Saturday, March 19, 2016

Four childhood BFFs turn 99

Leona Barnes, Gladys Butler, Ruth Hammett and Bernice Underwood first met as little girls near the end of World War I. They lived in SW Washington DC, where they played jump rope and jacks. As kids, they went to separate schools and theaters than white people. When shopping at a department store, they could not use the changing rooms to try on clothes. As they grew up, three of them had babies the same year, 1933. "We would fight together, and our children would too, and then we'd have a good time," remembers Mrs. Barnes. Mrs. Hemmett's son, Vernon, 60, remembers "every last one of them was mother to me, and I respected that."

                                                                         Evelyn Hockstein/ for Washington Post
All four women have lost their husbands, but they still have each other. Three live on their own and do their own housekeeping. Mrs. Underwood rides her stationary bike each day and loves to dance. "I'm old, but not cold," she says. When they turned 92, they thought they'd seen it all, but then a black man became President of the United States. Mrs. Barnes says, "I never thought in my wildest dreams that would ever happen." They're not sure they'll live long enough to see the first woman President, but they aren't worried. "If we don't make 100, it's up to Him," says Mrs. Barnes, "but we all made 99. It came so fast I didn't realize it."

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