Sue Bower said she immediately gravitated toward Lynn McEnelly during a small gathering at the McEnellys’ home in Sacramento in 1955.
Sue’s husband had joined the same Air Force squadron as Lynn’s husband, and the Bowers were new to town.
“[Lynn] was going to be my mentor and show me all around,” Sue said, sitting next to her friend last month in South Austin. “And it was wonderful.”
The couples spent the next five years together in Sacramento before the Air Force sent their families in different directions.
“We did so much stuff in that five years,” Sue said.
They did everything from raising children to going on trips — being there for each other in good times and in bad.
More than 50 years after their first meeting, they ended up together again at the same senior living community where they’ll celebrate decades of friendship Galentine’s Day Monday.
Laugh with me, buddy
On a recent sunny Thursday afternoon, Sue and Lynn recalled a getaway trip to San Francisco back in the early days of their friendship. They didn’t have much money then, but one weekend all the stars — and babysitters — aligned.
The couples started the trip with an unexpectedly pricey dinner at the Fairmont Hotel where Tony Bennett was playing.
Lynn’s husband, Jim, got the bill, while Sue’s husband, Dick, kept throwing tens on the table.
“It was not enough,” Sue said. “I think that dinner cost us a fortune.”
They didn’t have much money left for the trip, so they spent the rest of their time playing pinochle, glancing inside several bars and clubs, and exploring the city. It didn’t matter what they did, they could always find the fun.
“We did funny things,” Sue said. “There were more good times than bad.”
Ain’t no mountain high enough
After their initial adventures, Lynn and her family moved to Denver, while Sue and her family went to Dayton, Ohio.
They stayed in contact through cards and occasional phone calls — taking turns to avoid too many long-distance fees. They visited each other once or twice a year.
While their husbands were stationed together in Vietnam in 1968, Sue was in Syracuse, N.Y., and Lynn was in Universal City, Texas. They supported each other from afar, while taking care of their kids and holding down the fort at home.
Sue said she’d do everything in her power to keep her kids from listening to the nightly broadcast of what was going on in the war.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “I remember at night they used to give you all the stats on how many died and how many planes we lost and everything.”
Their husbands would survive the war and return home.
Lean on me
After spending decades apart, Lynn and Sue found themselves in the same city again.
Lynn and Jim arrived in Austin in 1969 when he was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base. Sue and Dick arrived about 10 years later.
“Since then, we’ve been hanging out together,” Sue said. “Our kids are all bonded to each other, and it’s very nice.”
On Feb. 14, 2000, Lynn’s husband died suddenly on his morning walk. It was Sue’s birthday, and the two couples had planned to get together and celebrate.
“Everybody came home. Everybody rallied,” Sue said. “How do you get through any of this stuff? You know, you just do it.”
Sue and Dick were by Lynn’s side, helping her figure out what was coming next.
“We always could find a brighter side to something,” Sue said. “You were never sinking down into any kind of deep depression. … We were always able to pull each other out of stuff.”
When the anniversary of Jim’s death came around, they would laugh at how much he used to hate pink flamingos in people’s yards. Naturally, Sue would bring one every time she visited his grave.
Jim would’ve not only thought it was funny, Lynn said, but it was also the type of thing he would’ve done.
When Sue developed a neuromuscular disease, Lynn stepped in to help the Bowers find a new home and move their son into his dorm at UT Austin.
“Poor Lynn. She had to pull out all the stops, all her nursing stuff, you know,” Sue said.
I’ll be there for you
Now Lynn and Sue live at the same senior living community at Village on the Park Onion Creek.
Sue moved in first; Lynn followed.
Lynn is an early riser and Sue is a night owl, so their schedules don’t always match. But they know how to stay in each other’s lives. After all, they’ve had practice.
At times a phone call — on a landline — is still the preferred way of chatting for hours. Lynn makes sure to keep Sue up to date with what’s happening in the community.
Sue’s favorite thing about Lynn is how she’s ready for any adventure — no matter how big or small.
“[Lynn is] the most agreeable human being you would ever meet,” Sue said. “She is so kind and so nice to everybody — even when she doesn’t want to be.”
Lynn loves how Sue seems to have solutions to all of life’s problems. Whenever she needs help with anything, Sue’s there to lend a hand.
“I give her the solutions, she doesn’t take them,” Sue laughed.
The Air Force lifestyle and all the hardships they went through together made their friendship stronger than any other in their lives.
It seems harder today to form the same connections, they said, with technology being a constant distraction.
“I think it takes work just for having time to be together and the time to talk to each other,” Sue said. “People come and go in your life faster today. That’s the key, you know, to have friends close and keep them close.”
Lynn said great friendships like theirs require patience.
“You just have to go along with the flow,” she said.
Marisa Charpentier produced the audio for this story.