Growing up in Lombard in the 1960s, best friends Kathy Hughes and Annette Saviano always had something to talk about: teachers, boys, hopscotch, Barbies.
They'd talk as they walked to school, talk as they walked home, and then call each other at night to talk some more. They'd walk three or four miles, just because they'd gotten wrapped up in a conversation and lost track of time.
They knew adulthood would pose challenges to their friendship, but that was OK, because when they were about 13, they came up with a plan.
"Wouldn't it be great to grow up and marry two best friends, so we could stay best friends forever?" Kathy said.
Yes, Annette said. That would be perfect.
Three years later, they met Bob Carter and Nick Citta. Bob had grown up in Downers Grove and had good friends in his neighborhood. But when Nick moved to Downers Grove from Chicago the year before, Bob invited him to spend time with him and his pals. Both boys liked cars, Motown, ice hockey and softball, and it wasn't long before they were best friends.
In the fall of 1968, all four teenagers were working at the Woolworth store at the brand-new Yorktown Center mall, the girls as cashiers, the boys as stock boys. Nick quickly noticed Annette, and he began to focus his restocking efforts on the pets department, where she worked.
"That was the cleanest area of the whole store," Kathy recalls.
Annette had a boyfriend, but when he came to the store looking for her, Nick was ready.
"Oh," Nick said casually to the boyfriend. "She doesn't work here anymore."
Bob and Kathy started dating in April, and Kathy thought it would be great if their best friends could date too.
"You don't have to marry the guy," Kathy wrote in a note to Annette. "You just have to go out with him."
Nick, in fact, kept asking Annette out — and she kept saying no, until finally Nick told Bob that he was going to ask just one more time, and if Annette said no, he wouldn't ask again. Bob told Kathy who told Annette, who walked through the halls of Willowbrook High School with her books in her arms, thinking, "Why won't I go out with him?"
That's when Annette told Kathy who told Bob who told Nick that, OK, Nick could take her out on a date.
The four friends had become inseparable at work, where they took all of their breaks together, even after they had been warned repeatedly not to. One Sunday in June, they all went out on break together, and returned to learn that their manager had had enough. He fired Annette, and the other three friends quit in protest before they, too, could be fired.
Their relationships went better than their Woolworth careers. Annette and Nick got engaged a month after high school, and married two years later in 1973.
"Once they started dating, that was it," says Bob.
Bob was drafted after high school and served in Vietnam, but he and Kathy stayed in touch and started dating again after he came back. By her junior year of college, they, too, were engaged.
Four decades later, the Carters, who live in Downers Grove and have three children and two grandchildren, and the Cittas, who live in Bartlett and have two children, say they're still the best of friends.
"We all have a good sense of humor and we like to talk and laugh, so it doesn't get old," says Annette, 61, a former banking executive.
"We'll go to dinner and we'll have an 8 o'clock reservation — or even a 7 o'clock — and we're there (until) 1 o'clock," says Nick, 61, a ComEd lineman.
"Closing the place down," says Kathy, 61, co-owner of a gift boutique.
"Every time we go out!" says Nick.
When Bob was in Vietnam, Nick went to visit Bob's mom. "My mother-in-law never forgot that," Kathy says.
Kathy and Bob were maid of honor and best man at Annette and Nick's wedding, and Annette and Nick returned the favor. When Annette's father was dying, she would call Kathy at 3 o'clock in the morning. When Bob's father died, Annette and Nick had a cooler of food on the Carters' front porch before Kathy and Bob had even gotten back from making arrangements with family members.
"We have a history as friends, and a history as couples, that's pretty unique," says Kathy.
"I know his whole family. He knows my whole family," Bob, 62, the owner of an auto body shop, says of Nick.
"You're involved in the kids' graduations, baptisms, all of that," says Nick.
"Barbies to baby showers, you know?" says Annette.
"Think of everything that happens to you from the time you're in third grade to the time you're a grandmother — (Annette) was there, or a phone call away, for the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly," says Kathy.
"It's the truth, and I could never capture that again with anybody else. I'm sure you have friends like that, too, where you can say a phrase and it takes you back to a moment. There's nobody else I can do that with like Annette. I have other friends, and I have other good friends. There's friends and there's friends — and there's only one Annette."
A compatible sense of humor is key to love — and friendship.
"We've never had a period of time when we've all been mad at each other, where we haven't talked to each other," Kathy Carter says of the relationship she and Bob have with their best friends Annette and Nick Citta.
"We just all jell," says Bob.
"We click," says Annette.
"We click," says Kathy. "We just have the same sense of humor. She'll laugh at dumb things I say. We'll all laugh at dumb things the guys say —"
"— And do," adds Annette.
"Hey, wait a minute!" says Nick.