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Taffy Field: The Sustaining Roots of Friendship

Where would we be without friends? Writer Taffy Field considers the importance of those who support and sustain us.

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Taffy Field: The Sustaining Roots of Friendship Listen

Taffy Field

A month or so before she died this spring at the age of 92, my mother-in-law called Caroline, one of her lifelong friends, now in California. They talked and laughed for 45 minutes. They didn't say goodbye, exactly, but goodbye may be always in the air when we are in our 90s.

A month later, her son, my best-beloved, spent several evenings calling her friends to tell them the news that Gamma had died. And to bear witness to their sweet gratitude and grief. His call to Caroline was one of the first.

The next day I texted my friend Sally: "Some day one of our children will have to make this call. Some day we will lose each other."

In the constellations of our lives are parents, siblings, cousins, lovers, spouses, children. And if we are lucky, we are besottedly in love with most of them most of the time. They inhabit the houses in which we live; their laundry is mixed in with ours, we wake up with them on our birthdays.

But just outside those houses and along the way friendships have flourished too; they are, perhaps, the plantings around our foundations. Some are the sustaining friendships we have carried along and transplanted, the now-deep-rooted seedlings of our childoods. Some are flamboyant exotics we brought back from our first independent travels and rebellions. Some are the accidental and practical friendships of Little League parenting and dance class waiting rooms. Some may be the unexpected pairings of shared tragedy.

Inside our houses, we deal with the messy fabulousness of daily family life - we both choose to and we must. But we open the windows, we venture out for a walk or we burst out slamming the door in frustration, and the sweet perfume of our friendships cools our heads, warms our hearts, shades our feet, and reminds us of rich parts of ourselves and our histories that exist outside the house.

Gamma and Caroline remained plantings for each other through 75 years. They shared lovely secret sillinesses and sober reflections we will never know, and my sense of Gamma is much more dimensional as a result. It is freeing to know there were other people for her to turn to or rejoice with; it's properly humbling to be reminded that she wasn't always older than I am now; it's just plain spectactular to imagine that Sally may still be reciting Dante to me, that she and I may still be painting each other's fingernails red - literally or metaphorically - into our dotage.

And having listened to my best beloved make that call to Caroline, and anticipated that one day Sally or I will receive one like it, I am opening the windows of my house wider, I am pausing longer to breathe the air so richly perfumed by friendship. I would unhesitatingly lay down my life for anyone inside my house, and I would probably wither away all on my own without the plantings around its foundation.

Writer Taffy Field lives in southern Maine.


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