Seven Decades of Friendship: ‘We Need Each Other’

From left: Corinne Vineberg, Betty Jacobs-Keyser and Ethel Goldfein in 2006

Ethel Goldfein, Corinne Vineberg and Betty Jacobs-Keyser have been friends for more years than many people live.

Their friendship is of 1941 vintage. Seventy-six years of it began at Garrison Junior High School at ages 14. They became fast friends, though none of them is clear on why or how. The 88-year-olds’ friendship has outlasted every war since 1941, 13 going on 14 presidents and every single episode of “I Love Lucy,” “M.A.S.H.” and “Seinfeld” ever aired. That’s a long time.

They were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings; they rode home together every day from junior high school; they were married within a year of each other; they caroused together; and today, they live less than two miles from each other.

“We loved to have fun,” Goldfein said. “Every chance we could, we had a good time.”

Sitting in her immaculately clean, color-coordinated living room — where the couch matches the carpet and complements the paintings’ hues of mauve, white and brown — Goldfein’s idea of fun might seem dated or anachronistic. But she has photographic proof to the contrary. The boxes opened, and memories of New Year’s Eves, weddings, resorts and cruises flooded back to the three friends. The trio and their husbands, dressed in silly hats or other costumery, were all smiles in the snapshots.

“It looks like I have a sore on my nose,” Vineberg said, scanning a faded photograph of the trio.

“It looks like you’ve got a sore on your head,” Goldfein shot back.

They all laughed. Their conversation was equal parts reminiscence and congenial nettling – the kind found among groups of much younger friends. When one of the three misremembers the details of one night on a cruise ship — or any of their exploits over the past 76 years — another jumps in with a conflicting account or addendum.

Despite their uncertainty, all three agreed that they enjoyed themselves wherever they went. In the mid-1980s, they visited a resort in Pennsylvania. Discovering it did not completely live up to their high standard of entertainment, the trio decided to make their own fun. They asked permission to set up a makeshift conference room for the duration of their stay. The hotel agreed, but the three had no intention to convene any business.

“We asked for some long tables so we could have meetings, but we didn’t have meetings,” Goldfein said slyly.

Instead, those tables were covered in food, cards and drinks — “goodies,” the three called them. Their husbands joined in the fun too, as they had for years. Serendipitously, the trio’s significant others got along and participated in their wives’ roistering. Goldfein is the best card player by consensus.

But it has not been all smiles, cards and merriment for the three friends. All three have been widowed, Goldfein at an especially young age. Her first husband, Daniel Cushner, died of cancer in 1963 after 14 years of marriage. He was treated down the hall from Goldfein’s mother at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Every Saturday, Jacobs-Keyser would visit Goldfein to make sure she and her two young children were coping.

“We were there for each other for the sad times,” Goldfein said.

They have been there for each other for years, unaffected by distance. Vineberg moved shortly after her nuptials in 1949 to teach at Baltimore’s Arlington Elementary; Jacobs-Keyser and Goldfein, both secretaries, stayed closer together. Even though that physical separation lasted close to eight years, the three stayed in contact and made every attempt to get together.

“It’s amazing we’ve never not talked to each other,” Jacobs-Keyser mused.

“Miracle,” Goldfein added.

The three are longstanding members of the Covenant Guild. Vineberg served as president while Goldfein and Jacobs- Keyser presided over committees at the same time. To date, they have collectively spent 178 years with the philanthropy. The three remain active within the organization, serving on and chairing committees.

“Our names were always attached to each other’s,” Jacobs-Keyser said, “wherever we went.”

In spite of their banter, the three have never had a major argument. They said the key to their friendship is honesty and knowing when to let go, overlooking disagreeable things and moving on. The years have done little to change their friendship, which has only grown stronger.

“I think we are closer,” Jacobs-Keyser said.

“Because life is precious,” Goldfein continued.

“We need each other,” Vineberg concluded.

James Whitlow is an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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