There are all kinds of friends. There are the friends you hang out with in high school, or college. There are friends you make when you start your first job. Some friends you meet when you become part of a couple, or when you become a parent and your kids hang out with their kids and you make memories as families. All friendships are important, but there is nothing quite like an old friend, someone who watched you become the person you are.
As people move around more and more, it is a rare thing to find friends that have as a long a history as the four Gardiner ladies I interviewed for this story. These women found their friendship early and have continued to nourish it and support each other over the past 65 years. I sat down with Joan Braidt (née Markle), Carol Ann Lohrman (née Majestic), Jewell Turner (née Gardner) and Trudi Sims (née Watts) to find out a little bit more about what has made their friendship so enduring.
As I took my seat it struck me what an easy feel the group had to it. It was like the ladies had known each other forever, which made sense because, basically, they have. As Trudi explained, “Jewell and I have been friends since kindergarten. We graduated from 6th grade in a one-room school in Tuthilltown. Joan joined our little group in 7th grade and Carol completed the group in 9th grade. We have been inseparable since—pajama parties, vacations every year, and always there for each other.”
When asked about their early days, Jewell and Trudi reminisced about the one-room Tuthilltown school with its wood stove, that housed grades one through six. They recalled walking or riding their bikes to school, the small class, the one teacher who taught all the grades. Carol recalled Girl Scouts at the old hotel where Pasquale’s is now, and Jewell remembered the train station and the creamery, where Milk Street is today. (The name makes more sense to me now.) All four remembered going to McKinstry’s Store to read the comic books and have an ice cream soda. It was a simpler time, and you can tell that these are rich and fond memories.
The stories from their many years of friendship came fast and furious with several interruptions, additions, and variations to each other’s accounts. These ladies are not afraid to jump in to finish each other’s sentences or to correct each other. There is a comfort in this friendship that can only be described as familial; they are more sisters than friends.
There was the time that they were all in Trudi’s wedding and ordered the bridesmaid gowns but, unbeknownst to the others, Jewell ordered a different color so she could be the known as the ‘maid of honor.’ There was the time they all piled into Jewell’s car to take a trip to Trudi’s house in Washingtonville and got lost on the way. The kicker is that Trudi was in the car. Apparently sense of direction is not her strong suit, according to the rest of the gals.
When pressed to give a favorite memory, it seemed an impossible task for every member. As Trudi put it, “It’s just us. It’s the four of us being together.” All the ladies give most of the credit to Carol. Jewell said, “Carol was the one who kept us together. When we were all busy with our lives Carol would always draw us back together.”
There have been too many sleep overs, shared laughs, and tears of happiness and sadness to count, but their friendship has remained strong for over six decades. They all agreed the secret is “honesty and laughter.” This is not to say that they haven’t had their share of fights and disagreements, but when it comes time to move on, that is exactly what they do. They let me in on one of their little secrets. After a fight, once the phrase, “You look particularly lovely this evening,” is said, the members of the group all know it is the cue that someone is sorry, or it’s time to move on and, with that, the ladies can laugh again.
As I was leaving, I asked if they had any big plans for the night. They were bringing dinner to Trudi’s, because her husband was recovering from an operation. Of course, I thought, because that’s what friends do. They’re there for you when you need them.
Sometimes it seems as if we live in a divisive time; a time of disharmony. But after hearing the stories and laughter, seeing the kindness and empathy, and watching the support that these women clearly give and receive from each other, I was reminded that all you really need to make you smile is a little help from a friend.