Friendships evolve in workplaces, at school, in sports leagues and clubs. For Willie Swanson of Sebastopol, friendships also are found at sea.
Swanson, an active and engaging 94-year-old, became fast friends with two fellow passengers on a cruise ship headed to the Panama Canal in 2002. Today the trio is inseparable, just like the Peanuts Gang.
Charlie Brown and his pals may be comic strip characters, but their beloved creator, Charles M. Schulz, wove the theme of friendship throughout his long-running strip.
(Visitors to the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa can peek at Schulz’s tribute to friendship in the new exhibit, “A Friendship Like Ours,” that continues through Nov. 6.)
Swanson and her friends, like Snoopy and Woodstock, know that having a close friend — or two — can make the world a happier place, through turmoil and triumph, setbacks and celebration.
“We count our blessings every time we’re together,” Swanson said of her treasured friends, Martha Noyes, 97, and Gig Ingebretson, 75. “We’re blessed we found each other.”
The women travel together, taking trips nearly every year. They’ve gone to Hawaii, Alaska and Branson, Missouri, to Spain, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and especially enjoy repeated cruises along the California coast to Mexico.
Their friendship continues six times a year when they gather at Swanson’s home among the towering redwoods in rural Sebastopol. Noyes and Ingebretson come from their homes in Fremont for three relaxing days of fun and togetherness.
“I can’t wait for them to come,” Swanson said, “and when they have to go home I say, ‘Can’t you stay just a little bit longer?’ ”
Late on a recent morning, they each sported cozy, zip-front, “onesie” fleece nightwear Ingebretson bought for the trio for Christmas. They’d slept in a bit, after staying up past 11 p.m. the previous night.
Their two-night, three-day slumber parties center around conversation and camaraderie, with the women rarely leaving Swanson’s house.
“We eat, we sleep and we play,” Noyes said. Added Swanson, “We don’t have time to go anywhere.”
They gather around the dining room table for lively games of Scrabble and Mexican Train, a version of dominoes, keeping score but helping one another, too.
The conversations are endless, often marked by laughter. They catch up on their busy lives, their families, their achievements and, at times, their sorrows. They’ve all known losses; each woman has lost a son as well as other loved ones.
The friends share a positive outlook, an ability to move ahead in their lives and a genuine sense of appreciation and gratitude for their many good fortunes.
“As you get older, your friends mean more to you as you go along,” Swanson said. “Your family and your friends, that’s where it’s at. Your friends end up like family.”
“That’s good,” Noyes said.
“Yes,” Ingebretson said, “that’s good.”
Noyes needs only one word to describe their friendship. “Precious,” she said. “I like that word.”
She marvels that they’ve never once had a dispute, even when all three shared a cabin in a rather confined space aboard a cruise ship.
“After all these years, we’ve never had a quarrel,” Noyes said. “We stay away from politics and religion. We don’t talk about that.”
Look no farther than the friendship between Peppermint Patty and Marcie, or Charlie Brown and Linus, to recognize the value of someone having your back.
A new exhibit in the Comic Strip Rotation Gallery at the Charles M. Schulz Museum explores the friendships between Peanuts characters who, despite occasional shortcomings, are always there for one another.
“A Friendship Like Ours” showcases “the level of compassion, sweetness and love that Schulz captured within the panel, time and time again, in the form of friendship,” the museum’s in-house exhibitions manager, Lauren Faulkner, wrote in an email. “In the end, amidst bouts of disagreement and unrequited love, rainy days and sports games lost, the Peanuts Gang always found that they could count on each other.”
Schulz, Faulkner noted, found inspiration for the theme of friendship in his own memories of his youth in St. Paul, Minnesota and “also in bearing witness to the interactions of those around him throughout his life and career.”
The exhibit, running through Nov. 6, includes 69 original comic strips, original sketches and Peanuts ephemera.
The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (closed Tuesdays until Memorial Day) and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, closed major holidays, at 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa.
Admission is $12 adults, $8 seniors 62 and older, $5 youth 4-18, free for kids 3 and younger.
For more information, call 707-579-4452 or visit schulzmuseum.org.