What is a friend? How do we make friends? I reflected on friendship last weekend in Ann Arbor, while attending the wedding of Libby Paglione, the daughter of “friends” Barbara and John Paglione.
What is a friend? The question was asked in a movie about anti-bias education made by Teaching Tolerance, the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. When asked the question, one shy little girl answered, “I just want them to sit beside me.” Another imitated breaking a candy bar, “If I had candy, I don’t like candy,” she said, “I’d share it with them. That’s how you make friends, sharing.”
I recall several incidents when I was a new Freshman at Boston College. I was outside, with hundreds of other Freshman, waiting around an auditorium for our first orientation. Most of us were strangers. I thought, “need to meet guys, should make friends.” Almost without thinking, I swung around with a hand outstretched, introducing myself to the kid behind me. Amazing! He was doing the same thing at the same time. Our hands touched. The kid was Jerry Mascola and we became college friends. In the summer of my Junior year, while waiting for my father to adjust to the idea of my proposed marriage, Jerry and his new wife put me up for a few weeks before I found an apartment. Diane and I visited with them once or twice in Boston in the years right after graduation. But we’ve lost touch. I wonder were he is; are we still friends?
In my Freshman year at BC, there wasn’t enough dorm housing. The college arranged rooms in private houses. There were eight of us on the second floor of a house in Newton Square. Initially we broke into three subgroups for hitchhiking to school and socialization in the evening. I was “friends” with two guys who had gone to the same New Jersey Prep school, Jerry Alonzo and Ted Fuery. There were two other pairs and then Mike Honan, a loner. Mike took to following Jerry, Ted and me. Little was said, but he’d be steps behind us. Until one night.
I had a private room, had a small two cup coffee maker. About 10 one night, Mike came in. I offered a cup of coffee. We talked – Dylan, music, movies, our lives. We talked to early morning hours. Mike and I became close friends. Afterwards he sometimes walked with me, Jerry and Ted. I’ve probably remained closest with Jerry, the best man in our wedding, we’ve made visits to each other. Mike and I stay in touch, through our blogs and FB. Maybe one visit to him in Albany back in the 1970s. It’s been many years since we had a face to face. Ted is a FB friend, no more. And I’ve had some contact– Christmas cards, letters, maybe one visit — with Tom Glynn, another guy in the house. How and why do we keep friends?
I mentioned at the start that this reflection was sparked by the marriage of Libby Paglione to Steve Vedder. Libby’s father John and I are “best friends” and her mother Barbara is like a “fifth sister.” How? Why?
John and I grew up in Bristol, PA. We went to different Catholic elementary schools in the town — the Italian parish, St. Ann’s (John) and the Irish parish, St. Mark’s (Vince). Bristol was a small town. About three years ago, John told me a funny story. In elementary school, he went to the library and signed up for a card. It was an old wooden building, with worn books and dusty shelves. The librarian fit a stereotype we all know. John asked, “Where should I look for books.” The librarian lowered her glasses and pointed to some shelves — Junior Classics, I suspect — “Vince Profy looks there she said.” John thought, “Who the hell is Vince Profy?”
He met me a year or so later in the Boy Scouts — Troop 73. We weren’t close friends but we knew each other. Friendship came a few years later at Holy Ghost Prep, in High School. We frequently hitch hiked together (often with another Bristol kid, John Mundy). Coming home, after school, we would stop in the 5 & 10 or Katie’s Corner for a coke. Sometimes John Paglione and I detoured to Route 13, Bob’s Books, where we purchased paperbacks, news stand returns I think, covers torn off, for a fraction of their stated price. John Paglione and I became close friends. The cement was reading and books. When I left Paglione’s house, post wedding, this week, he handed me two books.
Which leads me to believe that friendships are formed first on mutual interests. John and I bought, exchanged, reviewed, and shared books throughout our high school years. In college we drifted apart. He went to Duquesne; I went to Boston College. John served in the Army; I was in the Peace Corps. But we returned to Bristol and reconnected.
We discovered we had similar “liberal” political views. For a year while living in Bristol, we worked with several other recent graduates and an older African American woman activist to establish a community center in town. Diane and I had been married several years; John met Barbara Cantor, a New York art student who had moved to Bristol to live near a college friend. John and Barbara were soon planning a wedding. Somehow within months of their marriage we had decided to share a house together in New Hope. It was 1970, “drop out,” “back to the earth,” — communes were hot from Vermont to New Mexico. With only two couples, ours was not really a commune but an “intentional community.”
In New Hope, John and I learned we had many mutual interests. Besides books and reading, we shared pipe smoking, films, gardening, history, art, and imaginative travel. The first summer together, we drove back roads in Bucks County, in a VW bug, stopping at farms, looking for seasonal summer work, dreaming that we were characters in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” We eventually found work and created another shared experience — Boy Scouts, High School, living together, now working together on the Daniel brothers’ farms in Pineville.
