I met an old friend for lunch today at a neighborhood deli. The portions were generous. The food was good. Our sandwich and burger came with complimentary pickles the size of commercial pontoons.

We found a table in the corner. We ate. We laughed. We talked about olden days. About our age.

He is graying, there are lines on his face, and his hair is so thin he now resembles the late great Fred Mertz. It’s too bad everyone can’t avoid aging like me.

And as I sat there, eating my monster-pickle, I thought about how lucky I am to have friends.

When I was a kid, I remember a framed piece of embroidery hanging above the toilet in my aunt Eulah’s guest bathroom. The embroidery read: FRIENDS ARE OUR CHOSEN FAMILY.

I remember being fascinated with this item when I was 10 years old. I remember sitting and looking at it for long moments of powerful reflection. And as I flushed the toilet and zipped up my Husky jeans, I pondered this phrase.

Friends are our chosen family.

What did it mean? Why would my aunt go to the trouble of embroidering and framing these words?

Then again, my aunt always was a strange bird. Her house was littered in porcelain clown figurines, and her couch was covered in plastic. Her guest bathroom smelled like Shalimar bath powder.

Moreover, the whole bathroom was adorned in pink frilly stuff. Pink this. Pink that. Pink bathmat, pink shower curtain, pink decorative soaps shaped like little pieces of fruit. Pink hand towels.

Even the toilet seat had a fluffy pink carpet-cover perched atop the lid. Carpet toilet-seat covers are never a good idea. Especially if your bathroom is visited by 10-year-old boys with bad aim.

Friends are our chosen family.

This phrase mystified me. What is a friend? Why do we have them? Why are they important? Who were my friends? My real friends, I mean. Not the fake ones.

Because the world is full of fake friends. I have plenty of fake pals. So do you, probably. They’re not bad people, necessarily. They mean well.

They smile at you, they tell you what you want to hear, but they’re just sort of playacting. They aren’t your authentic friends.

They aren’t family.

Deep in your heart, you’re not even fooled by their acts. Because somehow you already know these people are just fair-weather folks. You know that if you were to ever need this person—truly need them—they would be “busy.”

If you ever landed in the emergency room, for example, a fake friend would not sit in the waiting room, texting your family members, surviving on vending machine food, sleeping on vinyl chairs until they knew you were okay.

Your fake friend would never end their Hawaiian vacation early to come home after your father died suddenly.

No. True friends, I believe, are the essence of life itself. Like condiments on a hotdog. Like paprika on a deviled egg. Like salt peanuts at a baseball game.

Have you ever had an unsalted peanut? Because I have. And they’re an affront.

My uncle Tommy Lee used to have blood pressure issues, so his wife used to make sodium-free roasted peanuts. Her peanuts tasted like eating limestone gravel.

Peanuts without salt have no purpose in this world. Peanuts are salt-delivery vehicles. That’s their reason for being. And what’s life without salt? It’s tasteless. It’s boring. It’s bland. It sucks.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Well, I hope so, because frankly I don’t have a clue.

I thank heaven for friends. For this friend in particular. He met me for lunch today and reminded me that we have been through some tough times together and survived.

He is a friend who once joined me for lunch at this very deli, when we were young men. Young men who both lived on the wrong side of the trailer park. Young men who had no prospects in life.

He sat in this booth and once told me that friends were like stars. Sometimes you can’t see them, but they’re always there.

He once let me cry in front of him when someone broke my heart. He told me I was going to be okay, although he had no idea whether I would be. And once I was finished crying that day, he even let me eat his pickle.

Because that’s all a friend is, really. A friend is the pickle that comes with your life.

Or you might say they are the salt of the earth.

31 comments

  1. Ann Thompson - September 21, 2022 6:53 am

    “In the garden of life- friends are the flowers” That is the embroidery my true chosen friend gave me years ago. It sums up our relationship. Means everything. Chosen family take effort and are well worth it- when it’s reciprocated, and it is! Especially needed as that love isn’t there in my other family. Sad but true.

    Reply
  2. Penn Wells - September 21, 2022 7:51 am

    Nice comeback on the salt thing. Love you, man. Go Dawgs.

    Reply
  3. Dianne - September 21, 2022 10:07 am

    So many thoughts on friends have been written and mean so much to many. One of my favorites given to me by a friend and embroidered on a hand towel in my half bath reads “ Good friends are like stars…you can’t always see them but you know they are there.” Thank you for this reminder. In total agreement on unsalted peanuts.

    Reply
  4. Ed (Bear) - September 21, 2022 10:32 am

    A friend is like Marigold. They love you no matter what.

    Reply
  5. PSC - September 21, 2022 11:02 am

    We lost a dear friend Monday. He made it to 93. Today a small group of family and friends will gather to share stories about how loving and giving he was. A self-taught artist who’d give away his colored pencil drawings that were beautiful, his paper mache creations that were so lifelike, and who’d tell jokes that were well-cycled but we’d always laugh as though we’d just heard them for the first time. May Roland rest in peace.

    Reply
  6. mccutchen52 - September 21, 2022 12:20 pm

    No truer words were ever spoken.

    Reply
  7. Priscilla Rodgers - September 21, 2022 12:38 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  8. Charlsie M Johnston - September 21, 2022 12:44 pm

    A definite AMEN to this one!

