Sunday, January 28, 2018

My First Best Friend

I have little memory of life before her, my first best friend. How we met? I don’t even remember. Where? Most likely at church where our families faithfully attended. It seems like I’ve known her forever. Though our lives often diverged, sometimes for years at a time, always, we’ve come “home”. A safe refuge. A sweet place of kindred spirit, shared soul. 

Marcia. She set the stage for other dear and treasured friendships that followed, and she set the bar high. I try to think of words to describe her. Loyal. Generous. Honest. Smart. Tenacious. Brave. The list goes on. To put her in “words” simply doesn’t do justice to who she is.

Today’s her birthday. Every year, the same. Separated by only four days, we’re January girls. We share the same middle name, “Joy.” Her name suits her well. 

We began first grade and finished the next eight years together. When weekends came, our families went to church together and she and I often went to the other’s home for sleepovers. Friday night vespers and Saturday night socials and a host of other events tied our hearts together.

Being the the only girl in a mix of brothers when we met, I delighted in having a friend of my own gender. Oh, we were not “girly girls,” by the standards of some. We played hard and got our hands dirty. Though we had other friendships, we always gravitated toward each other. 

Those looking on probably would have described Marcia as bold and brash, loud and outspoken, the leader, the extrovert, while seeing me as shy and quiet, timid and reluctant, introverted, the follower. In truth, we were both perhaps all of these. We trusted each other. We had then, and still have our unique personalities and quirks. Yet we have something far more valuable. A shared heart for what we treasure most. Relationships that matter. 

One of my vivid memories is the morning my baby sister was born. We had just turned seven a few days earlier. Saturday night. Marcia came to spend the night at my home. A hurried call during the wee hours of the morning, and her Dad came and picked us up to take us to her home while my dad drove my mother to the hospital. Later that morning her mother handed me the phone, and my dad told me I had a baby sister. When her baby brother was born, I remember standing on tiptoes peeking through the outdoor viewing window into the nursery where he lay. (No brothers or sisters allowed into the hospital!). We were both little sisters and big sisters, plunked right in the midst of siblings.

Oh, so many memories! Pathfinder trips. Sharing a pup tent and giggling late into the night, savoring a treasure trove of candy she brought along. Going to Pinecrest summer camp together. Swimming in her pool, playing Marco Polo.Going with her as her dad flew his plane to PUC one Sabbath morning. Noticing boys, but not being noticed (so it seemed). 

Marcia was—and still is—a rabid Giant’s fan. When she was 9 years old, while reading Newsweek, she discovered  the name of the street where Willie Mays lived. On a trip to San Fransisco  she talked her parents into finding the street (no GPS or Google!) of one of the greatest baseball players of all time. She knocked on a random door and asked where he lived. Across the street! She and her sisters marched up to the door, rang the bell, and were greeted by a housekeeper. Marcia asked for Willie May’s autograph. The housekeeper left and promptly returned with the requested signature. Today, Marcia holds season tickets to Giant’s games, and can recite nearly every statistic of any Giant player over the last 60 years, and perhaps even earlier. 

In the fourth grade the teacher intercepted a note Marcia was passing to me, proclaiming that another student was the “teacher’s pet.” She and I were keen that all things should be done fairly, and this particular classmate seemed to have privileges not afforded to the rest of us.  Subsequently Marcia was suspended from school until she would apologize. Stubbornly, she refused, because she would not lie about being sorry for something she was not sorry for. She finally came back a week later, much to my delight.

Though our families were much the same, they were vastly different. Marcia came from a “doctor’s” family. In my younger years within my subculture, this held a certain prestige and privilege I was not accustomed to. Perhaps merely perceptions of what may not have been at all. My parents worked hard, were well-respected, and lived modestly. Marcia’s home had much that mine did not, like a swimming pool, a dishwasher, and  even a colored television (we didn’t even have a black and white). She had her own bedroom with a sink in it, as did her sisters. While it was lovely, I didn’t pine for those accoutrements, nor did she. Mine was a home where I felt cherished and loved, because I was. My parents loved Marcia, and she knew it. She credits them to this day with much that she knows of love.

When we were in fourth grade, the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had no idea, but Marcia knew. She proclaimed her goal to be “a doctor.” That’s exactly what happened. When she started medical school, I became a mother. Different trajectories. When my husband Lee began dental school, she came to visit, as she was attending the same university. Though our worlds seemed far apart, they were closer than we could have known. We have spoken of that visit and its meaning to both of us through the years since.

