Catching up on seven decades

Shirley Torris, left, and Gloria Halowell Barber were good friends in high school who lost touch after being in a friend’s wedding in 1952. When Torris saw Barber’s picture in the November issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine, she was able to reach out and the two have renewed their friendship.

The name was familiar. And even after 70 years, the face was familiar too.

Shirley Torris, a lifelong Castle Shannon resident, was reading the November, 2023, issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine, and there, on page 27, was a picture of a smiling Gloria Halowell Barber. As Shirley Seibel, Torris had attended Mt. Lebanon High School, graduating in 1950. Gloria Halowell, who lived on Castle Shannon Boulevard across from Baptist Homes, was a year ahead of Seibel. They were part of a “gang” of girlfriends, as Gloria said, and they had lost touch after being bridesmaids at a friend’s wedding in 1952.

“I was so excited when I saw her picture,” Torris said. “I used to drive by her house and wonder what happened to her.”

As the writer of Mt. Lebanon in World War II, the story that started all this, I was excited too when managing editor Merle Jantz told me Torris had contacted him and subsequently reconnected with Barber. I had really enjoyed interviewing Barber for the World War II story. Then I realized I had known Torris years ago, when she worked at the Castle Shannon municipal office and I was covering the borough for the Post-Gazette. I wanted to see them both, and fortunately they agreed to meet with me at Barber’s apartment at Concordia of the South Hills, on Bower Hill Road.

It was such a pleasure. Torris and Barber, who had already visited together recently, needed little prompting to revisit their high school days. They met in study hall when Torris was in ninth grade. (Back then, Castle Shannon kids could choose to attend Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, or other South Hills high schools; the Keystone Oaks School District wasn’t formed until 1965.) Their mutual friend, Audrey Nordquist, brought them together. “She was the connection,” Torris said.

Torris and Barber recalled getting to high school via the Fairview streetcar, which ran in a loop from Castle Shannon to Mt. Lebanon’s Central Square, then walking from there. The streetcar was called  “the dinky,” because it was smaller than the streetcars that ran from Downtown. After school, “sometimes we’d go up to Isaly’s (on Washington Road) for ice cream,” Barber said.

“Remember going to Pete and Art’s?” Torris broke in. (Apparently, Pete and Art’s was a soda fountain at Willow and Park in Castle Shannon, where Kimmie’s Lounge is now.)

“We never missed a football game,” Barber recalled. “There was one player I thought was cute.”

They visited Nordquist’s house a lot, partly because the family had a television set, a rarity circa 1950. “It was a hen party,” Barber said. “We’d just watch whatever was on,” which wasn’t a lot. Torris recalled seeing Milton Berle, then starring in the Texaco Star Theater.

Both friends have vivid memories of a trip to Wildwood, New Jersey, in 1952. Barber showed me a picture she had saved, of the two of them on a sightseeing boat in Cape May.

Barber and Torris, far right, in the front row of a sightseeing boat during a 1952 trip to Wildwood, New Jersey.

They were at the beach all day, every day. “I got a really dark tan,” Barber said. “One of the other girls got sun poisoning and went home.”

Toward the end of their two-week stay, money was tight, so they collected bottles on the beach and turned them in for the deposit. “It was enough for hot dogs and beans,” Torris recalled.

That same year, Nordquist got married, and Barber and Torris were bridesmaids. “We made our own dresses, from white organdy,” Barber said.

And then life happened. Both ladies worked downtown for awhile. Barber married in 1954 and raised her family in Baldwin Township. She and her husband, Russell, moved to Concordia just a couple of weeks before he passed away in 2021.

Torris, too, married and had children. She stayed in Castle Shannon, started working for the borough, and retired in 2018 after 47 years of service. Both have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They spent decades living three miles away from each other. They even shopped at the same Shop ‘N Save on Castle Shannon Boulevard. But Torris and Barber never saw each other. Now, at 91 and 93, respectively, their bond has been renewed.

“We will continue to be connected,” Barber said.

“Yes, we will,” said Torris.