Early friendship develops through babysitting job and lasts decades

Joan Brand today and as a 1-year-old, about the time Estelle Mazis became her sitter.
Joan Brand today and as a 1-year-old, about the time Estelle Mazis became her sitter. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 19, 2014

CHERRY HILL During the 1940s, they were next-door neighbors in South Philly's Tasker Homes.

"We were poor," Joan Brand, 71, recalls with a smile.

"To save the eight cents," says her friend Estelle Mazis, 85, "I walked instead of taking the trolley car."

Their families eventually were able to move out of public housing. Brand and Mazis graduated from high school, married, and began their careers. And both eventually settled in Cherry Hill.

But ever since Mazis became Brand's babysitter at Tasker Homes - "I remember you were learning to walk," Mazis says - their lives have been intertwined, their connections ever more intricate.

"She's the only one I ever let babysit for my own daughter," Mazis says, adding that her daughter later babysat for Brand's son once or twice.

Such arrangements were easy to make. Except for a few years in the 1950s, Mazis and Brand have almost always lived within a few miles of each other.

"It was just meant to be," says Brand, who retired from the laboratory at Kennedy Health System in Cherry Hill last year.

"I want to show you this picture. My father took it," she says, picking up a tiny black-and-white snapshot from her kitchen table. "There's my mother. Here I am. And there's Estelle."

Mazis sits next to her friend and leafs through the photo album. There are familiar faces on every page, some long gone, others still alive and well. As the women look at the pictures, the memories bloom.

"There's your Uncle Irving," she says to Brand. "I dated him."

They really are like family. Mazis was also great friends with Brand's mother, Rhea Goldman, who died in 1991. Brand looks upon Mazis, a retired bookkeeper, as the big sister she never had.

"I don't have any memories without Estelle," she explains. "I remember going on walks, going to Barmack's Pharmacy for ice cream, and Estelle was always there. We would go places, and we would take her."

I ask Mazis for an early memory of Joan.

"Be nice," Brand says.

"She was very cute," Mazis says. "Later on, I called her 'the brat.' "

"Don't you dare," says Brand, laughing.

"I just remember her being a little bit of a problem," Mazis says.

"I think you're talking about when I was a teenager," Brand insists. "Teenagers are always a problem."

Despite their differences in temperament, the two friends say they have never had a serious argument. That time Mazis was furious at being kept waiting in the Marlton ShopRite? A simple misunderstanding.

"She's easy to get along with," Brand says.

"I don't think there's drama," Mazis agrees.

They're both very social, and enjoy the Philly Pops and a good movie. Brand likes to make soup, and Mazis bakes cookies to die for. Brand has her own townhouse, while Mazis lives in an apartment at the Grand.

"I love it there," she says. "You can always get a bridge game up."

Often, Mazis takes older residents shopping or to medical appointments.

"She's a very loving person," Brand says. "Very caring.

"Estelle took care of me when I was little, and she's still taking care of me," she adds. "Not telling me what to do, but recommending. She gives excellent advice."

"That's because I've been around a long time," Mazis says.

What's the secret to their long friendship?

"You try to accept people the way they are," Mazis says. "You do what you can, as long as you can do it."

Says Brand: "When you meet good-hearted people, you don't let them go. You keep them."


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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