I believe we all struggle with what friendship means to us. Early in life we aren’t sure how to be a good friend or how to insist on being treated properly by our friends. Human relationships are complicated. Hopefully as we progress through life it gets easier. I grew up as an only child of two amazing people with a huge extended family. I would say my childhood was unusual.
My father came from an abusive alcoholic upbringing in a large midwestern Catholic household and then went into the Marine Corp to fight in hand to hand combat in Vietnam. By his early twenties he had such a scrambled brain from his experiences (not to mention the inherited bi-polar) that I am surprised he didn’t give up and melt into the earth right then. But he didn’t. My father met the woman of his dreams, my mother. In his words, “I was in my underwear lying on a crudy couch watching cockroaches on the wall. The hot Kansas sun was warming my feet through the open door when a shadow fell across me. I looked up to see the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wearing a pink terry cloth jumpsuit and had hair that hung all the way down to her ass.” She said, “I am looking for an apartment to rent.” My dad said, “You don’t want to live here!” Three weeks later they were married and 46 years later they are still starry eyed over each other.
My mother’s childhood was much kinder to her. Outhouses, a one room schoolhouse, a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic WWII veteran father weren’t a cakewalk, but she shares memories of a committed best friend, summers as a life guard and getting a college scholarship in debate.
There are so many funny and heartbreaking stories about my parents before and after they meant, but I will return to those in the future. Almost 10 years after the meeting of the two lovebirds in the doorway of a dingy apartment building in Kansas they were living in Washington state. They had purchased 10 acres “6 miles east of Post Office Box 854”, which was actually the address on my first drivers license. How we got away with that I don’t know, but my dad could convince anyone of almost anything. We both thought that was quite the funny joke on the government. Purchasing the property was a financial feat for two new college grads from Kansas whom had no money. Extreme frugality, otherwise known as poverty, where the name of the game. Mom and dad found two old barns that needed torn down. They were told if they torn them down and removed all the materials they could have them, so that is what our house was built from. It was an amazing structure. Huge old posts running from the ground to the peak of the roof. Exposed wood everywhere. Open lofts for bedrooms and three colors of shag carpet covering the living room floor. The place embarrassed me as a kid. I didn’t want to be different, but now I remember the beauty. My parents worked so hard. Mom cooked our meals over a wood burning stove, grew food in the garden and drove all the way into town to do laundry at the laundry mat. My father showered at the gym to be presentable at work as a school teacher and then later as a construction worker.
Everyday of this life was hard work, but the lessons learned and the strength gained during this time are a big part of who I am today. I am so thankful to remember all the shared challenges and beautiful moments. Coyotes would huddle under our house to get warm and dry. Our dogs, the coyotes and my family would all howl together as the crackling hot stove kept the Pacific Northwest cold wet night at bay. The view from our front porch was nothing but mountains covered in old growth Douglas Fir as far as the eye could see. And most importantly was that right out the back door you could hike for days in uninhabited wilderness without seeing a soul. That was my playground. Those trees were my friends, my comfort, my world.
So we finally get back to the topic of friendship. Most of my life I denied the importance of human friendship. I loved my friends the trees and animals. They were kind and soulful. But as life progressed and complex challenges popped up I needed people. I needed friends. I needed and that scared the crap out of me. As a matter of fact needing others is a fact I have finally accepted, but still scares me. I have come to understand friendship is a gift and a necessity. I would not still be alive if it wasn’t for the many friends in my life. Thank you to everyone who has ever embraced me with kindness, I work everyday to return that kindness to the world.
Me and my best friend Jim Purvis.