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Daryl Parks needed to talk with someone.

A professor at Metropolitan State University, the self-described "raging extrovert" was desperate for human interaction at the start of the pandemic. While he had wife, Wendy, and his kids at home, he was lost without the numerous interactions that teaching brought to him each day.

One of his coping mechanisms was going out for a drive in his green 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. He'd drive west to downtown St. Paul, east toward the Wisconsin border, around his Woodbury neighborhood.

One day in June of 2020, Parks was driving past Woodbury Senior Living, an assisted living facility a half mile from his home. He saw an elderly man in a wheelchair smoking a cigarette. The man gave a wave. Parks responded with a honk.

The same thing happened a few days later — the man waved. Parks honked.

Parks passed the facility again and there was the man, once again waving.

"I thought, this is silly," Parks said.

He spun a U-turn, parked in the parking lot, plopped onto the bench nearest to the man and introduced himself.

"And that's how it started," Parks said.

Melvin Christianson, a native Minnesotan and veteran, is not allowed to smoke inside his assisted living facility. So at 6 p.m. every day after dinner, the 86-year-old Christianson heads outside for an hour or so to sit and smoke.

After that first meeting, 57-year-old Parks started joining him a couple of days every week. He would sit on a bench 6 to 8-feet away from Christianson for an hour or longer.

Except during the winter — when the Minnesota cold moved many of their conversations to strictly over the phone — Parks has continued to visit Christianson once to as often as four times a week.

They tell stories about adventures from their younger years. They sing along to a speaker playing Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Rosemary Clooney and other classic singers. They chat about life, love and loss.

And they enjoy each other's company.

"It's meant everything," Christianson said of their friendship. "Daryl is a nice guy."

Their relationship has deepened over time. The two originally bonded over their shared experience of growing up in poverty, and they have continued to bare their souls to each other. Parks says Christianson is a treasure trove of great stories, and there is nothing off-limits in their conversations.

Christianson has also started to rely on Parks for more than conversation. When he needed help fixing something in his room, he asked Parks. When the band of the wristwatch his late daughter gave him broke, he asked Parks to help him fix it.

Parks is a big believer in intergenerational relationships and the impact they can have on a person.

While at first he felt like he was helping Christianson, he soon realized that he was getting just as much, or more, out of the relationship. He said it is hard to quantify the value he gets out of their conversations.

"There were times that I would come home and say to [Wendy] that, some days, the meetings with Melvin feel like the only things that matter," Parks said.

Wendy said the duo benefit from "the perfect combination of proximity, ministry and vulnerability. And just a beautiful relationship was formed."

The biggest moment in their friendship, other than that chance first meeting, came this spring.

For months, the two never got closer than a few feet due to COVID-19 protocols. Christianson got his vaccination early this year but Parks had to wait his turn.

After getting his second dose of the vaccine and waiting the prerequisite time afterward, Parks walked up to Christianson. He opened his arms and the two shared a "joyous" hug.

"We made it, Melvin," Parks said. "We made it."

"I didn't think we'd make it," Christianson responded.

"We just wanted to make it to the vaccine, man," Parks said. "When he survived, and we were both vaccinated, that was just a moment of joy."

Now they can start planning bigger adventures. The two Vikings fans are going to watch a Vikings game in Christianson's apartment. Parks is also hoping to take Christianson out for a spin in his convertible.

And they will continue their standard routine a couple of days a week, talking, singing and supporting each other around 6 p.m.

When Parks was driving around in his convertible over a year ago, he was desperate for someone new to talk with about anything. He found something more in Christianson.

He found a friend.

Writer Peter Warren is a frequent contributor to Inspired.