The “Treasure” of old friends

Last week I went on one of my “pilgrimages” back to Appleton Wisconsin, where I began by career when I went to work as a young marketer at Kimberly Clark in 1985. As is my way, I visited a number of my “old haunts,” including Jacobs Market (a magnificent butcher shop), City Park (across the street from my old apartment) and the campus of Lawrence University (where my wife Jennie lived and worked as a dorm director the year before we were married.) While the sights, smells and tastes of my quick visit all hit home, nothing was more significant than the visits I had with a number of “old friends.”

First, after picking up some wine and delicious bacon (from Jacobs Market of course), I went to visit Steve and Nina. Steve started at K-C the same time that I did, and we were marketing assistants in different departments. While we worked for different bosses and even in different buildings, our jobs were very similar and many a night I would “hang out” with Steve and his wife Nina and their new son Wilson. They were my closest friends in Wisconsin for sure! What is wonderful and hilarious is that I have become “reacquainted” with Wilson as a young high performing business executive over the past few years and really enjoy his company and his fine taste in wine! Steve and Nina were so generous to host me last week, and Nina (once again) cooked a tremendous dinner that included beautiful steaks from Jacobs (of course, do you see a trend??) After a restful night and a good cup of coffee, I headed out to spend time with another old Wisconsin friend, Bruce Paynter.

As some of you know, Bruce was an old boss from K-C who was a very close friend, and who passed away from ALS in 2009. I have written a number of essays about Bruce and you can find them on my blog archive under the heading, “Lessons from Bruce Paynter.” Bruce is still a very strong presence in my thinking and my life; I use his thoughts, principles and sayings in my work/life all the time. Last week I went over to visit his grave, and spend some time with “my old friend.”

Bruce is buried in a beautiful old cemetery near the Fox River in Appleton. The morning was cool and I went and grabbed a coffee at Bruce’s favorite spot on College ave. (ACOCA Coffee) and went and “visited” with Bruce. I spent almost an hour at his grave that morning, remembering Bruce, re-reading a couple of my essays about his dying days, saying a few prayers and walking around “his corner” of the cemetery. It was a wonderful morning and as always I hated to have to “say” goodbye. Leaving Riverside Cemetery, I headed out into the country to visit Bruce’s favorite cheese factory, The Union Star cheese co-op in Zitau Wisconsin. They were packing string cheese that morning and I picked up a few “treats” for my lunch guests and headed back into town.

Lunch was at the Four Seasons Family Restaurant in Neenah and I met up with Marilyn and Donna! The “smile-filled” picture above does not do it justice, but we caught up, told stories, laughed and enjoyed a delicious meal (more on that later) and really enjoyed our time together. They are both doing great and like Steve; I worked with both of these wonderful ladies at K-C starting in 1985. Donna and Marilyn also worked closely with Bruce and both knew him well long after I left Kimberly –Clark. Sadly, we all became “re-connected” at Bruce’s funeral. It was great to share pictures of our families, catching up on acquaintances and a very “small-world” story that included Donna and Jacobs Market and 10 pounds of ground chuck!! I will save that one for another essay but it’s absolutely hilarious! We had a “lively” waitress named Pam who put up with “Bill from Georgia” and gave us extra napkins so Marilyn could avoid the pickles and any pickle juice left on her plate (what a hoot!!) It was a wonderful lunch and I look forward to seeing those two wonderful women again at the Four Seasons on my next trip to the area.

I share all of these visits to highlight the “treasure” of old friends. As you head to my stage of life, 55 years old, a thirty two year career, with one child in college and one a rising junior in high school, its easy to focus on more “earthly” treasures. One’s IRA, or 401k, or maybe the 529 account balances seem to take center stage and while retirement planning and college savings are both vital, I am suggesting that my trip last week is a great reminder that the “deeper treasure” is the love and relationships that we have in our lives. Whether re-connecting with family members, work acquaintances, or a few old friends in Wisconsin, we should all try to focus in on that “treasure” in our lives, and find reasons/excuses to get out of the rat race of a busy life and go spend a day or a lunch with the “treasures” in our lives. I hope that you enjoy your visits with “old friends” as much as I did last week!