We can’t make old friends!” This from a bear of a man, moments after we had just hugged.

I was there on their Sinkin’ Creek farm to convey my condolences. One of those entities we had agreed could not be made had passed. His father; my old friend.

Someone more articulate than us might have expounded upon this thought, explaining that those relationships counted by the greater fractions of a century were developed over time and could not be easily replaced, certainly not within a temporal span measured in mere months. Perhaps not even one counted in years.

New friendships, though important, could never share the decades of experiences — both good and bad. Would never be as comfortable in silence; as celebratory with just a grin.

New friendships had not known us at our worse; had not helped shepherd us from our own private abyss. Had not watched and encouraged our departure from a wanton style of life; nurtured our growth into what now was a much more pleasant commodity.

Given of their time and heart; when we were young and such dreams as we would one day share were too often pushed aside for frolic and foolishness.

Old friends are those with whom we sweated in search of an extra dollar; laughed when such efforts were in vain. Those who had our backs in battle; for myself only on courts and fields. For many, in jungles and deserts of far off lands. Old friends were those who stood around fires as running hounds delighted us with their ancient songs.

Old friends emptied their pockets to assure we drank as well as they and treated us to a hot meal when luck was just around the next corner. Made room at the table for an extra player who believed he had a “hot hand.” Unshouldered their firearm to give us first shot at some game. Knew us at our worst and hoped for us something better.

It has been said that it is not the number of friends you can count, but the number you can count on that truly matters. With old friends, we have decades of counting on each other. With favors done before requests were even made. Boons extended without a tally kept.

There is a saying I heard as a child when someone passed: “We’re hurting for you.” It expressed the empathy of friends in time of loss. It was generally accompanied with acts of support and kindness; graves dug and meals furnished. Prayers offered.

There is a beauty to the Ozark language that I feel I have once again failed to capture. Between old friends, phrases such as the one which introduced this week’s column need not explanation nor example.

I knew all that this bereaved son meant to convey. My acknowledgement of what his father had meant to me, still meant with his memory; I expressed with a parting hug.

Old friends pledge their honor and their hearts with a handshake; a look. What we are not good at are goodbyes.

As this waits for publication, I have two more friends who now stand before that final curtain. A recent diagnosis of pneumonia prevents my visitation. One, a woodcarver that served his country in WW II and has been an example for us all with his knowledge and application of the Word.

The other, a businessman and family man as well. A fellow Believer who will also know that “peace beyond understanding.” A man who knew well how to have fun.

Godspeed.

By Rick Mansfield

(Rick Mansfield is a seasoned storyteller and writer, and is always looking for new audiences. He can be reached at emansfield2004@yahoo.com.)

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