Friends for life: Celebrating milestone birthdays has become tradition for these ladies

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and Mary Jo Gallico sailed from Bonita Springs to Pine Island for their 60th birthday celebration.

Submitted photo

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and Mary Jo Gallico sailed from Bonita Springs to Pine Island for their 60th birthday celebration. Submitted photo

For their 40th birthday celebration, Mary Jo Gallico, left, and Mary Ellen Carr met for a sailing trip on the Chesapeake in 1990.

Photo by Linda Shipman

For their 40th birthday celebration, Mary Jo Gallico, left, and Mary Ellen Carr met for a sailing trip on the Chesapeake in 1990. Photo by Linda Shipman

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and her long-time friend, Mary Jo Gallico, get together at least once every 10 years to celebrate their birthdays together. Here, during their 60th birthday celebration, the two recreated a photo that was taken on their Huffy bicycles when they were little girls.  

Photo by Jim Knox

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and her long-time friend, Mary Jo Gallico, get together at least once every 10 years to celebrate their birthdays together. Here, during their 60th birthday celebration, the two recreated a photo that was taken on their Huffy bicycles when they were little girls. Photo by Jim Knox

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and Mary Jo Gallico, on their Huffy bicycles in 1956 when they were little girls growing up in Dayton, Ohio.  

Photo by Jim Gallico

Mary Ellen Carr, left, and Mary Jo Gallico, on their Huffy bicycles in 1956 when they were little girls growing up in Dayton, Ohio. Photo by Jim Gallico

June 10, 1956 proved to be a momentous day in the life of Mary Jo Gallico.

That was when her family moved into a house in Dayton, Ohio. But more importantly, that was the day a 5-and-a-half-year-old Gallico moved next door to Mary Ellen Carr, who became her best friend for the next 5-and-a-half decades.

The house was on Chatham Street, and that led Mary Ellen’s dad to coin a phrase: “Up and at ‘em on Chatham.”

Unfortunately, this neighborhood arrangement was not to last, explains Gallico, who lives seasonally in Estero with her husband Jim. The Carrs left Dayton in 1959, and her young friend moved several more times during childhood.

“We only lived next door to them for three years,” said Gallico.

The girls’ friendship didn’t suffer, though. Their parents remained close, which meant the girls could stay close, too. They saw each other every summer, and managed to grow up together anyway, despite the distance.

Eventually, as adults, Gallico and Carr decided to cultivate a new tradition. Their birthdays, like their childhood homes, are close: Gallico’s is November 4, and Carr’s is November 3. As their 40th birthday approached, the women decided to do something special. “Forty became a really big deal,” Gallico said.

Gallico and Carr, along with a third female friend, rented a 35-foot sailboat and decided to go sailing for three days on the Chesapeake Bay. Sailing was always a popular pastime for the friends, Gallico explained.

“Any chance we had, we would do anything connected to water,” she said.

So successful was the trip that they decided to repeat it 10 years later. But this time, it was sailing through the British Virgin Islands. When planning for their 60th birthdays, the women once again wanted it to be on the waves. However, with an eye to the economical, they turned to Southwest Florida for their retreat, and spent five days boating from Bonita Springs to Pine Island in March 2010, fully equipped with bicycles, sleeping bags, propane stove, a French press for their coffee and several bottles of wine.

Their journey began in Cayo Costa, where they camped for two nights. Afterwards, they traveled to Boca Grande and Useppa Island. At Cabbage Key, they had a twinge of nostalgia when they ran into some travelers who were visiting from — where else? — Dayton, Ohio.

There were other memorable moments. Gallico has a photo of her and Carr from 1956, posing with their Huffy bicycles. On this 60th birthday trip, Gallico notes, the bikes were also Huffys.

Carr now lives in Washington, D.C., and is a speech therapist. But the women are close year-round, not just on the birthdays that end in zeroes. Gallico doesn’t have any children of her own, but she is godmother to Carr’s two daughters.

“We’re best friends,” Gallico said. “If anything in the world ever happens, she’s the one I call.”

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E-mail Elizabeth Kellar at liz@elizabethkellar.com

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