my own friends. My best friend was Jude Clary. I lived in the village and he just up above it on the hill. We grew up together, were in the same grade, ran all over West Hebron, attended each other's birthdays and sleepovers. When you are ten, losing a friend of that nature can feel earthshaking.

Sarah Fronhofer was also one of my first friends. Like Jude, she lived just outside the village. Being a girl, we didn't really play together like Jude and I did, but she had the distinction of being my main academic competition in elementary school as well as my not-so-secret young crush (a point which both Heidi and Ann Waite never missed an opportunity to tease me about).

My last day as a schoolmate of Jude and Sarah was an early winter's day during fifth grade right before Christmas break. Both classes packed Mr. Dunigan's room and said goodbye to me, bequeathing upon me an orange nerf basketball signed by by each of my classmates. I remember it being a little awkward. really knew what to say. I was trying to play it cool but got a bit chocked up as the realization that that only world I had ever known was slipping out from under me. We said our goodbyes and then I was gone, halfway around the world, never to move back to upstate New York.

Fast forward almost 26 years and here the three of us are again at Jude's house outside of Cambridge, NY. If the Waites and Cambpells were each no-brainers for the first two nights of my trip, choosing to stay with Jude next made just as much sense. Given that I never moved back to Hebron, Jude and I didn't have much of an opportunity to stay in touch. But I knew I wanted to include my truest first friend on this journey. That Sarah happened to be up visiting her folks and could join us for dinner was a wonderful surprise. She brought the Batenkill Farms ice cream and a cherry crump pie, Jude plied us with steaks and salad and I sat there just being grateful that after 26 years apart, it still felt really easy and natural to relax and laugh with these two old friends.

As old friends do, we talked a lot about mutual friends and where they are now. But it wasn't just a rear-view mirror conversation. We talked about now. The things we are doing. The things we hope to do. I could have kept talking to them both late into the night. The demands of the road, however, dictate that I need to do some writing and go to bed early. We parted around 9pm. But it felt nice to know that these friends of mine at 10 are now true friends of mine again at 36. I hope it's not another 26 years until we do it again ... and I know it won't be.

My first full day of walking had everything I was hoping for in this journey. It had amazing natural beauty, time for reflection and most importantly, a chance to spend time with people I really enjoy over a shared meal. Do I really need to continue on to New Orleans? I think I proved my point. Can't we all just agree I would have made it and I can call it quits?

I'm only kidding of course. Every day won't be as perfect and fulfilling as this one. But those tough days will have their lessons as well. The simple lesson of this day was one I hope to apply each day of my life from now on: "Have Fun. Be Honest. Enjoy People." 'Nuff said.


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