March 31, 2003 12:00 PM

Avid monkey-bar climbers and loyal soccer teammates, Lani Title and Brians Adams are inseparable. But until recently, no one knew that the second graders share a deeper bond—one that goes back three generations. At a game last fall, Lani’s mom, Konni, and Briana’s dad, John, got to chatting about their own mothers. Both, they learned, were from Sacramento; during World War II, both had been interned with their families and 19,000 other Japanese-Americans in California’s Tule Lake camp. “What are the chances,” wondered Konni, 38, a dentist, “they’d know each other?”

In fact Lani and Briana’s respective grandmothers, Nancy Kawata and Carolyn Adams, both 69, had been best friends—and last month they were reunited for the first time since 1942. “The events that separated us were horrendous, and to have a happy ending is amazing,” says Carolyn. “Two 7-year-olds brought together two 70-year-olds.”

Nancy and Carolyn were 8 themselves, bound by a love of dolls, when they were forced from their homes; they never found each other in the huge camp, and their families later left the state. Eventually both returned to California, where they married and had kids, but neither knew the other’s whereabouts. By coincidence, Nancy’s daughter and Carolyn’s son wound up living in Walnut Creek, near San Francisco.

During their fieldside talk, John, 41, sales director for a cancer treatment firm, offered to lend Konni a novel his uncle had written about the camp. She gave the book, Tule Lake, to her mother in L.A. After reading it Nancy called John’s uncle Edward Miyakawa and asked the real name of his sister, mentioned in the book. “I know her!” she said, and promptly rang Carolyn in Oakland. They spoke for 30 minutes.

At the reunion in Walnut Creek, the years melted away. “These chubby cheeks of mine never changed,” Nancy said. Answered Carolyn: “I can see the 7-year-old in you.” The girls, it seems, can see the septuagenarian in each other. “We’ll be friends,” Briana vows, “till we die.”

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