A Lasting Friendship

by | February 17, 2024 | Stories

The “Fearsome Foursome” (clockwise from top right): Bob, Kate, Anne, and Tom
Maybe, I could help reawaken Bob with music. Maybe I could write a new ending to “Puff, the Magic Dragon” to comfort those affected by Alzheimer’s.

We call ourselves the “Fearsome Foursome.” My wife, Anne, and I have known Bob and his wife, Kate, for some 30 years, and we’ve formed strong bonds of friendship.

Hard to believe two married couples with very different backgrounds could get along so well, but we certainly have. We’ve cruised the seas together, road tripped across the western states together, and even traveled overseas together.

We’ve grown even closer since we all retired. During the pandemic, we started a new tradition of turning every Tuesday into “Pie Day.” Funny how much we look forward to our Pie Day … a time just to relax, chat, eat pie, sip coffee, and enjoy each other’s friendship.

Alzheimer’s Intrudes

Our lives all changed, however, last year. Bob has Alzheimer’s, and six months ago Bob went to live in a local memory care facility.

Then, one Tuesday, we got a call from Kate. “It’s an emergency,” Kate explained. “The memory care facility just contacted me. I gotta get there. I can’t make Pie Day.”

We told her not to worry about us, to go and take care of Bob. We felt helpless. It’s so hard watching a friend slip away. I can’t help remembering the good times we’ve had with Bob.

Musical Memories

Bob loves music. He would always win “Name That Tune.” When we traveled to Ireland together, he couldn’t wait to listen to some foot-stomping, finger-picking, Gaelic ballads. Bob really got a kick out of singing along with a pub full of people. We belted out John Denver songs accompanied by a guitar-strumming Irish band.

Bob enjoyed all types of music. Are those days for Bob now lost … swallowed in a fog? I went to sleep that night, thinking about the power of music. I’ve read many an article lately speaking to the power of music to reawaken a person trapped in the world of dementia. Was there a way I could use music to comfort Bob and Kate?

That night, I was inspired, perhaps by a guardian angel whispering to me in my dreams. I was reminded of Bob’s love for music, even folk music during his college days. I remembered a tune Bob would sometimes hum to himself, a folk song called “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”

A Land Called Honah Lee

I woke up with a mission. Maybe, I could help reawaken Bob with music. Maybe I could write a new ending to “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” an ending to comfort those affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Puff” is a beautiful song written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow. Peter, Paul & Mary recorded the song in 1962 and released it in January of 1963. It tells the story of “little Jackie Paper” and his friend. It’s a bittersweet song about the hardships of growing older.

In the original version of the song, Jackie stops visiting, and Puff retreats to his cave. It’s a sweet, but sad end to the story. I envisioned something different. I envisioned a song reaching into the fog, sparking a memory of a lasting friendship. In my new ending, Puff rescues Jackie from his “autumn mist” and the two lifelong friends return to “a land called Honah Lee.”

Lifelong Friends

The following Tuesday, Kate was able to join us for Pie Day. Now, it was only the three of us enjoying pie. There’s an empty place setting at the table for Bob.

As we cleared the dishes, I handed Kate an envelope. “For Bob” was written on the front. I asked Kate to open the envelope and let me know what she thought. I watched silently as she read.

When she had finished reading my new lyrics, Kate folded the page, put it back into the envelope, then quietly asked if she could keep it. The words had touched her heart as they had mine.

Alzheimer’s changes things. The four of us will no longer travel together. We no longer sit in our kitchen to enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of pie.

Some things, however, will never change. Alzheimer’s can’t touch how we feel about each other. We remain, for now and always, the “Fearsome Foursome.” Just as I imagine Puff and Jackie ending their story together, we will remain lifelong friends.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Editor’s Note: A few days after we published this article, Tom Larsen received a phone call from the songwriter Peter Yarrow. He appreciated Tom’s story, and he gave his verbal permission to share the new lyrics.

In Tom’s version, after Jackie stops visiting Puff, here’s what happens:

His head was bent in sorrow, he could feel Jackie’s pain.
Puff wanted to play with him along the cherry lane.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff, that mighty dragon, vowed that Jackie must be saved.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, living by the sea
Took Jackie from his autumn mist to the land of Honah Lee.
Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, living by the sea
Took Jackie from his autumn mist to the land of Honah Lee.

Then once again they traveled on a boat with billowed sail,
Jackie kept a lookout, perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came.
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lives by the sea
And frolics in the autumn mist, with Jackie in Honah Lee.
Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lives by the sea
And frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


  1. C.J. Larsen

    Tom and Anne:
    John and I enjoyed and cried with your tribute to your Lasting Friendship. God has blessed you with your special friendship. These are memories that will last a life time. Our hearts and prayers are with Kate and Bob through this trying time.
    Always John and CJ Larsen

  2. DJK

    May we all be blessed to have such an amazing and loving bond as the “Fearsome Foursome” share. Your article and endearing new lyrics are a testament to the power of human connection. All the love and memories are within Bob, and we should all continue to search new ways, as you have shown here, to help our loved ones find access again. Thank you for sharing.

  3. elizabeth J Thompson

    What a loving tribute to a lasting friendship. Music is a key to the heart. In this case, perhaps to unlock memories and bring comfort to Bob. You are a true friend to Bob and Kate. Are you going to sing the song to Bob? Beth

  4. Kristi

    I am fortunate to have met the “Fearsome Foursome” years ago before Bob’s diagnosis. I feel blessed to have experienced this incredible bond between these two amazing couples. This foursome would light up a room when they walked in. When I met them (all 4 at the same time), I was overwhelmed with their kindness, their great sense of humor but most of all a twinkle in their eye because they loved life and each other.
    Tom, what a wonderful loving tribute to Bob. Capturing the happiness and joy that music meant to him and creating something so special.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Kathy Slattengren

    What a beautiful tribute to the everlasting bond of the “Fearsome Foursome”! The love that connects you together continues. Bob will certainly feel your love when you sing him this song.


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