Jean Howe and Edna McIntyre’s recipe for a lasting friendship is easy – you have to be there for each other and you have to laugh, a lot.
The pair – who both turned 100 this year – can’t go longer than a few minutes without a chuckle over something, as they reflect on a whopping 95 years as friends.
Jean remembers meeting Edna on her first day at Mt Eden Primary School in Auckland.
“I had had whooping cough so had to delay starting school for a month,” she recalls. “The teacher had decided that Edna was a bit shy – I can’t imagine that, she’s not shy now! So she put me by her.“
From that moment on, the two girls did everything together – walking to and from primary, intermediate and then grammar school. When it was holiday time, Jean would go with Edna’s family or Edna would go with Jean’s.
“I don’t remember us ever having a row,“ Jean says. Edna agrees, “I asked Jean’s brother Brian once if he remembered us arguing and he couldn’t. If we did, it couldn’t have been serious.”
Speaking of Jean’s baby brother Brian sparks a memory for the pair, who recall how, at seven years old, they loved pushing him around in a doll’s pram – much to his annoyance. At Edna’s house, it was the family cat who got the raw deal.
“I remember one day the cat was sick, so we put him in the doll’s pram and took him to the chemist,“ she laughs. “The poor old cat must have been pretty patient because I don’t remember him jumping out!“
The girls were mistaken for twins when, without knowing it, their mothers both chose the same colour and patterns for their hats and coats. They both played tennis and got all the same badges at Girl Guides.
Edna and Jean both married during World War II. Jean was Edna’s bridesmaid when she wed Charles McIntyre in 1940. They moved to Wellington when Charles was made the secretary to the colonel in Trentham before settling in Christchurch.
Jean married Bill Howe in 1943, but only had four days to organise her wedding, while he was on leave from his posting in Singapore. Edna did not attend, but the friends kept in touch by writing letters and occasionally visting each other for more than 40 years.
Like most true friendships, when Edna’s family moved back to Auckland in 1983, it was like no time had passed. Jean has two children – Robert (71) and Christine (69), while Edna has John (75), Ian (70), Ken (69) and Rosemary (65).
“We went our separate ways a bit when we had children, but Jean was always there,“ says Edna. “A friend is a part of yourself. But, really, I think we’re more like family than friends.“
Thankfully, Edna and Jean’s husbands got on well, and the couples would often spend time together. When Charles suffered a stroke and spent his remaining nine years in hospital, Jean was there for Edna. Sadly, he passed away three weeks after their diamond anniversary in 2000. And Edna was there for Jean when she lost Bill in 2010.
“I’ve always valued Edna’s friendship very much. She’s stood by me. And if I’ve known any trouble, I can rely on Edna – it goes both ways,“ Jean tells.
Now it’s their mobility that keeps them apart. With Jean still in her own home in the central Auckland suburb of Royal Oak and Edna at a unit in a retirement village in Manukau, they don’t meet as often but when they do, it’s to catch up on what their families are up to.
Jean has five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, while Edna is also a grandmother of five and has eight great-grandchildren. Every birthday and Christmas they exchange gifts, and they attended each other’s 100th birthdays recently – something Jean says she never thought would be possible.
“I thought we’d both be dead by now!“ she exclaims.
But when asked to give thought to what friendship is and what it means, Jean says the answer to keeping a friend is pretty simple.
“These days, people tend to fall out with people very quickly, and we didn’t ever fall out. We must have clicked at the beginning and it’s just gone on from there,” she smiles.
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