Seems like an odd topic when you’re buried in snow, but of course I’m not talking about flowers. I’m talking about friends.
I have a friend at the Y, Don, who walks in circles around the track with me. Don is 82, a widower who lives with one of his three daughters, and a bright spot in my trips to the Y. He comes to the Y almost daily, and knows just about everybody’s name who goes there regularly. He smiles and tells jokes and visits, and can make the sound of a train whistle, which he does frequently. That, in fact, was how I first noticed him.
I go to the Y to exercise. Now and then I’ll stop to chat with someone I haven’t seen for a while, but most times it’s just a smile and a wave, and I keep moving. I barely notice new people—until I’ve seen them around a few times. But I only talk to people I already know, mostly from church. My plan is to walk in the door, put in my already-decided-upon time period of exercise for that day, and leave again so I can get on with my life—usually so I can go home and get something to eat. Going to the Y almost always makes me hungry.
It was during my 100 miles in 100 days challenge last year that I first encountered Don. I was on a mission to get my three miles a day in—since I didn’t go every day—and I was walking around the track like a fiend, one lap per minute, feeling the wind on my face and lifting my hair like I was rollerskating.
Don would say, “Look at her go!” as I passed by, and pull the handle on his imaginary train whistle. I’d smile and wave and just keep going.
Then one day I thought, who am I, to be too busy to talk to this open and friendly man, and decided to stop and say hello. Don fell right into step, although not as quickly, and we started talking. He tells jokes, and flirts with the ladies, and always has a positive attitude. He’ll ask, “How are you today?” and I’ll smile and say, "I’m here,” and he’ll laugh and say, “You got that right. Better to be seen than viewed.”
I’ll ask if he has any big plans for that night, the weekend, or the upcoming holiday, and he won’t miss a beat—“No, you want to go somewhere?” Always trying to make a date.
Friday I asked if he had any plans for the weekend and he said, “At my age, I don’t like to plan too far in advance.”
He was on his way to visit a friend that afternoon, in the hospital after having a stroke. “The guy was young,” Don said. “Only 67.” Then he looks at me. “Like you, right? That’s about your age.”
And we laughed again. At least I did :). Maybe he was serious this time :).
One day, I think it was after a big holiday weekend, I saw Don off in the alcove weighing himself on the old-fashioned scale that you have to slide the metal weights across to find out what you weigh. I snuck up behind him and put my sneaker toe on the back of the scale. He moved the weights, and then paused, and I couldn’t see his face, but I saw his head tilt to the side and imagined he was frowning before he moved the weights a little more. And then a little more.
Before he turned around and caught me, I stepped back, and resumed my walk around the track.
Before too long he comes into the main room, catches me as I come around, and we start walking. I mention I saw him weighing himself. “How’s it going?” I ask casually. “Weight holding steady?” “Nah, I’m up a few pounds,” he says,” sounding a little bewildered. “That’s because I had my toe on the scale,” I told him. And then I told him what I’d done.
We’ve been friends ever since.
Now he looks for me, keeps track of when he last saw me, and is always glad to see me when I come in for my walk. And I enjoy getting to know about Don. For many years, he drove a truck, delivering snack foods to stores in the area. The stories he has to tell…
He’s always saying how he can’t keep up with me, and tells me he’s a hindrance to me. Don can only walk around the track three to five times before he needs a rest. But when he’s resting somebody usually comes by and says hello, so he essentially takes a visit break between laps. Me, I pick up speed and keep zooming around the track until Don is ready to walk a few laps again.
I don’t find Don a hindrance. I find him fun and interesting to talk to. He’s lived a long and fruitful life, and I would miss him if he wasn’t there. I notice when our paths don’t cross, as I often go in at different times of the day, whenever it’s convenient for me to take a break from the computer.
He’ll ask what time I have to leave today, and I’ll tell him, because I always know. I’m a little compulsive that way, chopping my day into distinct time frames. And always, as I’m leaving, Don says, “Thanks for walking with me. It’s more fun when you’re walking with someone.”
Isn’t that the truth of it? Life is much more fun when we walk with friends.