Why we’re never too old to make new friends.
It seems like yesterday that I found myself in the dining area of the Ozark Riverview Manor, an assisted living community overlooking the Finley River. It was a long-awaited day. The room was festive and lively. People were laughing, chatting, and enjoying their cake and punch. The friends and family ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers to elderly residents.
Everyone was there to celebrate. In fact, more than 100 people had assembled for the occasion. My grandfather, Richard Taylor Gardner Sr., otherwise known as Pawpy Dick, was turning 100.
I looked around astonished. The impact of my grandfather’s life was poignant. Our biological family was small. His childhood friends were long gone. Yet he had filled a room with people he knew personally. People who picked him up for church, listened to his stories, laughed at his jokes, read to him when he lost his vision, and appreciated his quirky t-shirts.
While many of my friends were lamenting about the loneliness that plagued their aging parents and grandparents, my grandfather was surrounded by people he loved, and people who loved him back.
Interestingly, Pawpy was a simple, ordinary man. He worked most of his life for the Frisco Railroad. He was married to my grandmother for 45 years. They had two children. He sang in a barbershop quartet and wrote his memoirs for fun, and was practically a lifetime member of South Street Christian Church.
Yet he made some extraordinary decisions as he aged, especially after my grandmother’s death. He stayed actively engaged with people – people of all ages and from all walks of life.
When it was no longer safe to live alone, he moved into a senior community closer to my parents. This meant leaving his neighbors behind and opening his life to a new set of friends. When he could no longer drive, it meant leaving his church home in Springfield and joining a new church community in Ozark.
These were hard, painful decisions. They required humility, vulnerability, and grit. Yet he was intentional. And I was witnessing the fruits of his resolve.
On that November day in 2010, I saw my high school biology teacher across the room and waved. I wondered how she met Pawpy. I met the 18-year-old Eagle Scout who befriended my grandfather at his new church. I heard stories from my dad’s friends, who stayed in touch through the years. And the list went on … a story matched with each name on his guest list.
He was never too old to make new friends.
Even today, as I near the half-century mark, his actions inspire me. They encourage me to get to know others, especially those younger than me. They remind me to take initiative to stay in touch with friends. To go out of my way to meet new people and extend hospitality. To be intentional about building relationships and staying connected. To live with my end in mind.