I have three nieces around 30 years old. I also have two nieces and my daughter who are all 13 years old. The 30-year-olds want to take the 13-year-olds on a "Vacation of the Nieces."

Before my wife and I would sign off on it, I asked Abbey, the instigating niece, about the logistics. I went over the worst-case scenarios. What if something happened? What if they got stuck in a strange city? I thought about what resources I could muster to get them out of a jam.

Who could I call to ask, at a moment's notice, to go to an airport, and pick up six people and house them indefinitely? My niece and I formulated the concept of the "Six-Person Friend." What friend could I ask in the middle of the night to pick up six people that they have never met?

Relatives have to pick each other up. They can grumble, but they have to. I could call my sister-in-law, Sue, in the middle of the night and ask her to pick them up. She would cuss my ear off but eventually, she would wake up her husband and make him go out in the cold.

In Los Angeles, I could count on my friend Bill. The Knestricks would be good for Minneapolis. But I think they live there only half the time. How many people could sleep at Pam's condo in Vermont?

My wife and I started making a list when I got off the phone with Abbey. We came up with a quite a few people. We would never want to abuse our friends, but it made us feel good knowing we had people to count on. Many on the list are childhood friends. Most of the friends my wife and I acquired together live near us. If I called the Marcuses in the middle of the night they might say. "We live two blocks from you, why can't you pick them up?

Close people can work sometimes. Once my 17-year-old nephew was arriving in Stamford by train from Washington, D.C. I had a problem at work so I called our friend Barbara from Norwalk. She met the train and said, "You don't know me, but I am putting you on another train to Southport. I already bought the ticket. You will recognize the person picking you up in Southport."

My parents were farmers and their friends were hardy people. They not only had six-people friends. They had several 10-people friends among their fellow homesteaders. One August the town we lived near flooded and my parents took in 100 people. My parents' friends and friends of friends lived in our fields, barns, trailers and tents. Some people stayed a month. My parents didn't pick these people up in a car at the airport. My parents picked their friends and acquaintances up in a boat at their flooded houses.

As farmers they counted on their six-person friends. The Gustafsons were so close, we called them uncle and aunt. As a young single man, my dad found himself engaged to two women at the same time. As it happened, both fiancées were arriving on the same train. Both expected him to pick them up, and neither had any idea about the other. Dad called the Gustafsons. Ruth rushed down and brought her two children to the train station to pick up one fiancée. When they were safely gone, my dad picked up what my mom called "the right fiancée." That wasn't the only time the Gustafsons were called; often they called my parents. Over the 50 years there were many late-night calls. Injuries, sicknesses and as they got older, there were deaths. Always, there was someone on the other end who would say, no matter what the hour, "I'll be right over." And they were.

I learned from my parents and their friends that to have six-person friends; you need to be a six-person friend. To have numerous six-person friends, you need to be a six-person friend to numerous people. You have to go out of your way to pick up people from a plane or train or in a boat.

I hope the nieces enjoy Pam's condo in Vermont. It will be crowded. And since Pam bought that new car, she may have to make two trips.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his lovely bride and two daughters. His day job is at M Communications in Stamford. He can be reached at tlawlor@mcommunications.com.