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WOSTER: Flotilla of friends

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opinion Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

The Grateful Dead were singing about truckin' when they did the line, "Together, more or less in line,'' but they could have been talking about the way six old friends kayak the Missouri River.

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When I say six old friends, I'm talking about Nancy and me and two couples who are some of the people we've known longest and best in our 45 years in Pierre. When I say old, yeah, I guess I mean in terms of age, but I mean much more than that.

The six of us are pretty old by most standards. Nancy is the youngest of us. She was born just a bit before World War II ended. Virge is the oldest of us. He served in the Army during the Korean War. Nancy, Carol and Kay are nurses, all retired. Well, Kay goes back a couple of days a week, but she considers herself mostly retired. Virge and Dick are retired state workers. I'm the only one of us working a full-time job, and now and then my work gets in the way of the perfect river outing on a mid-week afternoon in the summer.

Work wasn't a factor on Monday. State offices close on Memorial Day, and there are few better ways to spend that afternoon than with old friends, familiar friends, on a familiar stretch of Missouri River that has become another old friend over the past four decades and more. That's why, when Kay called to talk about our first kayak voyage of the 2014 summer season, we simply said, "what time?"

Yes, Nancy and I already had talked over the afternoon and made plans for a bunch of things we would do. But as my retired-editor friend Del Griffin, of Aberdeen, once said when I hit town unexpectedly and asked if he had time for coffee, "You know, I have a mess of things I should get done today.'' He paused for a beat and continued, "Nothing on the list can't wait until tomorrow.''

Knowing how to re-arrange priorities on the fly is a real asset for a rich life.

Everyone knows that maxim, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.'' The corollary in the world of river friends is, "Never put off until tomorrow a trip on a pancake-flat river today, because you can do your other chores or tasks tomorrow, and if you can't, well, those chores or tasks weren't really very committed to getting done at all, were they?''

The thing about old friends is that they've known you long enough to have discovered many of your faults and failings. They've seen some of your worst behavior, foul moods and weak moments. They know all that, and they still call and say in so many words, "Hey, let's hang out this fine Monday afternoon, because of all the things we could be doing today, sharing the time with you is what we'd like to do.''

I read online -- and I lost the source so I'm quoting a few lines without attribution. Just so it's clear, I didn't write this line: "It's as if my old friends know me like a video and not like a picture. They know the progress and improvements I've made, which personify me much more than a picture of me at a specific time.''

A photograph is a moment in time. A video adds depth and meaning to the images. That's what the person online said, anyway, and it makes sense to me, especially after the first kayak trip of the summer.

Quite by chance, as we floated with (I said we were old) the current and paddled just enough to look like a group of kayakers, we had the opportunity to have our photograph taken. Nancy and I were back home before the photo went up on Facebook, but we didn't beat it by much. It shows the six of us side-by-side in our watercrafts, grinning happily and looking quite daft. It captured that moment.

It couldn't capture the feeling of companionship that accompanied our flotilla of old, good friends.

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