High school pals enjoy 70-year friendship
The women bowing their heads to say grace around the table on Rose Bacco Hyde's North Huntingdon sun porch also share their gratitude for a friendship that has lasted more than 70 years.
Most are now widows. A few have lost children. All proudly wear the title of great-grandmother.
And all recall fondly their years at Westinghouse Memorial High School in Wilmerding, from where they graduated in 1948.
Moments before her guests arrive, Hyde, 89, stands before her Christmas tree. On this late February afternoon, it remains decorated with white ornaments — bells, shoes, angels — she has hand-crafted.
Ask Hyde about her friends and her eyes light up, her smile widens.
"Oh, my friends. They wanted to see my tree," she says, clearly excited.
And then they arrive, making their way into Hyde's kitchen, exchanging hugs all around.
One spies their yearbook on the table, open to a page of black and white senior portraits.
"Oh, good, I forgot mine," she says.
Then the ooohs and aaahs begin, as they gather around Hyde's tree.
Among the regulars are Hyde; Mary Rutka Sweeney, 87, of Sewickley Township; Theresa Patella Bacco, 89, of North Versailles; Mary Belmondo Rendulich, 87, of Rillton; Betty Lou Kerin Gossar, 88, of North Huntingdon; Laura Ferree Shawley, 88, of Wilmerding; and Jean Drylie Reed, 87, of North Huntingdon.
Unable to join her classmates was Shirley Farr Orendi, 88, of West Mifflin.
"We try to meet the third Wednesday of the month. We pick a place to go for lunch and give each other rides. We have a lot of fun," Hyde says.
They also stay in touch with birthday and Christmas cards and regular phone calls, especially if someone has been ill.
Friends then, and again
Some of the women were close as classmates, but the regular get togethers began when their circle began planning high school reunions.
"It's almost 30 years since we've been having lunch together. Most of the group is on the class reunion committee, so we all stay in touch. It will be our 70th (reunion) this year," says Reed.
In the years between graduating and re-establishing their friendships, the women were busy rearing families. They worked as teachers, nurses, switchboard operators or bank tellers for the former Westinghouse Air Brake Company.
"We all knew each other. There were only 118 in the whole class," Reed says.
In later years, she says, the group just clicked.
After catching up on news and admiring Hyde's tree, they head to the sun porch for a pizza and salad lunch.
Much of their conversation centers around their time as young girls together, before adult responsibilities came along.
"I loved high school. We had dances every Friday night. I got involved in everything," Gossar recalls.
Bacco and Gossar were cheerleaders, something Bacco says surprised her friends.
"I'm passive. My friends said, 'Oh, Theresa, not you.' I said, 'I'm going to do it,'" she says, chuckling.
Sweeney remembers going bowling at the YMCA near the school.
Shawley still recalls her curiosity about a high school balcony students were not supposed to visit.
"I opened the door and saw people necking," she says, laughing.
They joke about meeting spouses at fire hall dances and at first jobs.
"We just stuck together. It's just been fun. It's something I enjoy going to and look forward to," Rendulich says of their gatherings.
In between bites, Hyde looks around and smiles happily at the group.
"I'm so glad you all came," she says.
They pass around the platters again, family-style.
Like lifelong friends.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.