Timeless friendships reignited

April 21, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

Elfleta Walton of Columbia and Valerie Hartz of Atlanta never let race stand in the way of becoming best buddies while growing up in a small Southern town.

Though separated by many miles, Brenda McBride of Catonsville and Lucile Jensen of Salt Lake City cultivated a friendship that comforted Ms. McBride through her husband's death and daughter's suicide.

The two sets of longtime friends hadn't seen each other for decades but got together again by winning Good Housekeeping magazine's "Girlfriend Reunion." Their essays were among four that were selected from 5,000 entries. Their stories are profiled in the May issue of the magazine.

Elfleta Walton, who is black, and Valerie Craven Hartz, who's white, both call Macon, Ga., home. Their paths may have never crossed except for attending the same high school classes, which were integrated by the 1970s.

"When I was a junior, she used to sit behind me all of the time," Ms. Walton says of her friend Ms. Hartz. "We started talking to one another."

"We both like to read and we both enjoy being outdoors," says Ms. Hartz in a telephone conversation from her home in Atlanta. "Plus she makes me laugh."

Their personalities just clicked, and soon they were hanging out together all the time, Ms. Walton says. "By the time we got to 12th grade, our teachers were calling us the 'Siamese twins'!" Ms. Walton recalls.

Graduation came and Ms. Hartz went to a college about 40 miles away while Ms. Walton went to Fiske University in Nashville, Tenn. They still kept in contact until Ms. Walton left college, joined the Navy and traveled around the world.

"It just got harder and harder to keep in touch," Ms. Walton says.

In 1987, Ms. Walton was stationed in Maryland, saw a talk show about old high school friends and decided to find Ms. Hartz. "I found her parents in Macon and they remembered me instantly," says Ms. Walton, who took a medical retirement from the military and is now attending college.

The two friends began talking or writing monthly but still had not seen each other since 1976.

When she read about the "Girlfriend Reunion" essay contest, Ms. Hartz decided to enter it after first checking with her friend to see if it was all right.

The prize for winning the contest was an expenses-paid weekend in New York -- with her friend and an appearance on the Maury Povich show.

"It was like nothing had changed," Ms. Hartz says. "We clicked again right away."

The reunion was "amazing," says Ms. Walton. "When we were younger, we thought so much alike, we would finish each other's sentences. When we got to New York, it was the same. We were doing it again!"

Long-distance comfort

Their friendship began in a Laurel apartment complex 19 years ago. They were two young families living next door to one another.

"We were both young mothers with babies, so we just started talking," Ms. McBride says of her friend Lucile Jensen.

After a few years, Ms. Jensen moved out of the apartment complex to a nearby house but the friendship continued. "It wasn't until she moved out of state that it became harder to stay in touch," Ms. McBride says.

Somehow they managed. "We kept writing each other, and once in a while, we would talk to one another. It's not like when I got a letter from Lucy, I felt like I had to write her back right then. We have this open understanding and this unconditional love," she says of her friend.

"It is a very gratifying friendship," says Ms. Jensen from her home in Salt Lake City. "It's like having an anchor out there."

When Ms. McBride lost her husband and daughter a few years ago, the friendship comforted her through the tough times.

"If I did something to help comfort her, I am extremely gratified," Ms. Jensen says.

Ms. Jensen, who now has seven children, and Ms. McBride could never afford to get together for a visit and saw the contest as a means of coming together.

"When I told Lucy about the contest, she submitted three essays. I submitted one," Ms. McBride says. Her essay was chosen as one of the four winners.

"Being reunited with Lucy was wonderful," Ms. McBride says. "Although we write or talk on the phone, it was good to see her, because this way I could see her expressions. We spent every day and evening together. We just cherished the time," she says.

"I could not have forecast that this friendship would have lasted this long," Ms. Jensen says. "But now, it's like, how could it be any other way?"

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