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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Old Friends and New


There's a common belief - I'm not ready to call it common wisdom - that men don't make friends after the age of 30. I met Steve when I was 36, interviewing for a job with the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was the public affairs officer, a lieutenant commander and graduate of the academy; I was a bearded refugee from the Department of Health and Human Services, with 10 years experience working for the Army. It was an interesting interview, including a Myers Briggs Test (not allowed under federal human resources rules) and a lot of time with the office secretary, who apparently liked me.

I only worked with Steve for a year; the Navy promoted him to captain and rotated him early to the 7th Fleet. During the intervening years, through his reassignments and my job changes, Karen and I remained friends with Steve and his wife. They stayed at our house on the way to Pearl Harbor, and on the way back. They'd visit us in Laramie, Wyoming, whenever they visited Steve's brother in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Steve came by himself after he and his wife divorced, and with his brother and their sons on their way to Jackson Hole.

A few years ago, Steve met Karen and me in Portland for a wine-tasting tour of Oregon's Willamette Valley. We learned a lot about wine from him, but it was more of a good way for us to spend a few days together.

Steve was one of the first friends to contact me when I went through cancer surgery. And he called on his way to Indiana to bury his mother. We talked through his troubles with his then girlfriend and celebrated by phone his thriving new business and catamaran. Eventually, we became aware of his new girlfriend, Luz Marina, whose name translates as Light of the Sea, a fitting companion for a mariner. We knew she was Colombian, but not much beyond that. Then, in the spring, Steve said they wanted to come visit us in Idaho. We enthusiastically welcomed them, though with some trepidation. Would we like her? Would she like us?

The pending visit gave us the impetus to do some work on the old house Karen's father had built in the early-mid 1950s - painting the house and garage; hanging a new light in the living room. We also laid in a modest supply of local wines and worked on interesting menus.

Karen and I loitered in the arrivals area of Spokane Airport, waiting for the plane to debark. The arrivals board showed the plane had arrived on time. A Chinese family reunited; a foreign exchange student smiled at a couple holding his name on a placard. Then, there they were. Steve had aged, as had we, bearing the signs of too much work and a broken neck suffered the year before; Luzma was tall and slim, with long dark hair and eyes so dark they seemed to be all pupil. Hugs all around and back to our house, catching up with Steve, learning about Luzma.

What a wonderful visit. We had breakfasts in and lunches out. I cooked standard American fare for dinner; Luzma made a delicious dish from Spain. We drank good beer (Red Hook ESB) and better wine Steve bought on a visit to Arbor Crest Winery. We took long walks on our land and had long talks by the creek. We visited Coeur d'Alene; I took Steve for a ride to the top of our property on my ATV; we picked blueberries at our neighbor's patch; Steve and Luzma taught us a card game, which we enjoyed with a neighboring couple.

Our friendship with Steve didn't miss a beat; and we felt we'd known Luzma for years rather than days. Old friends and new - three of us now in our 60s, one in her 50s. Soon, perhaps, a visit to Steve and Luzma in Virginia, or a week in Vancouver, or even a trip to Spain (at least one of us can speak Spanish - and it's not me).

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