Train north of La Paz
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2007

“If we wave at him, he’ll blow his horn.”

My friend Brian and I were on a road trip together, exploring the oldest alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. Just north of the Marshall County town of La Paz, a bridge carries US 31 over these railroad tracks. We had stopped our car nearby, and walked out onto the bridge.

We waved, and sure enough, the engineer blew the horn.

Brian and I met in the seventh grade, as former sixth graders from several elementary schools on South Bend’s southeast side all came together in middle school. Who knows why people click and friendships happen, but we clicked, and friendship happened. We’re still friends today, more than 40 years later.

I miss how close we were in our school days. He want to one Indiana college and I another, and then he and his wife moved to New Jersey for a job while I stayed put. In these pre-email days we exchanged the occasional letter, but I wondered if our friendship had irrevocably changed and would fizzle out. That thought was painful.

Several years later they moved to Indianapolis, where I was living. They happened to buy a house about a mile away, and their kids were in the same age bracket as mine, and so we saw a lot of each other. When my marriage ended, Brian kept meeting with me to help me through. He even testified at my divorce trial.

Then they moved back to South Bend when Brian’s wife got a really good job at Notre Dame. I was a little jealous of them getting to live in our hometown again! I saw less of Brian, of course. When I was in South Bend and rang him up, our habit was to visit this little Irish pub downtown and talk while we sipped Irish whiskey. Another time, when I was badly depressed after a very rough year, Margaret and I drove up to South Bend to get away and Brian and his wife met us at a popular downtown restaurant for dinner and drinks. It was exactly what I needed to start to pull myself out of that funk.

Brian stayed in South Bend until his kids had all grown up. The youngest was entering college when he and his wife decided to move to North Carolina to be close to the headquarters of the company Brian worked for.

Just as when he moved to New Jersey, I found their move to North Carolina to be challenging. I liked it that I could pop up to South Bend to see him! His North Carolina home is ten hours away by car.

Over the years both of us have made other friends, some of whom have become closer to us than he and I ever were. There were times Brian came to Indianapolis and didn’t call because he had made big plans with another friend. Sometimes I went to South Bend and didn’t call because I had made family plans. But contrary to my long-ago worries, our friendship never fizzled. Whenever we did see each other, it was always easy and comfortable.

Last summer Brian texted that he was in town, and wondered if we could meet for lunch. I’m so glad I was available.

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14 responses to “Old friends”

  1. Bill Helbing Avatar
    Bill Helbing

    Great story about reconnecting with your friend. Last summer I reconnected with a high school friend and it was a lot of fun. My wife and I are going to go up to the twin cities this summer and a ride an excursion train that he works as a brakeman.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  2. Ben Cotton Avatar

    I remember sitting in an airport restaurant with Brian a few years ago. He was telling me about his long-time friend Jim who is really into photography and old roads. I said “Jim Grey? I read his blog!”

    For all of the yuck that the Internet has brought, it has certainly made keeping in touch with old friends a lot easier.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The world, she truly is small!

  3. tbm3fan Avatar

    I wouldn’t know as that is only possible if you live in the same area a very long time. I was born in NYC and then lived in the Long Island area till four, then Bogota, NJ till eight, then Catonsville, MD till 12, Canoga Park, CA till 14, and then finally San Diego through college. The long time friend in San Diego was really from the years 1969-85 when he moved to Colorado and has been there ever since. We lost contact in 1986 after the move with our lives very busy with careers so no more. A long time friend in the Bay Area starting in 1991 was 48 when I met him. Swedish fellow who introduced me to Asia travel. We would visit different restaurants in San Francisco and go out for drinks, and had long visits talking in his home office when I lived in The City. Unfortunately Covid got in the way the last few years while at the same time suffering demantia and he passed away last May. Today, I KNOW a lot of people to have a conversation with, but as for friends in the strict sense of the word there are none now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My first wife moved a lot as a kid too, and marveled at my longtime friendships. She had no experience with that.

      It’s a sad fact of life that as we age, our friend group shrinks and disappears.

  4. Dennis Mook Avatar

    A lovely story. I grew up in a small town in western PA. Three other guys lived in the same block as my family and the four of us became close friends. We went to the same grade school, junior high and high school. We all went our separate ways to college, got married, had kids, careers, moved around the country, but managed to keep loosely in touch. Two of my friends have been married three times and two of us are still on our ‘starter’ wives! For the past twenty-some years we’ve managed to pick a place and all of us get together for three to five days. We’re in our mid-seventies now, have been friends (more like brothers) since we have any memories at all, know just about everything about each other and, as you say, whenever we get together it is “easy and comfortable.” Being together is like being home, no matter where we are. Thanks for writing that post.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, you are a fortunate man indeed!

  5. Nancy Herget Avatar
    Nancy Herget

    Love the train….reminds me of Handley!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes indeed! But this is a lot farther northwest! :-)

  6. brineb58 Avatar

    What a great story!!! I have a few friends that have lasted over 50 years and like most of us, we don’t either live close or our schedules don’t align, but it is always like “the next day” whenever we get together … old friends are the best, even though you don’t get to see them as much as you would like!!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m pleased you enjoyed it! It really is wonderful to have friends who knew us back when.

  7. J P Avatar

    I loved this story. I have not done as well at maintaining childhood friendships, but did reconnect awhile back with a grade school friend through an incredible coincidence. My son the priest was talking with a parishioner in Wisconsin. Somehow her childhood in Fort Wayne came up and it turned out she was my friend’s sister.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it crazy how that can happen? I lost track of a dear old friend for 20 years and then one day my Aunt Betty asked me if I knew so-and-so; it turns out they worked together.

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