I met our friend Marla in July 1971 when I walked into Empire Savings and Loan for a job interview. I was sticky hot, nervous, nineteen and desperate. After getting married and moving from Northern California to Southern California a month before, I still had not found a job. The three hundred and eighty dollars I had in savings was spent, and my husband’s Navy paycheck minus the monthly dependent’s allotment, which the Navy still had not sent me, only covered rent. I needed the job, even if it was only part time. Therefore, Marla’s kind smile was much appreciated as she approached and asked if she could help me.
It turned out I was early; the branch manager, she said, was still at lunch, and she suggested I sit and wait at the counter, which I did. But instead of walking away, as I expected, Marla sat down also. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about; but I know it was chit-chat meant to put me at ease. What a nice girl I remember thinking—a pretty girl with a great smile and thick brown hair platted into two braids that were wound into buns on each side of her head. She was impeccably dressed in a beige and brown A-line empire waisted mini dress that showed off her tanned arms and legs.
I don’t know why I can still see our friend Marla in that dress. My memory is full of images of her over the past forty-seven years we have been friends, layer upon layer of images, the clothing not always in focus but the smile is always there and the generosity—because if I were allowed only one word to describe our friend Marla it would be generous.
As Paula so succinctly put it, “Marla allowed me to be myself,” and she did the same for me—a gift not often given. She also shared her family when mine was five hundred miles away, inviting me to more Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners than I can count. She allowed me to become an honorary aunt to her children, and over the years she has spent countless hours listening to me do most of the talking. And Paula has her lists also—examples of Marla’s readiness to give kindness, and the many laughs they shared. Then four years ago, when Marla was diagnosed with the debilitating disease ALS, she generously trusted Paula and I to push her wheelchair, to tie her shoes, to dress her, and when she no longer was able to move, to fuss over her during her husband David’s short and infrequent absences.
While I have hundreds of photographs of camping trips, ski trips, golf weekends, our trip to Guadalajara and Puerta Vallarta, birthdays, holidays, New Year’s Eve celebrations, college graduations, a memorable sailing excursion to Catalina, and my wedding photographs when Marla was my Maid of Honor—special times that have shaped my life—it is the last three years of our time together that I have come to value the most; for it is during these last years when Marla demonstrated the extent of her generosity sharing the very limited time she had left with Paula and me, allowing us to feel the little we could do for her made a difference.