Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

When I became a Brownie, that was one of the first songs we learned. I was always fascinated by the fact that when that little ditty was sung as a round, it turned into three part harmony—a lot like riding in the family car on those long road trips back and forth from Arizona to visit relatives in South Dakota.

Make new friends but keep the old

One is silver and the other gold.

My husband has teased me for close to thirty years about my inability to let go of friends. Sitting here, I can think of three friendships that ended, based on decisions made by the parties in question. If it were up to me, that wouldn’t have happened. After I was televised walking in a Susan B. Anthony Parade in Tucson in the late sixties, a friend—a fellow teacher on the reservation—told me we weren’t allowed to be friends any more because her husband disapproved of my politics. It turns out my “politics” are a lot more complicated than he ever could have imagined, but the friendship was over—and I’m still sorry!! Someone else got a divorce and told me that if I was her friend, I couldn’t possibly remain friends with her former husband whom I had known long before they married.  Excuse me?  Friends don’t dictate their friends’ friendships. But I’m sorry about that one, too.  As for the third one?  I caught her in a lie and confronted her about it. End of story—and do you now what?  I guess I’m not sorry about that one.

Wait a minute.  I’m way off topic here. So back to the subject of friends. My best friend, from fourth grade on, was and is Pat McAdams Hall, a newly retired (happily so) kindergarten teacher who is currently freezing her tush off in a very chilly Florida. She’s one of those friends who didn’t get away.

Bisbee in the Fifties was a quiet place without much going on during the summers. One of the ladies in our church, Mrs. Brinson, had a granddaughter who would come to Bisbee from Phoenix and stay with grandma during the summers. That’s how Karen Lingol Griffiths came into my life. We met and spent many a long summer day on the floor in Mrs. Brinson’s living room playing checkers, dominos, and Monopoly.  And, almost sixty years later, we’re still friends, too.

Then there was Harley Heitt. We were at Greenway School together back in the day when class pictures meant standing on three-tiered risers, generally in the space between the two doors to the school auditorium, with that year’s pair of teachers stationed at each end like a pair of towering goal posts. If you were to look at any number of those succeeding years’ of pictures you would find me, usually with long braids, standing in the middle of the back row with Harley Heitt on one side and Mike Marusich on the other. Harley and I were pals in grade school and high school, too. Then, our junior year, he went away to the New Mexico Military Institute.  While he was there, we corresponded back and forth, and when it came time for me to go away to the University of Arizona, Harley was the one who gave me a ride to Tucson and dropped me and my goods off at Pima Hall, my dorm for the duration. Harley and his wife, Kerry, have homes in Chandler and Bellingham. So now Harley and Kerry and Bill and I are friends and also fellow snow-birds.

Between those old days in Bisbee and now, a lot of time has passed. Then a few years ago, something astonishing happened in my life—something Judy Busk, the girl in the middle of the back row, never could have imagined–I met and became friends with one of my singing idols, Janis Ian.  Her music sustained me through some very dark times in my life.  I know all the words from the various tracks that played, one after another, on the cassette player in my 1978 Cutlass Supreme Brougham.  Try thinking about listening to Ricky Nelson on your ancient transistor radio and imagining that you and Ricky would someday become friends.  Seems unlikely, but for me with Janis Ian, that’s exactly what happened.  Through a mutual fan, Janis learned that I often ended my presentations by singing her song At Seventeen.  After one performance, she sent me an e-mail saying, “Hey, I heard you sing one of my songs,” and that was the beginning of our friendship.  We were new friends maybe, in the beginning, but it’s long enough ago now for that friendship to have turned from  silver into gold.

Earlier this month, Janis let me know that she was coming to Phoenix to do an event at the Rhythm Room, and she offered me a set of comp tickets.  So I rounded up a group of people to go.  Karen and her friend Lucy—formerly known as Lucille back in the day because Lucy is also someone from those old days in Bisbee as well as Harley and Kerry.  Just to be fair, we invited a new friend—Denise, a widow, who brought a relatively recent boyfriend into the mix.  (Brave guy!)   

So that’s what we did yesterday—Bill and I drove to Phoenix for the concert.  We had planned to go a day early and have dinner the night before with Janis and her tour manager.  That fell through when all the flights from Nashville were canceled that day due to cold weather.  They managed to make it into Phoenix just in time to do the sound check without a moment to spare.  In the meantime, Bill’s and my travel arrangements also went awry when the hotel in which we had a reservation had computer issues.   They took our credit card information and ID and said they’d call when our room was ready.  They finally called at 7:30.  By then we had canceled our reservation—the hotel’s computer still couldn’t figure it out—and we had decided to drive home after the concert. Which we did.

I’ve known Janis for years, but last night was the first time I attended one of her public concerts, and I was impressed. Even though she’d been up for right at 24 hours straight by then, she put on a show—an engaging show in which she interacted easily with the audience—all the while making us laugh and cry. The song she sang about wanting to hear her mother’s voice again, singing those old songs, made tears come for me and probably for many others as well. And her song—I’m Still Standing Here?  Yup. That’s me, too.  She’s still standing and singing at age sixty plus and I’m still standing, singing, and WRITING at age seventy plus. Yes, we’re both definitely still here!

But the most surprising revelation of the evening for me came during her encore when Janis asked the audience to sing along with her favorite song–which turned out to be none other than “Over the Rainbow.”  

Many of you know that it was my second grade encounter with Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books that first lit the fuse on my ambition to become a writer. And so it was interesting for me to learn that the theme song from the movie version of Frank Baum’s book is Janis Ian’s favorite song.  

