Several years ago Bailey Takala, an almost 20-something, met Mara Jarl , a friendly, tow-headed, blue-eyed first grader. Bailey was attending university then, but made it a priority to volunteer at a local Calumet, Michigan elementary school in an afterhours program called Great Explorations. Bailey had been a volunteer for the program since her high school years. Mara was one of the students enrolled in Great Explorations, and after their initial meeting at GE, Mara and Bailey became fast friends. When Mara learned that Bailey lived close to her house, she rode her bike over to visit Bailey almost every afternoon. On one of her visits to Bailey’s, Mara spotted a candy dispensing machine that had M&Ms in it. She was fascinated by the device – a type of gumball machine – and loved to turn the handle, watch the candy tumble down and eat a few M&Ms while she was visiting. “How did they get those M&Ms in there?” was a frequent question and a great mystery to the 6 year old. Initially Bailey strictly limited the number of M&M’s Mara ate so that the candy would not ruin her appetite for supper, but it wasn’t long before Bailey and Jan, Bailey ‘s mother, realized that whatever Mara ate at their house might be the only food she would get for the rest of the day. Over time Takala ‘s began to realize how destitute Mara’s family was, and they started to offer Mara nourishing food in generous amounts, which Mara never turned down. But seeing that the candy was a special treat, Takala ‘s made sure that the candy machine was always full of M&Ms for Mara.
About 4 years after Mara and Bailey struck up their friendship, Bailey became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thad Johnson, whom Mara had come to know through his many visits to Takala’s. Bailey spoke often of her upcoming wedding, and Mara was always excited to hear about the plans for Bailey and Thad’s big day, which was going to be at the height of summer – a very beautiful time of year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Because Mara was so interested in all the wedding discussion, Bailey invited Mara to the wedding, and to her bridal shower, also. Mara was extremely happy to be included in the momentous occasions, and looked forward to them both as only a child can.
On the day of the bridal shower Bailey and Mara had time to talk about what a shower was, who would be attending and what kinds of things happen at a shower. During the festivities Mara enjoyed meeting Bailey ‘s extended family and friends, and eating the wonderful food that was prepared for the guests. Mara also watched with great interest as Bailey opened her shower gifts, but the highlight of the afternoon for Mara was the cup of M&M’s that she got to eat all by herself.
Two weeks before the wedding, Mara came over to Bailey ‘s with a plastic bag that was rather balloon-shaped and presented it to Bailey as a gift for her and Thad. Bailey was very touched at Mara’s generosity. She said, “Thank you Mara! But you didn’t have to get us anything for our wedding.” Mara ignored Bailey ‘s concerns and insisted that she put the gift down carefully on the table and open it, which Bailey did. What Bailey found inside was a wedding cake topper circa 1970, complete with a large domed circular base sporting a plastic bride and groom standing in front of a big, lacey plastic heart. It also appeared that the topper still had remnants of frosting from the cake it had adorned so many years ago. As Mara and Bailey gazed at the plastic decoration, Mara offered a brief explanation for her choice of a wedding gift: “Just in case you get to have a cake at your wedding.” Bailey again tried to gently tell Mara that she shouldn’t have used the little money she had to buy a wedding gift, but Mara said, “No problem, Bailey! It’s from the Community Free Store!”
Mara went happily home, confident that she had chosen just the right gift for Bailey and Thad’s wedding. Bailey, on the other hand, had a dilemma: how could she honor the gift from her little friend but not actually use it on the cake since she had already chosen and paid for a cake topper herself? Bailey called Sheila Thompson, the woman who was making her wedding cake. Sheila worked at the school, knew many of the kids in the GE program, and understood how important it would be for Mara to have her cake topper used at the wedding reception.
“Don’t worry, Bailey,” Sheila said, “I will think of something. It will work out just fine.” Sheila was both compassionate and capable, and Bailey trusted her with finding the best answer to the cake topper challenge.