A reunion 60 years in the making

January 7, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

The last time Issaquah resident Norma Arehart was in the same room with childhood friends Bernadine Lowe and Joyce Matheney, they were young women ready to embark on the rest of their lives in 1950’s St. Louis.

They kept in touch through letters, and then phone calls, when marriages and families forced them all in different directions in 1952.

After more than 60 years, the trio finally reunited in October, when they all visited Matheney’s Whidbey Island home.

Contributed Childhood friends (from left) Bernadine Lowe, Norma Arehart and Joyce Matheney reunite after 60 years. Arehart is a longtime Issaquah resident.

Contributed
Childhood friends (from left) Bernadine Lowe, Norma Arehart and Joyce Matheney reunite after 60 years. Arehart is a longtime Issaquah resident.

They had six decades of stories to share, and a vault of memories to unlock, but words almost weren’t enough when they first greeted each other.

“We were hugging and crying, just hugging and crying,” Arehart said of the reunion.

Arehart, Lowe and Matheney grew up together in what was described as a cotton patch in Canalou, Mo. Arehart was one of 15 children, and as one of the oldest, she was forced to stay home from school to care for the younger ones.

The longtime Issaquah resident recalled working in the fields chopping and picking cotton, while her family was “dirt poor.”

“I didn’t even have clothes to wear to school,” she said.

She escaped that world in the early 1950s with a one-way bus ticket to St. Louis, where she got a job as a typist at a shoe factory.

Lowe and Matheney soon followed Arehart to the city, and the three shared an apartment with several other girls from the “country.”

They spent much of their free time mingling with airmen from the nearby Scott Air Force Base, enjoying good, clean fun, as Arehart described it.

“We loved to dance, and you didn’t have to drink, you could have a cherry Coke,” she said. “We never got drunk, never.”

Arehart and company were partial to the jitterbug, she said, but the Air Force men preferred slow dancing.

Contributed Childhood friends Norma Arehart (left) and Bernadine Lowe pose in a cotton patch in their home state of Missouri in 1951. Arehart, a longtime Issaquah resident, said her family was so poor that the dress she was wearing was likely a hand-me-down from Lowe.

Contributed
Childhood friends Norma Arehart (left) and Bernadine Lowe pose in a cotton patch in their home state of Missouri in 1951. Arehart, a longtime Issaquah resident, said her family was so poor that the dress she was wearing was likely a hand-me-down from Lowe.

The three friends dispersed in 1952, after they met their future husbands. Matheney followed her husband overseas, Lowe stayed in St. Louis and Arehart got married Dec. 31, 1952, and the very next day, went home with her husband to North Carolina.

The goodbye wasn’t sad, Arehart said. It was just the reality of their new lives.

“We were so busy with our families and our own lives,” she said.

They stayed in touch over the years. One would often go visit the other, but it wasn’t until October that they were all in the same room together.

“It’s almost a miracle we’re all still alive and can travel to see each other again after all this time,” Matheney said.

A lot changed for the three since they were young girls in Missouri. All three are now widows, with established families and grandchildren.

Lowe traveled the furthest for the reunion, coming from Texas. After meeting at Arehart’s Issaquah home, the two made the trip to Whidbey Island to see Matheney.

“It was great to see Norma and Joyce again,” Lowe said. “We talked on the phone, but it’s been way too long since we were all together.”

Arehart, who has lived in Issaquah since 1984 and is a founder of the Issaquah Women’s Club, relished the opportunity to reminisce about the past, she said.

“We never disconnected, really, but we’ve really reconnected now,” she said. “It was just wonderful, and I know I’m going to see them again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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