During her presentation, Janis spoke about how, when she picked up her first guitar at age 10, she knew from that moment on that playing a guitar would be her passion, regardless of whether she’d be able to make a living doing it. Last night as she played a guitar solo in the middle of one of her songs—Bright Lights and Promises—that fifty-plus year old passion was blazingly clear. She and her guitar became one. She was playing the guitar and the guitar was playing her. It was a partnership. It IS a partnership. Her father would have preferred that she play the piano. Her mother worried about her daughter living a musician’s life and being on the road all the time. Her mother was worried for good reason. Going on tour in an icy February is nobody’s idea of walk in the park!  (I remember being on tour in February and having events canceled due to an ice storm in Portland.) When she sang about wishing Mom and Pop could see her now, I related to that, too. My parents certainly didn’t believe my becoming a writer with a couple of little kids in tow was a great idea.

So Janis Ian and I have a lot in common. She is short; I am tall. She is gay; I am straight. She is Jewish; I’m protestant. But we’re both artists. We both love our fans. As we left the concert venue last night, she may have been beyond exhausted, but she was starting to sign autographs for a never-ending line of waiting people. We did not get in line. I already felt guilty about the applause that had summoned her back onstage for that encore.

So last night was a night for mixing old and new friendships. As far as I’m concerned, it was a HUGE success.  

I hope my silver and gold friends all feel the same way.

11 thoughts on “Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

  1. Loved this post. I, too, remember singing that song in Brownies and loving it. Do you think that’s why we both keep up with our old friends while making new ones? I love my old friends and am moving back home after 43 years away. Retiring from 42 years in education in May!! I also love Janis Ian and saw her in concert a few years ago. She is fabulous and I wish I could be her friend and yours too!

  2. That was a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it with us!
    There is nothing in life more important than family and friends!

  3. Loved this post. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I liked Janis Ian’s songs, too, and I was a Brownie and Girl Scout. So glad when my daughter was able to participate in Girl Scouts, too. Her troop was better than mind!!
    I am one of your readers who listens to your Sheriff Joanne Brady and J. P. Beaumont books through our library’s website. What a blessing that is. No one is going to open up a library at 2am, although when I worked in a library branch in Charlotte NC, I thought about having a 24-hour library drive-through window. Books are magical. I wonder if any one else remembers the OZ character that changed her head instead of her dresses and different heads had different personalities. Not a psychedelic adventure – Miss Winters, my second grade teacher, read this to us.

  4. As usual, your memories invoked many of my own. I loved the Make New Friends song. My daughter is mid 50s and kept in loose touch with old friends. Facebook has brought many of these old friends back in closer touch again. Many had been in scouts together! Marriage, remarriage, moves, all strained the relationships. I have some friendships that go back to early childhood. Oddly enough, one lives in WA and the other AZ. Dynamics changed when I became divorced but the bond was still there. Congratulations on making the concert. Don’t you love computers???

  5. Pat McAdams Hall’s little brother Ted McAdams was in my class – people confused Tom Adams and Ted McAdams all the time. The interesting thing is our birthdays were the 26th and 27th of April. I still have friends from Bisbee, people who have been friends for over 60 years, and I am glad they are still a part of my life. You are so right, friends are silver and gold and life is richer because of them.

  6. Dear Judy,
    I, too, have a friend from 1st grade. It is so nice to keep in touch with a “girl” who has known you for more than 50 years. We grew up in a very small town and unfortunately, her family moved away when we were in high school. We still wrote each other all the time. She and her husband married in 1966, right out of high school (Everyone said they had no chance of making it last) Our kids are the same age and we have had several camping trips through the years. Now, we talk about our grandkids and her great grands. She and David are still together, and I am past husband number 2. I can’t wait to help them celebrate their 50th next year. Old friends are just great.

  7. I enjoyed your post very much. Several of my closest friends are from high school and even earlier. It was your friend Karen Lingol Griffiths who introduced me to your books. I met her in Bisbee in probably 1960 when I was there visiting my cousin Harley Hiett and she was visiting her Grandmother Brinson and Aunt Natalie. We were there more than once at the same time and corresponded all though the years. In more recent years we have gotten together a few times in Arizona and also Missouri. I met you at a book signing in Yuma in 2009 but have not been back to Arizona since then. Our fifth wheel burned in 2011 and my husband died in 2013 so here I am in Missouri’s very cold weather!

  8. Love the story. At 70+ years old I remember singing that song also. Just recently I have been able to reconnect with two of my school chums. One from middle school and on from high school. Years had passed since we talked, but now that we are back in touch we meet a need for each of us. Why did I ever loose contact with these two wonderful women?

  9. I was a Girl Scout when young and a Brownie leader for my daughter. I loved singing those songs.

    As for friends, I was sorry to read obituaries for two friends in the newspaper this week. I had been meaning to contact them, but hadn’t. I plan to do better and call or write someone when I think about them instead of putting it off until it’s too late.

  10. Wow! I have not heard or thought of that song since…hmmm…the 70’s? But instead of feeling old, I just want to find someone to sing a round with me!

    As you know, everywhere I speak about my book, I encourage people to sit down and listen to their elders stories – write them down. Somehow we all think we’ll have more time. But invariably, someone will come up to me and say that very thing – and how they wish they’d written down those stories. Once the person is gone, the stories are too.

    Anyway, you’ve got me thinking about friendships too. There are things that our childhood friends share with us that nobody else can. There are the childlike adventures, the heartbreaks, and the fall-down-laughing moments. Time to reconnect with a few friends – thanks for the reminder!

  11. I noticed on your header a thank you to Carolyn and Bob Milkey…what a small world…they have been my friends since they lived in Maryland…met on the internet. My friend and I make plans to stop at least for breakfast when we pass through Oro Valley. I knew she liked reading about the Arizona area so I turned her on to your books…then on to your blog site and website. I love that you finallly got to meet…wonderful!!!

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