OPINION: A good time to rekindle a lost friendship

High school friends Elizabeth Carter (left) and Shirley Jones, both 96, share a laugh at their Park Springs assisted living facility in Stone Mountain on Dec 15, 2021. Jones and Carter graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta in 1943. This fall, the women rekindled their friendship after they unexpectedly became neighbors. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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High school friends Elizabeth Carter (left) and Shirley Jones, both 96, share a laugh at their Park Springs assisted living facility in Stone Mountain on Dec 15, 2021. Jones and Carter graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta in 1943. This fall, the women rekindled their friendship after they unexpectedly became neighbors. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

A few years ago, in the mailroom at Park Springs, a senior living community in Stone Mountain, Elizabeth Carter spied a face she hadn’t seen in decades.

Was that, could it be, the husband of her high school classmate Shirley Jones?

It had been so many years and back then the girls in the class of 1943 at Girls High School who had married kept their marital status under wraps.

Casey Jones had married Shirley Jones before heading off to the Navy. The two wouldn’t see each other for two years, but Shirley would share stories about Casey with the girls at school.

Those stories left a lasting impression on Carter. As she stood in the mailroom of the planned living community where she moved in 2004, Carter knew this was Casey Jones.

It wasn’t until September when Jones moved to a new room at the assisted living campus and Carter saw the name “Shirley Jones” on the nameplate across the hall that she and her old classmate were truly reunited.

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High school friends and now neighbors Elizabeth Carter (left) and Shirley Jones flip through the pages of their 1943 Girls High School yearbook. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

High school friends and now neighbors Elizabeth Carter (left) and Shirley Jones flip through the pages of their 1943 Girls High School yearbook. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
High school friends and now neighbors Elizabeth Carter (left) and Shirley Jones flip through the pages of their 1943 Girls High School yearbook. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

After almost 80 years — decades filled with the cultural transitions of post-war America — the women were in as close proximity as they had been when they worked as starry-eyed teens on the newspaper staff of the Girls High Times.

They sat side by side in the visiting room at Park Springs when I met up with them in mid-December.

“I love her but she always sticks her head in the door and says, ‘Can you turn down your TV?’” said Jones, 96.

“I said, close your darn door. It is too loud,” said Elizabeth Carter, 96, recalling their first encounter as neighbors.

We are still in the throes of a global pandemic — with yet another variant on the rise — that has left many Americans struggling with their physical and mental health, but older adults have been particularly vulnerable.

When asked about mental health, half of adults over age 50 say they have been bothered with anxiety and/or having little interest or pleasure in doing things. A third say they have been feeling depressed, according to a June survey from AARP.

It is a time when so many of us have searched for deeper meaning and deeper connections with family and friends. For Jones and Carter, reconnecting felt like a gift.

“You realize later all the things you missed. ... I was glad to run into her again,” said Jones.

The brown leather-bound yearbook from the class of 1943 sitting between them on the coffee table offered a pathway back into the world in which they had connected decades earlier.

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Shirley Jones, 96, points to her senior yearbook photo. Jones graduated in 1943 from Girls High School in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Shirley Jones, 96, points to her senior yearbook photo. Jones graduated in 1943 from Girls High School in Atlanta. 
Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Shirley Jones, 96, points to her senior yearbook photo. Jones graduated in 1943 from Girls High School in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Girls High School was one of the seven original schools that created the foundation for Atlanta’s public-school system. The world was different then, but in some ways it was similar to the present. The global crisis at that time was World War II. The most vulnerable Americans were the millions of men going off to war. But unlike the current pandemic that has left millions of women unemployed or exiting the workforce, in 1943 the number of working adult women had increased by the millions.

It was a revolutionary time for the young women working on the school paper at Girls High School.

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Elizabeth Carter, 96, shares her senior yearbook photo. Carter graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta in 1943. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Elizabeth Carter, 96, shares her senior yearbook photo. Carter graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta in 1943.
Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Elizabeth Carter, 96, shares her senior yearbook photo. Carter graduated from Girls High School in Atlanta in 1943. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Jones sold advertisements for the paper and once, when she sold an ad for Lovable Brassiere Company, it prompted an intense discussion. Carter, then an editor at the paper, recalled the debates they had about whether to print the advertisement in the paper. “It was scandalous,” Jones said.

But while the advertisements may have caused an uproar, the news stories in the Girls High Times were not nearly as titillating as the content in the newspaper from Boys High School, Jones said.

“Girls High School was interested in the literary correctness of our newspaper so nobody was interested in buying it, but at Boys High School they wrote stories about the interesting exploits and deeds of their school members and it was quite good reading,” Jones said.

The young female reporters did manage to land a high-profile interview when Ralph McGill, the anti-segregationist editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, came to the campus for a visit.

Jones was the designated reporter and she was terrified.

“He looked big and burly to me at the time but he was very kind and led me through the steps and I was very grateful for that and very proud that I had interviewed him,” Jones said.

As they flipped the pages of the yearbook searching for old memories, Carter paused on a page with a group of girls clustered together.

“What is that?” she asked

“Cum laude,” said Jones.

“I was in that,” Carter said.

“She’s bragging about what she was in,” said Jones.

They told me about doing the jitterbug with the other girls and how they never really had any complaints that there were no boys around. They held activities and campaigns to support the war effort and recalled the math teacher who knew Morse code and would spend recess teaching them how to send messages.

After graduation, the war raged on and the women went their separate ways.

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Shirley Jones (left) and Elizabeth Carter share a friendly exchange at the Park Springs senior living community in Stone Mountain. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Shirley Jones (left) and Elizabeth Carter share a friendly exchange at the Park Springs senior living community in Stone Mountain. 
Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Shirley Jones (left) and Elizabeth Carter share a friendly exchange at the Park Springs senior living community in Stone Mountain. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Carter would attend Agnes Scott, University of North Carolina and Georgia State University, earning multiple degrees in music that she used later as a music teacher and church organist. She married, had three children and moved back to North Atlanta after a stint in North Carolina.

Jones would have four children and spend a short time in Tennessee before returning to her native Georgia, settling in DeKalb County, where she was active in the PTA and planned special Friday night gatherings for the community.

Neither woman thought they would one day end up as neighbors, but now they spend days chatting across the hall, talking about going to meals and deciding who they will sit with — not entirely unlike high school, they said, laughing.

During the holidays, each will spend time with children and grandchildren, but when the women return, they will find each other again, bound by a past that was at once unpredictable and full of promise — not entirely unlike the world right now.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.

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