When Clara Anne Eaton (then Rackers) and Mary Rose Dickey (then Cassmeyer) met at beauty school in Jefferson City a half century ago, they became fast friends.
After graduating, they both took jobs at the same salon in Columbia. They lived together, worked together and played together.
"We went to cosmetology conventions together; we just did everything," Eaton said. "We went to a dance in Lohman one time, and I went as Jackie Kennedy and she went as Jack Kennedy. We just did a lot of stuff together."
Still, they lived their own lives, dating and spending weekends with family at home.
They both "had a sense of adventure and it was clear they were embarking on their individual journeys to womanhood," Eaton's son, Jason, wrote in an e-mail to the News Tribune.
During a Christmas in the early '60s, while still living together, they made a pact over a plastic poinsettia gift topper they used as a Christmas decoration. Wherever life took them, they vowed to renew their friendship by passing the poinsettia back and forth, alternating ownership each Christmas.
"It's kind of special because it's so simple. In this time when things are pretty commercialized, it's a pretty simple little gesture we do," Dickey said. "It's kind of a tearyeyed moment when it arrives to you. It's kind of special."
Dickey put her career on hold for a few years while raising a family, then went into the food service business, working 27 years for the Jefferson City School District before recently "retiring," although she still works there part time. Eaton moved around from Denver to Dallas and eventually back to Mid-Missouri.
Throughout their lives, they've often been separated by great distances. Now, they live south of Jefferson City, just a few miles apart.
"I've lost three brothers and a sister and her friendship has always been there and got me through a lot of this," Eaton said.
While establishing careers and families in the 1960s, the two lost touch for a few years. But since at least the 1970s, they've never forgotten a year. If the two were nearby, the poinsettia was handdelivered. If they were separated by distance, it was mailed.
"It has traversed the nation as each of the women began a new leg of their journey and seen them both through marriages, raising families, loss of loved ones and countless trials and tribulations," Jason wrote.
Eaton and Dickey, now 70 and 73, over the years have occasionally doctored up the poinsettia, which is now a halfcentury old.
"It's kind of tattered and torn with a few wrinkles in it, kind of like us," Eaton said with a laugh.
"A lot of times, we sit and have a cup of coffee together and reminisce about the years," Eaton said. "It takes us to 1960, when we were best of friends.
"This, to me, is what Christmas is all about. It's friendship. It's staying in touch with the people you love," she said.
Dickey said they'll continue the tradition "as long as we're around.
"I think it would be really hard to stop it now (unless) we're not able to do it. I'm not a spring chicken anymore, but who knows what's ahead."