Friday, January 28, 2022

Insight: Here’s to good friends

From left, Ed Pierce, James Smith and Mike Hodges serving
in the U.S. Air Force in Bonames, Germany in 1978. 
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

NPR's Code Switch program recently issued a simple challenge to listeners. Show hosts asked those tuning in for a moment of self-reflection to identify their five closest friends and then link what traits that these five individuals all have in common.

It wanted to know if they were all hilarious, kind, intelligent or even if they were of the same race as you.

This got me to thinking and here’s my Top Five Closest Friends, the reasons they appear on my list, and what common traits they all share.

Three first three names have been in my life for some time: Janet Howland, Steve Roake, and Mike Hodges.

Little did I know way back in Mr. Ward’s eighth-grade Social Studies class at Carlton Webster Junior High School in the fall of 1966, that some 56 years later Janet Howland would be a friend for life and someone that I greatly admire. I was assigned the seat behind her in that class and found her to be someone with a great sense of humor and very down to earth.

After high school graduation, Janet became the driving force behind our Class of 1971 reunions and the glue that keeps us all together as a group more than five decades later. She is unselfish, caring and as kind as they get and a genuine leader who inspires others for the collective good of our class.

I have known Steve Roake since 1976, when I accidentally set his beard on fire while playing a practical joke on him. We worked together and for some reason I thought it would be funny to place an exploding cigarette in his pack during lunch. When I admitted to him that I pulled that prank on him, I expected him to get mad and clobber me, but instead he laughed and invited me to his home for supper to meet his wife and children. It launched a friendship that has lasted 46 years now, even though he still lives in New Mexico, and I am in Maine.

Mike Hodges served in the same unit as I did in the U.S. Air Force in Germany in the late 1970s and several times asked me to assist him in transporting fuel and other supplies back and forth from our home base to locations out in the field in the military. During those long drives, we had some intense discussions about many different topics, and I discovered that we shared a mutual appreciation for many of the same bands and musicians. He owned some sophisticated stereo equipment and to this very day, I can still feel my ears ringing from listening to ELO’s “Do Ya” cranked up to concert-level decibels when their “New World Record” album was first released.

Naming two other close friends for this special list wasn’t difficult as they certainly deserve mentioning as well.

Nick Vecchioli has been a steadfast buddy of mine since junior high school and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known. He always was cheerful and humorous in high school chorus and became an accomplished musician in his own right. What many do not know about him is that he’s also a wonderful writer. He once emailed me a copy of a short story he had written called “The Green Futon” about how a piece of furniture connected him with his children during a difficult divorce years ago and that is as fine a composition as I’ve ever read and deserves to be published.

The final friend I’d put on my list is Chuck Young, whom I played with on the same junior varsity football team way back in 1970. At our 30th class reunion, I ran into Chuck again and he‘s the same charming and outgoing person I knew in high school although now retired after a long career in law enforcement. A few months later, he asked me to help line up a sports celebrity for a charity golf tournament he was involved with, and I was pleased that he asked me to assist him with that. Since Facebook launched, anytime Chuck posts anything, it’s always worthwhile for me to read and see what he’s been up to or thinks about issues.

What common thread links these people? Janet, Nick, Chuck, and I all went to high school together. I worked with both Mike and Steve. But even though these five all have different backgrounds and lead different lives, they all share many traits that I deeply value in my friends.

Each of these friends laugh at my jokes and can lift me up when I’m experiencing trying times with just a simple conversation. They are incredible problem solvers and have overcome significant circumstances in their lives that others would not be able to survive.

They would go out of their way to lend a hand if I asked for assistance and although they’re not all from the same race, they have always treated people of all skin colors and ethnicities with respect.

In my lifetime I have made some remarkable friends and any number of them could have made this list. Genuine friendship does last forever if you’re fortunate.  <

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