While in medical school, Marcia experienced what it was like to be a woman in a profession then dominated by men. Her story is her own to tell. I will ever be awed by her courage and resiliency during an era when women’s voices were often dismissed.

Marcia specialized in radiology. Upon completion of her residency, she joined the same group of radiologists where my Daddy had worked for nearly forty years. Though he was retired, he took great pride that she was working where he had spent so many years. She has told me, “He was legend there.” She’s not nearly as impressed by title and status as by what resides in one’s heart. She saw that in my parents. I’ll be forever grateful. 

When my mother began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and Daddy’s health was failing, Marcia shared my sadness. She came to see them, and cried with me. She loved them well, and they knew it. She intervened generously to “make a way” for us to meet their immediate needs. I will always treasure her love for  them. She is truly “family” in the ways that matter most.

When we began first grade together, our mothers, both accomplished seamstresses, sewed the requisite dresses we wore to school every day, and every year they sewed new ones. All thorough our elementary school years. When we graduated from eighth grade, our mothers sewed graduation dresses for us. Co-valedictorians, we both gave speeches and spoke of lofty ambitions. 

Our ways parted for a time, as we went to different schools, forged new friendships, and walked different paths. I am sometimes sad when I think of those desert years of our friendship, of what I missed. I didn’t know her new friends, and she didn’t know mine. Six short years later, she stood in the same church where I would stand two months later. She wed her high school boyfriend, as I did mine. I watched from the church pew and witnessed this stranger, my friend, say “I do.” When I married soon after, she sent a gift, a mixing bowl. I still have it. Every time I use it, I think of her, and how our friendship has been a mix of so many ingredients, blended into a savory yet sweet Delight. It’s been baking for over 60 years, and still has years to go. 

One of the precious memories I treasure is that of Marcia meeting Lee, my beloved husband. She and Lee connected from the start. Sometimes as I listen to their animated conversations I smile inside, thinking of how lucky I am. One of the joys in my life is introducing one dear friend to another, when each gets to see how special the other is. That’s how it is with Marcia and Lee. He gets why I love Marcia, and she understands why I chose him, why I love him. She is happy for us. She delights in our children and genuinely cares about each one. They love her.

Oh, I could go on. Marcia has suffered losses I can hardly bear to think about. She’s given time and resources beyond measure to help care for those she loves.  The profound losses of those she has loved casts a shadow over her heart, a deep grief. She does all she can to hold close those dear to her heart. As mother of a son and grandmother to three, they will always know her love and loyalty. Oh that all children be so blessed!

This past October my  youngest son married the love of his life. They chose our home as wedding venue, planning an outdoor event though implications for indoor use abounded. Rain pounded and floods came. Marcia took it in stride. Having arrived a few days early, she put on her gloves and went to work. Cleaning, scrubbing, running to the grocery store, bringing lunch, helping me organize thoughts, and things, clear my head and get ready for the guests who would be coming.  Perceptive and ready at a moment’s notice to do what needed to be done. What a gift! 

I learned later that someone visiting saw her down on her hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor. They asked her to get something for them, thinking she was a hired cleaning lady. When I heard this story from someone who witnessed the interaction (though not from her), I thought, “how like Marcia!” I knew she, a respected, accomplished  “doctor”, would count it an honor to be numbered among those with a servant-heart, among the cleaning ladies of the world. She would be delighted to claim identity with those some view as common and ordinary, because that is how she sees herself. No grandiose ideas of her own importance or conceit in her accomplishments. A friend.  Ready to put on the gloves and clean the bathroom floor. Humbly doing the job at hand, as much as reading an x-ray or diagnosing cancer on a screen or mentoring young physicians. In the trenches, doing what needs to be done, whenever, wherever,  and however, just to make the world a nicer place.

We were little girls “yesterday”, making mayhem  and mischief, dreaming dreams., making memories for a lifetime and longing for forever.  We’re 65. I’m four days into it. She’s trailing slightly, but crossed the line today. 61 years ago we met, and I’ve never been the same. Today we’re officially “seniors” on Medicare and get discounts we can laugh about, (but still use). We’re prepped for a little mischief and mayhem and ready for adventure. Our dreams have changed, but we still dream—the dreams for our children and grandchildren to know love and joy and peace all the days of their life. We’re still making memories. Still looking forward to the next time we’re together. Still savoring every day.

 My first best friend. My forever friend. 

Happy birthday, dear Marcia! I love you.


                                                Cape Lookout hike, Marcia and me. May 11, 2017

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