View from a Prairie Home

By Hege Herfindahl, Columnist

When I hear of people who rekindle childhood friendships, I feel a little pang of regret. My friends from childhood all live so far away. And I have not lived in Norway for 47 years now. When I first emigrated, I would go back once a year, then every second year. But still, I was just visiting for a limited time. And family came first. My mother, my siblings, aunts, cousins. Some friends, if I had time.

And cultivating friendships takes time and also effort. I remember sitting in a café with my high school best buddies and listening to them talk. About their vacations to the south of France. Their careers in business. Local politics. The latest efforts to improve Norwegian schools. I felt I had nothing to contribute. I wasn’t even able to vocalize any fairly intelligent comments to their discussions. 

My college roommate always came to see me when I was at my mother’s. She even took the trip to the United States. But whereas I had small children, she had chosen to remain single. To develop her career in academia. She watched in incredulity this new Hege, gone from intellectual soul mate to domestic farm wife. She vocalized her dismay.  We lost contact, which, of course, was inevitable. We all develop sometimes in different ways and we don’t cling to friendships that make us uncomfortable.

Unlike family, we can choose our friends. And I was given the wonderful lot in life to live in a close-knit community of kind and caring souls. I have had and still have many friends that are a joy to be around.  When my life takes a dive into darkness, they are there to support me. But most of the time, we just have fun together.

This is one of the countless things I love about being retired; I have time for my friends again. And I have even been able to develop new friendships, which has been an unexpected blessing. I understand better now, in my old age, the importance of having friends. And to not take them for granted.

When I was working, most of my energy was spent teaching foreign languages to high school students and commuting 40 miles each way to Belgrade. I taught German and Norwegian. Spanish was taught on Interactive Television. But one day, the school board decided to hire a Spanish teacher. I thought that would be the end of my programs, but an even split between the three languages happened. And I became friends with the Spanish teacher, Nancy.

We had so much in common. Our background far away from Belgrade. Our view of the world. And teaching in adjoining rooms, we did daily favors for each other; like watching each other’s students when one of us needed to dash somewhere for a few minutes. We also spent time together in the summers and became close to each other’s families. She rejoiced in my many grandchildren. I rushed to her side when her son tried suicide.

Then, I retired and she moved to Albuquerque to live closer to her family. But Albuquerque is not Norway. We visited and chatted on the phone. She called every day right after Patrick died. I called when her son again was in crisis. And we even could visit each other, since Albuquerque is just short plane ride away.

Last weekend, she and her husband attended a wedding in Des Moines. She called me. I cancelled my weekend plans and Grant and I drove down. As we drove through Iowa, it got warmer. In Des Moines, some of the trees were blooming. The shrubs had tiny leaves. We were basking in the warmer air. Tim and Nancy, clad in thin coats, were shivering. And we laughed and dashed to a restaurant to share an evening of conversation, more laughter and a few tears.

Everyone will experience problems if they are lucky enough to grow older. Knees that don’t work like they used to. Energy that wanes. Osteoporosis. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Loss of loved ones. But life goes on. We have to grab what we still have and enjoy the life we have left. And appreciate what we still can do. We can still drive south. We still have friends. And I am grateful and happy for all of them.