I was worried that she’d think the birthday tiara, made of sparkling pink rhinestones that spelled out “100,” would be a little over the top, but I should have known better.
From her wheelchair, and with surprising speed, she lowered her head so that I could put on her crown, then raised her arms so that I could settle her sash (“100 Years Young”) around her shoulders. Sashes have to look stylish, after all. She looked like a queen.
I am so grateful for my find friend. Though there are many decades between us, my friendship with Mary Dacoba is a fine and simple thing: I love Mary and Mary loves me. Not just today, on this day of special gratitude, but every day, as we lead our daily lives, I just can’t help but think how cool it would be if all of us could choose to cherish our girlfriends with greater gusto. In these busy times, we tend to overlook, underestimate, and forget to celebrate our friendships.
Our mutual love of writing was the spark that fanned the first flames of our friendship. On the morning of my first meeting of the Great Falls Writers Group, (a group I started several years ago), I remember sitting in the conference room of the library by myself, staring at the empty chairs, convinced that nobody was going to show up. Miss Mary was the first person to walk through the door. I loved her at first sight.
When Mary writes, her words dance right off the page. She likes to write about (and talk about) the first miraculous moment she realized she’d learned to read, and about her very first visit to the library, describing it as a “grand building with tall towers of books on every, single wall.”
Her description of those tall towers still makes me cry happy tears because it’s precisely the way I’ve described my own first visit to the library. I still remember how all those tall towers of beautiful books took my breath away. They still do. Mary and I laughingly describe ourselves as, “wise women of words.” But we’re kind of serious about it, too.
During her birthday party at L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Miss Mary nodded towards me and called me over to the seat beside her with her eyes. As I adjusted her crown of rhinestones she patted my hand and whispered something she’d told me several times before — but this time it felt a little different simply because she’d never said it as a 100-year-old woman:
“You saved my life, and I want to thank you again for doing that. I l love you.”
Mary lives in Great Falls but raised her three children in Brooklyn. When her husband died, she stumbled, and then fell, into a deep, dark well of grief that was almost too deep. Her daughter Domenica told me that her mom’s grief had gotten greedy and they were all worried. When Domenica saw a small write-up in the local paper about a writing group starting up, she strongly suggested her mom attend. Almost immediately, Mary became “the Mother” of our little writing family, a title she still holds today.
Here’s the beauty about besties and the reason we should choose to cherish this very cool thing called friendship: Friendship itself can grow anywhere, under any condition, between any two people of any race or age — as long as the seeds have been planted and the soil is rich and fertile.
Sure, it was the written word that first brought Mary and I together, and it has remained the sturdy bridge between us, but as the years have unfolded, our friendship path has unfolded, too, into a wider thing that includes not just a common love of words but love, admiration, respect, and, yes, great gratitude. We are grateful for each other.
Many, many times, when I think about my friendship with Mary, I think about a line from one of my favorite books, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith: “Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.
Mary knew that magic hour when she first learned to read the printed word. I knew that hour, too. And even though they happened at different times and in different places, the magic hour itself is what first brought us together.
Mary Dacoba is my tree that grows in Brooklyn. She is steady and strong, with leaves that protect me and roots that make me feel a little more stable and connected to the world around me. How grateful I am that she was once lived in Brooklyn but now lives only a few miles down the road. I can see her anytime I want.
Over the years, as our friendship has flourished, I’ve come to realize that a relationship like ours really is a living, breathing thing, like gratitude itself. Gratitude has a pulse. It moves and grows and becomes stronger, like a summer breeze or maybe like a tree. It does not – or should not — sit still. To stay alive, it must grow.
So no, all those pink rhinestones weren’t over the top. For a lovely lady like Mary, they weren’t even near the top. I think I’m going to call her right now. She’s still a very busy lady, thank God, but I know she’ll stop whatever she’s doing for a quick conversation. That’s what besties do. They stop for each other.
Mary likes to tell me I saved her life. I realize, now, that it’s high time I told her something pretty important:
She saved mine, too.
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, editor, and journalist. She lives in Northern Virginia. She can be reached at [email protected]