Friendship it seems is based on mutual interests, shared ideology, and common experiences. I quickly became friends with John’s wife, Barbara. Our common interests were art, crafts, gardening, and cooking. All of us had similar political ideologies. We watched the Watergate Hearings and The Walton’s on TV. As the months and years passed, I had common experiences with Barbara. We all became friends with Barbara’s close friend, a potter, Melody Bonnema, and her husband Garrett. Again interests, ideology, experiences.
In 1974 when the house broke up, the Paglione’s moved to Ann Arbor where John went to graduate school and eventually got a job with the VA. Diane and I bought a house in Yardley. Within a few years we each had one child, our Jenny and Barbara and John’s Libby.
Initially my friends were Bristol kids, guys from Holy Ghost Prep where I went to high school; a few college and Peace Corps friends. As a working adult in the 1970s, friends increasingly came from work, for me, it would be Holy Ghost Prep; and neighborhood, after New Hope, then Yardley. I think the basis of friendship remained pretty constant –mutual interests, common experiences and similar political and social ideology. At work, I became friends with a few fellow teachers, it seemed always those younger than me. In Yardley I became involved in local politics and made several close friends.
Twenty plus years, I am in touch and maybe social friends with a handful of HGP teachers — Gallagher, Corley, Cavanaugh, Horch, Buscaglia, Gillesppi, DiGiesi. There are a few from more from recent years — McCullough, Posey, O’Conner, Figliola, Jordan. I have many HGP grads as “friends” on Facebook but only a few are really friends. In Yardley I’m not involved with most “friends” from the politically active years Jerry and Susan Taylor are the exception. We don’t always stay friends. Why?
I think friends fade because to sustain most friendships, we must remain actively involved with them. Diane and I have kept doing things with some of the HGP teachers — annual dinners, plays, lunch dates. We have consistently done things with the Taylors since we met in the 1980s. So we remain friends.
For years, several decades actually, our contact with the Pagliones was limited to a Christmas visit when they returned to Bristol to see parents and extended family. They came to Yardley with Libby and spent a day. It always ended with group pictures on our couch. Pre Internet and Facebook, there were few telephone calls or letters exchanged. We still had mutual interests, common experiences, and similar ideology; but time to be together was a missing element.
That changed recently. A few years before retirement we took a trip to Western Pennsylvania to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water.” Pagliones retired and began to visit us in Yardley more often. We took an extended trip to Ann Arbor. The first year the Profys retired, we traveled together to the Hudson River Valley, spent five days in NYC together, John and I spent over a week reconstructing a slave cabin on Madison’s estate in Virginia. There were more Paglione trips to Bucks County with time spent with the Profys.
One of John’s new post retirement interests has been craft beer and local breweries. I shared the interest. It may be related to our beer making in the New Hope years. One day in the Philadelphia area we visited five breweries and several bars on a Phila beer explore. Books remain an important shared experience. We discuss our reading regularly on the phone, tried to start a joint book blog, and constantly lend each other books.
When we’ve visited Ann Arbor, wedding trip included, we are introduced to Paglione’s friends as, “this is Vince and Diane, the couple we lived with.” Four years living together was a strong shared experience that kept us glued together even in the years we had minimal contact. Now that experience and bonding seems to be renewed and strengthened with each contact we have.
I wondered what others had to say about friendship. I immediately thought of Charlie Brown. He and others often describe friends as those that stand beside you, accept you for who you are. Recently I’ve felt this as John has offered support in my year of surgeries. Not all good times.
I also found and liked an article, “The True Meaning of Friendship” by Alex Lickerman, in Psychology Today. Lickerman wrote: “The Japanese have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who possibly therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past.” He defines four qualities of friendship. Three of them repeat qualities I’ve mentioned: 1) common interests, 2) common experiences, 3) shared values and for Lickerman 4) equality, true friends need and support each other, it’s not a one way relationship.
John and Barbara are not my only friends. But they are probably the closest. Like family, John, Barbara, Diane and I may have a “kenzoku” relationship. And it may be a bit stronger between John and I, male bonding and the length of our relationship. It’s been a hard year for me with three major surgeries. I’m still not fully recovered. But the recent days in Ann Arbor, at Libby and Steve’s wedding, with best friends, was happiness as Charlie Brown said. And it gave me time to reflect on friendship.
Again quoting Charlie Brown, “In life, it’s not where you go it’s who your travel with.” Hopefully in the coming year, some travel time will be with our kenzoku friends, John and Barbara.
Congratulations to them, to Libby and Steve.