    Reply
  9. Patricia Gibson - September 21, 2022 1:10 pm

    So true! Real friends are a blessing for sure❤️

    Reply
  10. Suellen - September 21, 2022 1:51 pm

    Many years ago now I went through a divorce and I was left to raise 3 children on my own 2 of which were handicapped. I didn’t get any support from their father. We didn’t see him at all for 3 years. I worked full time. I went to school full time. I got depressed and eventually wound up at a therapist who always said “Depression is anger turned inside out.” and I would always reply I’m not angry. I’m sad. One night while walking with a friend along the Ohio River and talking the dam burst. I started picking up those flat river rocks and slamming them down. It felt so good. Instead of my friend thinking they were alone with a crazy person she just sat and kept handing me rocks. That’s a friend.

    Reply
    • Jan - September 22, 2022 2:29 pm

      That is a friend indeed. God bless you. And your friend.

      Reply
  11. Diane McGinnis - September 21, 2022 2:52 pm

    My favorite line, today; “ Peanuts are salt-delivery vehicles”. This old lady loves you!!!

    Reply
  12. Rhonda - September 21, 2022 2:53 pm

    Truer words were never spoken

    Reply
  13. Chris Cook - September 21, 2022 2:57 pm

    Hey,

    A friend of mine sent me a picture of you and he at the Braves game the other night. You actually looked a lot younger in that picture! Hope we get to see you in person soon. If you ever get lost and end up in Zebulon Georgia, give me a call and I’ll buy your lunch, and give you my pickle too! Be blessed – loved your work for many years now.

    Chris Cook

    Reply
  14. Stacey Wallace - September 21, 2022 3:04 pm

    You’re 100 % correct, Sean. The country song, “You Find Out Who Your Friends Are” agrees with what you said. I thank God for my true friends who are really family. Love to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  15. Henry Puckett - September 21, 2022 3:42 pm

    Every year close to Christmas our daughter has a party at her house with her friends. She always posts a picture that refers to them as her Chosen Family. That always hurts.

    Reply
  16. Jocelyn - September 21, 2022 4:17 pm

    You can count your friends on one hand. No truer words. Cheers to another great story for life.

    Reply
  17. Tom - September 21, 2022 4:25 pm

    Yes they are and they are rare. If you have a couple you are blessed.

    Reply
  18. Beryl - September 21, 2022 4:45 pm

    I wasn’t sure where the salted peanuts story was going. Nicely done on the “salt of the earth” reference. Bravo!

    Reply
  19. Joe - September 21, 2022 5:01 pm

    Just dill with it!

    Reply
  20. Norman - September 21, 2022 5:04 pm

    Great story Sean! I’m 68 and appreciate my friends and family now more than ever Over the last few years I’ve made an effort to catch up with some old friends, colleagues, teachers, mentors, etc. and it really is a good feeling to thank somebody for their help when you were coming along. BTW I’m going to round up some friends and we’re going to go over to Jefferson and check out some of those ribs. Sounded like a fun outing!

    Reply
  21. Stephanie - September 21, 2022 7:36 pm

    You should write about Alabama BOILED Peanuts

    Reply
  22. MAM - September 21, 2022 8:21 pm

    Friends are our treasures, and we need to meet with them or talk to them more often. I know I get consumed by the busyness of every day, but when I take time to talk to friends or have lunch with one or more, it rejuvenates me and my mood. Glad you got to connect with your friend, Sean.

    Reply
  23. Debbie - September 21, 2022 8:42 pm

    I have a dear friend of 53 years! She listens thru my life tragedies, and there has been a lot to listen to.She understands me like no one else. She is wise. She is goofy, and makes me laugh. We live in different states, but are in touch almost daily. She is always there for me and I know she always will be. I love her dearly and consider her a gift from God to help me thru this life.

    Reply
  24. Linda Moon - September 21, 2022 8:47 pm

    I consider you to be among my chosen. I saw where you were going with this, as I do with most of your stories. And well.. your two last short paragraphs said it all like no one but Sean of the South could’ve written.

    Reply
  25. P. Deas - September 21, 2022 8:59 pm

    Your memory for details from your childhood is uncanny,the way you describe them takes your readers right down memory lane along with you. Yes real friends are truly invaluable!!!

    Reply
  26. Slimpicker - September 22, 2022 2:54 am

    Reminds me of a great song by Tracy Lawrence titled, “ Find out who your Friends are”.

    Reply
  27. William Perry Bush - September 22, 2022 7:30 am

    I have just discovered your blog from a good friend and I am so happy he thought of me and forwarded it to me a few months back because i am an Al..boy now living in NC. just across the line of Towns County Ga.. My home county is Houston county Al..The people that say that Ga.is the peanut capitol of the world are dead wrong and if the would attend the peanut festival in Dothan Al.they would know that Al.is the peanut capitol of the world.and the same thing goes for Slocomb and Hartford Al. they are the tomato capitol of the world also..Keep up your good writing because you are a great American and a great Southern boy for sure.
    .

    Reply
  28. Marcia De Graaf - September 23, 2022 1:44 am

    This is spot on, Sean. I live a thousand miles from my family. Friends have been a loving, caring family to me for years. They’re the best.

    Reply
  29. Anne Godwin - September 23, 2022 12:45 pm

    We all need pickles.

    So glad I finally got to meet you in Mobile. At square dance last night, someone called me a celebrity, wanting my autograph.

    I just need a pickle.

    With love and hugs,
    your older sister.

    Reply
  30. Lisa BKer - September 28, 2022 12:51 am

    Unsalted peanuts ARE an affront and paprika ALWAYS belongs on deviled eggs. Excellent!

    Reply

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