No matter what chapter of life you are currently living in, you can no doubt look back and identify friends from each stage of the journey: childhood, classmates, workmates, neighbors, sports, church, music. Some friends have dropped off the map with life changes and transitions. Some friends have passed on, only their memory remains. Many friends have been reunited and friendships rekindled due to none other than COVID. But, there is nothing quite like the treasure of an “old friend.”
I sat down with two local ladies to hear the story of their friendship – their 76-year friendship! Donna Northcott Martin and Mary Ann Motzkus Bame first met when they were 10 years old and in the fifth grade. Donna was born and raised in Winthrop, her childhood home on the bluff above town. Mary Ann’s family moved to Mazama in 1945 when her father bought 40 acres between Highway 20 and the Methow River for $1,500. Ever since he left Missouri and lived through the depression, he had a dream of owning property and working the land.
The two girls became fast friends as they attended the red brick schoolhouse that sat on the spot where Winthrop PT & Fitness now stands. Oftentimes Mary Ann stayed at the Northcott home in town, as did two other girls who lived out Mazama way. Donna’s parents were like surrogate parents to them. Both recall that all the kids were poor, but they didn’t know they were poor. They always had pigs, chickens, a milking cow, and a big garden, so they never went hungry. Their fathers’ hunting and fishing added to the larder.
Donna and Mary Ann talked of going to teen dances at the little red schoolhouse in Mazama (now Mazama Community Center). There was Kool-Aid to drink and a teacher who led the dances. They especially loved square dancing and both remembered being annoyed when the teacher would lead the Hokey Pokey: “put your right foot in, put your right foot out … shake it all about.”
Both girls graduated from Winthrop High School, remained in town, and stayed close friends into young adulthood. They each had a stint cleaning rooms at local lodging facilities – Mary Ann at the hotel that now houses Carlos 1800 and Donna at the Sunny M Ranch on Wolf Creek Road, a former dude ranch owned by Sun Mountain. Mary Ann remembers hanging as many as 60 sheets out on a line to dry with very specific instructions from her boss that the creases down the middle be exact. Donna chimes in remembering ironing the sheets with a mangle.
Donna’s mother Della was an excellent seamstress and passed those skills on to Donna. Over the years, she has sewn cheerleading outfits, 49er queen dresses, old time photo shop costumes, and, as one would guess, Mary Ann’s wedding dress (along with many others).
Life moved through decades with marriages, children, good times and tough times for Donna and Mary Ann. Through it all, their friendship has never waned. Both ladies’ eyes glistened as they expressed what was the best thing about their lifelong friendship. They said alike, “I knew that no matter what, someone was always there for me.”
Now widows, they still count on each other and cherish the years they have spent together here in their hometown. Although changes have oftentimes been hard to accept, Donna’s pragmatism comes through. “I often think of the changes my parents saw. There has to be change.” Still, she remembers driving from Winthrop to Mazama and knowing who lived in every house. Not today.
In closing, I asked them if over the 76 years of friendship they have ever had a spat. They looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and smiled, “No. Never had a need to.”
“Old friends, they shine like diamonds/Old friends, you can always call/Old friends, Lord, you can’t buy em/You know it’s old friends, after all.” Lyrics by Chris Stapleton.