Friendships Count

Friendships Count

I did something very important–and very difficult–today.

I stepped away from all of my kid pick-up obligations.  I did not finish all the (smelly, sweaty) laundry. I left clients to wait for an answer, bank deposits to be made and a desk to be restored to order.

Feeling guilty–but determined, I picked up a friend,

dropped off the youngest for fun at a neighbor’s, delivered the older two to lacrosse camp at West River Park, and continued up Route 30 for about another hour.  There, we two friends met up with two more friends.  They, too, had arranged for their kids to be occupied and transported.

Finally, after nearly a year in planning, we spent two glorious hours on horseback.  We road trails through the woods and on back roads.  We looked for bear in the woods, half wanting to see them–and half hoping we wouldn’t, for fear of spooking our faithful mounts. We shared stories.  The two that know about horses helped the two that didn’t.  We took photos.  We laughed.  

We hugged goodbye, which is a true goodbye.  One of this group is leaving the area next week.  We are both glad that we managed to get together to do this, and yet sad that we can’t do it again.

It’s a terribly complex thing, this friendship idea.  And it’s a wonderfully simple thing, too.  As responsibilities mount, it seems much harder to “find” time to be a good friend, or to even just be with friends.  

I one of my kids in particular right now with his friends. All of them played basketball, so they have even named themselves “the squad”.  It’s taken this group a few years to come together, and it could only happen in their two years at the middle school, as they come from surrounding towns, private schools and the three town elementary schools.  They are a solid unit now: loud and obnoxious sometimes, yes, and always ready to gather for action.  (We parents count ourselves lucky, too, as we all get along pretty well.)

The past month, I’ve been calling my own mother, checking up on an absolutely lovely lady named Trudy.  Trudy has been friend to our entire family for literally all my life. Mom notes that she met Trudy when she married my father, 51 years ago.

I knew Trudy first as the minister’s wife to our little country church, located just a half mile up the road from our place.  At age five, she became a daily presence in our lives: she drove the big yellow school bus through our neighborhood.  (We three sisters each have a photo dutifully capturing our first rides to school with Trudy capably behind the wheel, happily marking the occasion.) Throughout our school years, Trudy was another of those smiling faces on Sunday mornings, someone who cheered us on and expected us to do well, one of the neighbors you knew you could always count on, but not necessarily someone you thought of very often.

As an adult, I’ve come to know Trudy in a completely different way–as a real person, with a complete life outside the self-centered way I knew her as I was growing up. I’ve loved listening to her stories and opinions–about her work in Washington, DC, during the war, about political positions and human rights, even about which jewelry she prefers and why. I marveled at her energy and enthusiasm, her commitment to keeping active and engaged, even at 93.  

But, in early spring, Trudy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mom and another neighbor, Millie, have taken turns bringing food and checking in on Trudy, even calling in the family from their far-flung corners of the globe. Mom has been sending all of us updates, like yesterday’s, where she explained that although Trudy was not responsive, she still stopped, and brought her some flowers and talked to her for a moment.

And today, Mom sent word that Trudy had died early this morning.  My sister wrote an email back to Mom, noting, “I told my daughter how wonderful it was that you were such a great friend and so supportive to her right to the very end.  I think sometimes people are so unsure what to do that they hang back, and it means so much to the person and the family when they are more willing to do the wonderful things you always do…. What a wonderful thing to have the blessing of true friends… Trudy was inspirational to so many of us, and I am thankful to have been included as her friend!”

I am ending my day feeling a little less guilty about not accomplishing much of what I should have.  I believe my children are watching me put friends first today… just like my sisters and I learned.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools–this fall, only at the high school and elementary school levels.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at

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