They laugh together. They make jokes together. They go for dinner and try not to disagree about what kind of food they will eat on an outing.
You see, they are friends. Not really all that unusual, as everyone hopes for the bonds of good friendship.
Yet, Mildred “Millie” Houston and Hylas Burdette are as an unlikely a pair — really quite the odd couple at the senior living apartment complex where they live in Chester.
You see, Millie is a transplant from the New York and New Jersey area, and grew up in Ohio. Hylas spent 87 years living in West Virginia. They both like to eat out and they like to shop. Sometimes they buy the same shoes and might say that they have a shoe fetish.
They are both slight women, small frames and fashionable ladies in their later years. Hylas only likes to wear black and white outfits and Millie likes to wear pops of color. They refer to each other as sisters “of another father” and laugh like young girls.
One goes to sleep early at night and one is a night owl. One is a health nut and takes extreme care of herself and the other has had two heart attacks among many ailments. One of them keeps few possessions and the other has tons of clothes.
So, opposites they are. But unlike the famous Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar, they laugh together about all their differences.
And, their biggest difference is not one at all. Hylas is white and Millie is black. In today’s times when so many are torn by race, these two lovely ladies revel in having found each other at their advanced ages.
Hylas is 92 and Millie will not tell her age. “I am so glad to still be here at 92,” said Hylas. “So I announce it all around the place.” Millie is quieter about her digits and said, “Shhh it’s a secret.” She laughs but she is at least 80. To meet them they could both be 30 because they are so young at heart.
They are like sisters. They often make a joke about going shopping — one of their favorite pastimes — and how once a salesgirl asked them if they were sisters. “We thought it was the funniest thing ever and still laugh about it all the time,” Millie said.
They’ve only found this wonderful friendship in the last five years since they both came to live at the senior apartment community in the Chester Village.
“I’ve never seen myself as a prejudice person at all,” said Millie. “I grew up in Ohio and the race problems and oppression for black people there was very real.” She left Ohio as soon as she could attend college because she wanted to know about the rest of the world. Millie is light skinned and says her mother also was and could’ve been a mixed race. “I just remember them as my mother and dad and I grew up very close to them,” Millie said. She went on to college and moved to New York, married and had two children.
Hylas, on the other hand, never left West Virginia until she moved to the senior living apartments five years ago. She spent her entire life of 87 years in West Virginia, marrying twice and raising four children.
Both women moved to Chester because of their children. Millie’s son lives in Chesterfield and wanted her close by so he could watch after her. He still does and they talk just about every day. “I didn’t want to come here but my son, Major Robinson, is my only child, and I thought it was best to come,” Millie shared.
Hylas had a daughter and son-in-law living in the Chester Commons area and came here five years ago straight from West Virginia.
“West Virginia, in the area I lived in, was primarily a white population,” said Hylas. “I had hardly any exposure in West Virginia to black people.” Hylas’ daughter and her husband moved again for Virginia Power and are not in the area any longer. “I just decided I was settled here and I wanted to stay here,” Hylas said.
But, the two never for one moment even saw race and do not see it to this day. At their ages, they feel grateful to have found such a friendship. “We don’t see color at our age,” said Millie. “It seems like we’ve known each other so much longer.” They have been best buds for the past five years, almost since the day they met.
They met working on one of the committees at the senior apartment complex and immediately hit it off. Hylas laughed from her belly as she admired her friend and said, “We tell each other everything.” Just like two young girls they talk about their matching shoes they were wearing that day and where they will be going for lunch. Mexican is discussed and there may be a shopping trip on the agenda.
They both are friendly and outgoing. “We work on the activities committee here,” Millie said. “We like church and the socials and helping with refreshments.” They both know that at their ages they are lucky to still be alive and still rarer to have found a friendship.
They both have had many friends that have died. They both have outlived one of their children.
“Millie and I can say anything to each other.” And they laugh that they must stay friends because “we know too much on each other now, too many secrets.”
They both have outlived all their families and only have their children left. They feel like they are now family. Hylas suffers with her heart and when she had a recent scare, she called Millie to come right down to her apartment. “Our children are so glad we have each other to check-in on each other and do things together,” said Millie. “It means a lot.”
And after all, isn’t that what life is all about, having people to love and call family or friends?