Dad, Mom, Auntie Bernadette, and Uncle Donald
My 87-year old mom took a fall backward and got a bad bump on the back of her head. She suffered a pretty serious subdural hematoma, but thankfully she has stabilized and seems to be back on the (long) road to recovery. She had been out painting the town red with her best friend, my “Auntie” Bern (in Hawaii, your parents’ friends are all “Auntie” and “Uncle”). They were returning home from a friend’s birthday party when my mom took her tumble in her driveway.
In the hospital, I heard details of their friendship that were new to me that need to be written down. Mom and Auntie Bern became acquaintances in the seventh grade at Stephenson Intermediate School (one of Honolulu’s old time schools) where they were in Stephenson’s first graduating class!!! They remained acquaintances through high school and through their first two years at the University of Hawaii. As sophomores, they independently decided to pursue occupational therapy degrees and together decided to attend OT school at Milwaukee Downer Women’s College.
In their day there was no such thing as a “college tour” so the two if them crossed the Pacific to San Francisco on a convoy ship at the end of WWII. They shared a cabin, but on the crossing only women and children had cabins and any men making the crossing slept up on the deck in makeshift bunk beds enclosed by canvas tenting. Because they had better accommodations and fare than the guys, mom and Auntie would order extra food and slide it under the canvas wall to the guys. Their waiters, apparently, wondered constantly how in the world those two Chinese girls were able to pack all that food away!!!
WWII ended while they were mid-crossing so when they arrived in San Francisco, it was in shambles from the celebration. They hopped a train for the three day train trip to Chicago. Upon arrival in Chicago, they ran into another acquaintance from Hawaii who was heading to Milwaukee Downer for OT school. This acquaintance, my “Auntie” Mabel, turned out to be their third roommate at Downer.
As travel was costly, there were no trips home for Thanksgivings or Winter or Spring breaks. In fact there were no trips home until they all graduated two years later so it was there that what would become their lifelong bond would more fully take shape.
My earliest memories of Auntie Bern, Auntie Mabel, along with Auntie Nitta were if them all working as OTs together at Leahi Hospital. I remember, as a young kid, going to the beach for “OT picnics” on Friday evenings. My “cousins” and I would swim until sunset then we’d eat dinner around a hibachi grill.
75 years later, they’re still together. Caring for each other. Looking out for each other. My Auntie Bern has been at my mom’s bedside everyday since mom’s fall. They’re closer than sisters and it makes me cry to see them together.
More than anything, I’m grateful that mom has had such wonderful friends. My Auntie recently told me, “We’ve been best friends for over 75 years.”
They’ve given me a new understanding of the phrase best friends forever.
We should all be so lucky to have just one BFF like my Auntie Bern in our lives…