DECATUR, Ga. -- You may remember the line from the movie Casablanca: "This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
This story is a reminder of just how beautiful friendships can be.
First, meet Tad Landau; he has been a firefighter for ten years for DeKalb County Fire Station #1.
"People call us in their worst hour," says Landau. "We see people when they don't want to be seen."
But, he notes, "Once you do the job, that's the end of it. You wonder about people; you wonder how people are doing."
Two summers back, Landau's station received a medical call. An elderly woman had fallen at her home. Landau did not yet know it, but he was about to enter, not a one-time job, but that beautiful friendship.
At the home off Clairmont Road, he found a irrepressible character named Mary Wood.
A former employee with the city of Atlanta, Wood lives alone in DeKalb County. She has a non-stop motor and, while she rarely moves, she loves to chat.
Landau saw this immediately, but he also saw a woman with no air conditioning, no living family, and little help.
"She was afraid to let people help her," Landau said. "I never thought our relationship would get to where it is today.
And where is that?
"Well, she's part of my family now."
Every third day, if they are not answering a call, Landau and his team drop in to see Ms. Wood.
"Even her neighbors now know, if they see a fire truck in the street, there's nothing wrong," Landau says. "We're just here to check in on Mary."
In the past two years, Landau has fixed Wood's air conditioning and bought her a television. As Wood said, he has also become her best friend.
Late last month, with Wood's 90th birthday approaching, Landau prepared a special present: a party at her church of more than 50 years.
To watch Ms. Wood at this party was to see a personification of happiness, gratitude, and friendship. She greeted old friends from the church and new friends who now provide her with additional help.
Of course, she saved a special place for Landau.
"She will talk about today probably for the next six months," the firefighter said. "This is special. I know she's really happy."
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