Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What is a True Friend?

Those of you out there who fancy yourselves sticklers about the English language (and I am actually one myself) will probably take issue with the title of this post.  I am not sure if it's good English or not.  I mean, can a "friend" be a "what?" 

But I titled this post that way because I don't want to just talk about friendship, I want to talk about how to be a true friend, what qualities that constitutes.  And I also want to pay tribute to someone who passed away recently who embodied all of those qualities.

When I was a young girl, I remember my mother telling me that we are lucky if, when we die, we have true friends that we can count on one hand.  I thought that was very odd because at the time I had many friends that were besties.

Now that I am a woman of a certain age, I know what my mother meant.  If we are lucky, we all have many friends throughout our lives.  But as we get older, our lives take us away from our friends or our friends leave us, so that when we find ourselves nearing the end of our lives, few are left and we are fortunate indeed if we can count five true friends still in our sphere.

We have different kinds of friends and for various reasons.  We might have friends because we share common interests or we have work friends or people who are friends because their kids are on our kids' soccer team or we might consider our neighbors our friends.  But when it comes to our true friends, what we love about them and expect from them is more than just common interests, our work, the soccer team or their living close by. A true friend is so much more than that.

My friend Jim, who passed away last week, was one such person, a true friend for 47 years.

I first met him during my senior year of college.  He was an antiques dealer who had a studio next to his home where he lived with his mother. He was from, as they say, old money.  He was the epitome of a gentleman and dressed like one. He often wore a jaunty hat, carried a cane (often one with a secret compartment) and sometimes sported spats!

He hired college students from my college to be night watchmen at his studio, because it was filled with beautiful and valuable furniture and art objects.  The studio was not open to the public nor did he have a staff. The studio was open by appointment only as he sold mostly to other dealers. Jim would hang out in the studio.  It was his place of business, after all, but I think he also hung out there to have a social life away from his aging mother, whom he felt responsible for and was taking care of. He enjoyed socializing and, because Jim had great charisma, those college watchmen and their friends would hang out there with Jim at night. It was 1970 and I was one of those kids who came to know Jim that way.

When I first met Jim, I thought he was really old.  I realize now he was only about 15 years older than I was, but through my 21 year-old-eyes, everyone over 30 looked old to me.  The studio was a wonderland of colonial era highboys and art and beautiful objects.  We played billiards on an antique billiards table, backgammon on a 17th century mother-of-pearl inlaid backgammon table and had fun trying on his collection of hats. 

As night fell, the studio was a source of mystery to passersby who would press their noses against the glass to see who and what was inside.  He called those people "the children of the night."  I think that's what he called us too.

Over the years that followed college, my husband and I lived in the studio briefly as caretakers, but when I moved back to California to find my first library job, I lost touch with Jim for a few years, but when I discovered he had moved to California, we started up where we left off and have been in touch regularly for the last 41 years.

I spent many evenings with him and others playing cards and games (his version of Mahjong was a particular favorite) and laughing.  Lots of laughter. Jim had a wonderful sense of humor and a warmth that made people gravitate to him.  He was also extremely thoughtful. He never missed phoning me on my birthday, and when my son was born, he bought him his first stroller. I took my parents to meet him; He walked me down the aisle when I married Hubby in his back garden,

and when I was going through a bad divorce he gave me comfort.  He was thoughtful and caring and that is why he had so many friends. Everywhere he went, people just wanted to be around him.  He had friends in the highest social stratosphere and friends with no money, but they were all interesting and loved Jim. 

One of my favorite stories about him is when he was helping me move.  He suffered from narcolepsy, so it was not unusual for him to nod off briefly during conversations, but he took medication that allowed him to drive.  So he was driving a U-Haul truck for me, helping me move away from a place and a marriage.  I was chatting away as we were driving the 30+ miles to my new home when I suddenly realized he wasn't responding to me.  I nudged him and said "Jim!" really loudly. He had nodded off! He said he didn't remember anything for the last five miles!

I attended a few antiques shows with Jim and was always amazed at his eye and his taste.  He would find the most interesting items and always knew exactly what they were.  He would hold up an item and ask me if I knew what it was.  I didn't and he would say, "It's a utensil especially for separating the sections of a grapefruit!"  Or something like that.  He was highly respected in the antiques world as a man who knew the provenance of practically everything and as someone who was extremely fair and honest.

When I moved from California to Seattle, we still stayed in touch regularly and when we would visit, he would always share some wonderful object with me.

This is my favorite.  Do you know what it is? 
(see the end of this post for the answer).

So many happy memories.  I could go on and on, but the point of this post is not just to pay tribute to my friend, though I hope it does. 

What I want to do here is plant a seed, to get you thinking about the people who are and have been your true friends. 

What is a true friend?

  • A true friend is always there for you, always takes your calls
  • A true friend lights up when she sees you
  • A true friend is your own personal cheerleader
  • A true friend is happy for your success and happiness even if he or she is not happy or successful
  • A true friend listens to you and cares about your feelings
  • A true friend makes time for you so you can create some memories together
  • A true friend goes out of his way for you
  • A true friend is thoughtful and generous
  • A true friend rarely lets you down
  • A true friend loves you warts and all

Jim was a true friend and a true gentleman.


I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Now that I have planted the seed, I want this post to be a cautionary tale for you, so that you will tell YOUR true friends how much they mean to you because they will not be around forever. Do it now before it's too late so you will not have any regrets. Even though I have lived 1000 miles away from Jim for the past 12 years, I visited him several times a year, and in his last year of life when he was suffering, I am so glad I was able to be there with him, to share our memories, tell him I loved him and how much his friendship meant to me. Those moments and all of the memories of our friendship comfort me now, and I have no regrets other than that he is no longer on this earth and I wish I had had more time with him.

So my mother was right.  Now that I am nearing 70 and every year on earth with my friends is a blessing, I consider myself lucky for the small group of true friends I have and have had.  It takes effort to have true friends.  You have to make time in your busy schedule to be together so you can create memories, but it's worth it, because when that true friend is gone, you will have those memories to keep you company.

So do it now.  It's the day after Memorial Day.  Why not also remember your friends who are still with you and make sure they know you cherish them?!

Oh, and that treasured object?  It's an elegant and old, but defunct $100,000 chip from the casino in Monte Carlo.  But it is priceless to me, just like my true friend, Jim!


Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday

for my review of

"The Nice Guys"



 The Week in Reviews

(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)


 and the latest on


"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before

 I Die Project."

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  1. I had quite forgotten his use of the term "Children of the Night." Thank you for that.

  2. Both out looking in and in looking out.