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An old-style friend search

No laptop or Internet access required – but better wear boots.

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Old friends in Memphis, Tenn.

Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal/AP

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Had I not happily rediscovered a number of long-lost friends via Facebook, I might have fled the site upon first encountering a snapshot of someone's gourmet lunch or a political rant polar to my own worldview.

But, ah, those friends, some of whom I'd not seen or heard from since high school, have been lovely to reconnect with online. I'm amazed at how familiar and intimate they still seem, even after decades and in cyberspace. So thank you, Facebook. I'll stick with you. I'll even elicit groans from friends with postings of my own (think beloved, amply photographed grandson).

Charlie and his old friend Tom also recently reconnected, though not with a few simple keystrokes. The two men had been fraternity brothers in the 1950s when both attended North Carolina State in Raleigh, and until recently had not seen or communicated with each other since. Then one day Tom strolled up to our front porch – out of the blue.

He was en route back to his home (still in North Carolina) after traveling to Duluth, Minn., to visit his daughter. Having gotten Charlie's address from a former Sigma Chi housemate, he'd decided to swing by our farm in Indiana to look up his old pal.

What he couldn't have known is that we've leased the farmhouse and barn to Jason and Robin, a young couple launching a farm-share dairy. We've moved into our log cabin in the sugar maple grove, a good half mile and stream valley away.

Finding no one home upfront, and the day being pleasant, Tom hiked along our lane to the next house, where he learned from our neighbor Leslie that Charlie would likely be at the cabin. "We were just visiting him back there. If you follow the path from the barn you'll find it," our young friend assured him.

As he later told us, he spotted the path, but soon found it degenerating into myriad bovine meanders. After some aimless walking he caught sight of another close-by house and decided to ask directions again. But neighbor Beverly was out.

So he hiked back to the farmhouse, where finally help was at hand. "I'll walk you back," Robin offered, and the two set off, ducking under fencing, angling down to the stream, crossing at the little wooden bridge, and hoofing it up the big sledding hill to our front porch.

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A bit winded by now, Tom bade Robin goodbye, introduced himself to me, and asked if Charlie were nearby.

"Follow me," I said. "We're building a barn at the west end of the pasture; I just came from there, but he's still working on the roof." We set off across the undulating field. A faint hammering grew louder as we approached the framed-out building. When we strolled up, Charlie climbed down to see who it was I'd brought. And so, after 60 years, the two men stood face to face once more.

The reunion was rich with laughter and memories of toga parties, ex-girlfriends, academic ups and downs – and occasional lapses into comfortable quiet. When we walked back to the cabin, Tom gazed appreciatively about, taking in the quartzite hearth, wood stove, and simple furnishings. As he snapped photos, I asked if he might e-mail some to me. No, he patiently explained. Like Charlie, he didn't use e-mail – or Facebook.

I should have known.

The two men exchanged a smile, as if in agreement that Facebook reunions can't possibly rival a successful "friend search" off the Web, via highway and cow path on a fine day – that a real reconnect should, by rights, entail a bit of physical effort.


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