Nov 30, 2021

Mom’s friend Arlen was pretty, with a lilting voice and very precise diction (her parents were immigrants, and she didn’t learn to speak English until she was six); she was graceful—even taught ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray studio at one time—and musical, with a clear soprano voice and sophisticated taste that embraced everything from Gregorian chant to Philip Glass…

For years she’d been a stay-at-home mom, married to a world-class mathematician, though she’d never finished college herself, and they’d entertained the academic elite in their beautiful architect-designed home—that is, until her husband left her for a neighbor woman, who abandoned her children to marry him.

I’ve already written about what an inviting home she turned her run-down little cottage into. In winter she always had a fire burning in the fireplace; in summer her flowering shrubs ran riot in the yard. Eventually their household included two Siamese cats—shrewd, temperamental Liesle and an easy-going male whose name eludes me—as well as Barik, a beautiful samoyed who was eventually run over by a car.

She surrounded herself with plants, including exotic ones I’d never seen before, and always had new cuttings she’d snipped from public and private gardens sprouting roots in jars in the kitchen. She was forever tinkering with recipes, too, or trying to duplicate dishes she’d had in restaurants. She taught me to make an easy oil piecrust and crepes with lemon syrup, explaining that the secret to making anything sweet flavorful was salt.

She dabbled at painting and was always full of ideas for creative projects. She collected postcards and pictures from magazines of anything that caught her eye: fine art—she had a connoisseur’s appreciation—elegant interiors, photographs of nature, animals, children…  

After my return to the Bay Area, Arlen would become—and for many years remain—a mentor, whose opinion I sought about all things artistic, as well as the friend who was most appreciative of my own creative endeavors and singing voice.