A few weeks after I graduated from high school in June of 1991 I was on an airplane with 11 other people from my hometown to spend nearly a month in Europe. We went to Sweden, Denmark, England and Scotland, making new friends and memories along the way. That trip also marked the last time I saw my friend Andy who lived in the small town of Witham, a short train ride northeast of London. Andy and I had become friends a year before when he traveled to America with a Witham Boys Brigade group that was hosted by the Brigade in Neenah, Wisconsin, where I lived. We had hit it off immediately in 1990 as both of us were athletic and competitive, not to mention exceedingly good looking! We both looked forward to renewing our friendship the following summer when my Brigade group made the long trip across the pond. We shared many memorable moments over the course of just a few short weeks during the summers of 1990 and 1991. Since that was before widespread email and Facebook we were forced to keep in touch the old fashioned way…by writing letters. That worked for a while but, as we were both attending university, the frequency of our exchanges slowed until we lost touch completely.
Fast forward fifteen years to 2006. I received an email from someone at Brigade in my hometown that a guy by the name of Andy from England had contacted them, asking about me. That email included Andy’s contact information, so the ball was in my court to reestablish contact. A ton of memories flooded my mind. Camp Onaway (the week-long camp Andy attended with me in 1991), Six Flags Great America, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame tour, jokes and pranks, touring London, and, of course, a little bit of guilt for falling out of touch with my friend. That evening I sent Andy an email. He invited me to check out this new thing called Facebook so that we could share pictures of our families with one another. I had heard of it, and, even though I didn’t know much about it, I thought I’d check it out. Well, you know what’s happened with that platform since then. I even invited Andy to participate in a Fantasy Football league that I run because I knew of his passion for American football. Even though his favorite team is the Miami Dolphins I figured he’d be a good addition to our league. Besides, who wouldn’t want to try to engage a British bloke in a bit of trans-Atlantic smack talk? It was bloody brilliant! I’m pretty sure he won the league title in only his second or third year in the league…defeating me in the playoffs along the way. Both of us talked of wanting to get together again but both of us were married and had young children, meaning that a trip would likely have to wait for some time.
That time just arrived with my trip with my daughter to Europe. We’re currently 38,000 feet above Canada on our way back to Seattle after three weeks on holiday. Andy and his wife, Melissa, graciously opened their home to my daughter, E, and me for our last weekend in Europe. While I certainly enjoyed my time with E seeing sights in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, I was always most looking forward to catching up with Andy and meeting his wife and three children. Andy had agreed to pick us up from the train station closest to his town after he finished work that Friday afternoon. Through the wonders of free wifi at a local fro-yo place we exchanged texts that pinpointed the location and time where he would get us. As we waited for him I began to wonder if we would be able to pick up our friendship after 23 years. Would it feel natural or forced? As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.
Andy pulled up in his car and put out his hand which I ignored and gave him a hug. Not sure if the Brits hug much, but this American is a hugger. After a short drive we arrived at his house and were greeted by his family. While he had warned them that I’m tall, I guess seeing someone have to duck under the door elicits giggles of amazement just like in America. Once past the initial greetings we started in on our wonderful feast of pizza. The best part of the evening was just visiting with my friend and his family, who welcomed us warmly. Even better, Andy’s oldest daughter and my daughter seemed to click, just like he and I had 24 years ago. After the youngest two kids went to bed, the girls (mom included) watched a movie in another room while Andy and I kept on catching up. We talked about all sorts of things, silly stuff like sports (he taught me about cricket and I taught him about baseball) and serious stuff like the passing of our fathers (mine in 2007, his in 2010), how our moms were doing and the joys and challenges of being a father and husband. The conversation flowed naturally and easily as if we had been friends since childhood. And that was just the first evening.
We spent all of Saturday doing things as a large group. Touring an old English estate and taking in an outdoor performance of “La Boheme” opera. Our families continued to bond as Andy’s four year old daughter took a particular liking to E and spent much of the opera snuggled in her lap. Near the end of the performance she grew of being there and started to collect sticks from the ground. I decided to intervene and invented a game where she and I took turns lining the sticks up in a row. She took to it immediately and was no longer bored. Andy seemed bemused by my game and I was glad that my dad instinct was able to help entertain his four year old until the show was over. It was a similar “game” that I’d successfully used at restaurants using sugar packets. Score one for the SAHD bag of tricks.
After a delicious full English breakfast prepared (for the second day in a row, I might add) by Mel on Sunday morning, we left for a day of sight seeing in London. Andy and his daughter accompanied us as we saw many of the iconic London sights: Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Horse Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Again, both the dads and the daughters got along splendidly. The girls had, without planning it, dressed almost identically. They laughed and posed for countless pictures together. They had fun teasing each other about their failed attempts to talk with an American or British accent. Finally, though, it was time to wrap up our wonderful time together. We took the Tube to the station nearest our hotel and walked up the stairs together. As we walked both Andy and I grew quiet. I know that I had a rush of emotions welling up inside of me. I stopped a couple of blocks short of our hotel and suggested that Andy and his daughter could head back to his wife and kids, that we would be able to get back easily. I wanted to say much more to my dear friend about how much his friendship over the years had meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, a heartfelt hug conveyed the message between two misty-eyed blokes. I choked out the sentiment that we shouldn’t let 23 years pass between our next visit. For the sake of our friendship and that of our daughters!