Their lifelong friendship began in an unlikely place — a hospital room.
Forty years ago, Faye Ray Maxwell and Aneita Watson had just given birth to their first children -- both boys -- and shared a room on the maternity floor at Memorial Hospital. The minute Maxwell began talking, Watson began laughing. It's been that way ever since.
"I met Aneita on the morning of Jan. 21, 1973," says a vivacious Maxwell, the more outgoing of the two. "She had her son, Curt, at 2 a.m.; I had David at 10:02 p.m. I was brought back to my room and she was in the bed beside me. I immediately made a joke, and we have been friends since that day."
Watson recalls it was a memorable way to start a friendship.
"We were ecstatic that we had both just given birth to baby boys and were starting our families," she says. "And, Faye was way too funny -- enough to keep me in pain for days. We were young, both 25. We held our sons, talked of the future and laughed every chance we had. We were friends right from the start."
Since then, the two, both 65 years old, have chalked up many memories, with some of the best from their trips to New York City, Maxwell says.
"On our first trip, in 2006, we saw the Rockettes' Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. It was so beautiful and exciting that we were laughing and crying. We felt like two 6-year-olds at Christmas time," she says.
Though the friends have visited New York City in the spring and fall, it's their December trips that are the most memorable, Maxwell says. "A carriage ride in the snow through Central Park is one of our fondest memories together," she says.
The lifelong friendship began with a meaningful promise. When the new friends left the hospital for their homes on opposite sides of town -- Maxwell in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.; Watson in Hixson -- they promised to keep in touch. It was Maxwell who made the first call just a few weeks later.
"I called to see how she was doing and if she had survived the side-splitting humor we had while in the room together," Maxwell says.
The call sealed the deal.
"We did vow to never lose touch with each other," Watson says. "We had shared one of life's greatest moments and we were going to stay in touch."
Over the years, their personalities began to weave together, complementing each other. Maxwell was the joker, the one who used humor to offset painful or tense moments or to just make people laugh. Watson was the quieter one, feet-on-the-ground, the one who saw the sunshine even on the cloudiest day.
"She still can make me laugh louder and quicker than anyone ever has," Watson says. "Humor is only one of her traits -- the greatest is her kindness to others and loving heart. She has always been there for me. Through happy and sad times, she has been by side."
Maxwell calls Watson "the sweetest, most caring person I have ever met."
"She is so easygoing. I enjoy being with her because she is never judgmental, never speaks ill about anyone and is always positive, no matter what is going on in her life."
At first, the friendship blossomed via phone calls because it was hard to get together in person. Maxwell was the office coordinator in the cardiac cath lab at Memorial Hospital while Watson was a homemaker.
"Faye was raising her son and had a career, and when Curt was 5 months old, I was pregnant again with my first daughter," Watson says. "I was a stay-at-home mom with two, then three, babies."
Maxwell later gave birth to another son.
Curt Watson, owner of Chattanooga Crane Rentals, says he learned of his mom's friendship with Maxwell when he was very young.
"I remember Faye and my mom doing things together," he says, describing their friendship as "a lifelong friend through thick and thin."
"They truly have a special bond," he says.
David Ray, Maxwell's son and a technical operations supervisor at Comcast, says that, even though the families never got together very often during the early years, he was well aware of his mother's friendship.
"They are the best of friends," he says.
While the ladies have shared many good times together, there have been hard times, too.
"We have experienced both of our mothers' deaths," Maxwell says. "Aneita was a great support system for me during the time my mother was ill."
But it was after the death of her father that Watson realized just how much she valued Maxwell's friendship.
"I lost my father in 1974 to melanoma on the same day I gave birth to my first daughter, Casey," Watson explains. "That was tragic for me. We knew he was dying and I was nine months and ready to deliver when I got the call from my mother at the hospital. I went into labor immediately and never got to go to the funeral.
"Faye was there at the hospital with me. I needed her. I made it through and went home to my two babies and a good friend who was always there to comfort and encourage me."
Today, Maxwell and Watson are adjusting to being senior citizens.
"It seems to have happened so quickly," Watson says. "Those two young women way back in 1973 had no idea how full their lives were going to be and especially that some day they would be grandmothers to 11 grandchildren and still be best friends having fun together. We laugh a lot, and I think it's the best thing that we do these days."
Since Maxwell's retirement last year from Memorial, the friends talk at least three times a week and spend more time together. Whether it's shopping around town, getting their hair styled together at the same salon, playing cards with their husbands or spending a girls' weekend in New York City, their friendship is stronger than ever.
"My life has been given an added blessing by knowing Aneita," Maxwell adds. "I believe God puts people in our paths for a purpose, and this has been no exception."
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...