Marguerite Reiten – Part 3

Dumonstier - Françoise Marguerite de Chivré

Image via Wikipedia

Mom and I were having our usual Saturday morning Seattle-Minneapolis phone visit. “Mother,” I said as I moved into the kitchen with the phone, ” Marguerite Reiten is not a crazy woman.” The idea that our long time friend and neighbor had gone off the deep-end seemed ridiculous.

“Well, no, I don’t think your father means ‘crazy’ exactly, Teri. But she hasn’t been herself for the last few years. Her actions seem out of character for her, that’s all.”

As Mom spoke I had a flash-back to the previous summer when I had made a quick trip home. I was walking back from the mailbox, about a block away from our house, and I saw Marguerite on her front porch brushing her long, black, baby fine hair. I couldn’t recall her doing that in public before, but it was a nice summer day, so why not? I waved to Marguerite and she waved back. For a second it looked like she had a brush in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. The improbability of the idea made me smile, and I banished the thought as I stepped onto the walkway of our house.

“Hmm,” I said out loud. “Do you mean things like smoking?” I asked.

“Who told you that?” Mom asked, sounding surprised.

“Nobody. On my last visit home I thought I saw Marguerite with a cigarette, but forgot about  it until you mentioned that she’s been behaving differently lately. So, has she taken up smoking, Mom?”

“Yes. And that’s not all. A while back Marguerite stopped by to tell me that she was done babysitting her mother. “I am not going to miss out on what life has to offer,” she told me. ”This is a new day and age. I don’t have to wait for a man to come calling, I can meet one on my own, and I intend to find a husband.” None of this is any of our business, of course. Marguerite’s not doing anything illegal, so my opinion has been that we should butt out, up to this point, anyway.

“What point is that, Mom?”

“Your Dad thinks Marguerite’s mother is being left unattended. He wants us to talk to Marguerite about it. Maybe we should; maybe we can help out in some way. I can see that her car is parked on the street, so she must be home now. Dad and I should probably go speak to her before she leaves her house again.

“Fine, Mom. I’ll let you go so that you can clear the air with Marguerite. We’ll talk again soon. Bye.”

After I hung up the phone, visions of Seattle and my old neighborhood swirled around me. Oh Marguerite, what happened? Did your wonderful home, which was so fascinating to me, become a prison to you?  Did you look in the mirror one day and see that your reflection was lacking depth and perspective, like the painting of your father? Did you suddenly recognize that your life was turned back to the past rather than facing forward to the future?  Whatever it was that caused things to shift in your life, it was strong enough to bring about an earthquake of changes to your world.

It was on another phone call that I learned that Marguerite had indeed been neglecting her mother. Eventually Mrs. Reiten was placed in a nursing home; Marguerite sold the house, got married and moved out of the neighborhood. Mrs. Reiten died shortly thereafter.

During one of our phone chats several years later, Mom told me that Marguerite had come by for a visit.

“Really, Mom? How was she? Has she changed much?”

“Oh, I think you would recognize her even though she is quite modern in her appearance with short, curly hair, and fashionable slacks. She is a widow, you know, but she referred to her husband’s passing as a “happy release.”

“Why? Was he ill for a long time?”

“He was, but not from cancer. He died from kidney failure as a result of alcoholism. I think Marguerite was referring to herself when she spoke of a “happy release.”

“Was this a friendly visit, Mom”

“Yes, we reminisced about the old days. Marguerite wanted to know if you and Margie still had an interest in making lace; I said I thought you still had a few crochet hooks collecting dust somewhere. But I think Marguerite really came by to express her sorrow about the way she treated her mother in her last days. She sounded quite sad as we spoke. She was also disgusted with the way she sold the big white house and its contents. She said it was ‘all done in a fog.’ I didn’t know if she meant a fog of love or of alcohol.”

“ I am glad you and Marguerite were able to get together again after all these years, Mom. It had to take courage on her part to come over.”

“ Yes, I’m sure it did. It was good to see her again. And speaking of getting together, St John’s Elementary School is having an all class reunion next August.  If you were able to come to Seattle for it, maybe you could re-connect with some old classmates.”

“I would love to do that if it worked out, Mom. I’ll let you know in plenty of time if I can come, but I need to get some work done around here right now. Talk to you soon. And thanks for letting me know about Marguerite.  Love you- bye.”

Marguerite, it makes me happy to know that you came back to the old neighborhood to visit Mom.  It sounds like you have a chance to start over and set out on a different path in life once again. May God bless you with peace and joy as you begin this new adventure. And I think I will have to look around for those crochet hooks you gave me – I might just have to practice making a long chain of double-crocheted laced.

Seattle Before Starbucks – Marguerite Reiten – Part 1


Image via Wikipedia

Even in the 1950’s and 1960’s people in the northern Seattle neighborhood of Ballard found it hard to believe that our family did not own a car, but it was true. Dad  said that in a good year, our family was in the  middle-to-low income bracket, but if he were to purchase a car, we would drop to the much feared low-income bracket for sure. Anyway, that was the reason he gave us kids for not buying a car. Naturally, not having a car forced us to walk or take the bus in order to get anywhere – a constant challenge and irritation.  We envied any family that did have a car, which meant we envied just about everyone we knew. Many of these car-owning folks were generous enough to give us rides from time to time. One such person was Marguerite Reiten, whose house was directly across the street from ours. Marguerite belonged to St John’s parish as we did, and for a period of time she gave our family a ride to church on Sunday mornings.

Marguerite and her ancient, invalid mother lived in a large white Craftsman style house; I thought their house was particularly impressive because it had two sets of steps. One cement set climbed from the street to a paved walkway in the Reiten’s front yard; the second set, very wide and made of wood, adorned the front of the house and led to a grand porch. The front of the Reiten’s house had several windows and a dark wood and brass front door.  Since their house was on the crest of a knoll (as was the entire street on the east side of 12th Ave N.W.), there was a tuck-under garage built beneath it.  In that tuck-under garage was a large, domed, curved, billowy blue, full-sized Nash automobile.

(Here is my older brother Bob’s response when I asked him about what kind of car Marguerite drove: OH my goodness, Teri.  Yes I remember Marguerite Reiten’s car.  It was a Nash.  The full size model.  It looked like an upside down bathtub.  I think it was a two-tone blue color.  Marguerite was a BIG girl.  She was quite religious too.  I think she tried to enter the convent at one time. It didn’t work out. I don’t know why but as a kid I kept trying to paint her as a mean person.  However every time I had dealings with her, which was not very often, she was quite kind and soft-spoken.”)

It was in this voluptuous car that Marguerite drove us – my Mom, and “X” number of kids – to mass on Sunday. (Dad  walked  the ten blocks to St John’s so that he could say the rosary.)  Marguerite herself was large and curvy, like her car. She was tall, fair-skinned, dark-eyed, and wore her thin black hair in a braid on the top of her head, arranged in a band that went from ear to ear. She was missing one of her  teeth, too, although I can’t recall which one. She was an impressive sight to a child; as impressive as her car, almost. And as Bob mentioned, she was very kind to all of us.

One puzzling thing about Marguerite was that even though she had only herself to get ready for church, she was never ready to leave on time. Mom had all of us scrubbed and polished for church by 9 am, but we waited for Marguerite every Sunday. As we stood  on the sidewalk below her house, Marguerite would call to us from the windows so that we could have the minute-by-minute description of her final preparations. She  encouraged us to “Be patient! I’m looking for my missal! Hold on! Mother needs her knitting! Don’t panic – mass won’t start without us. I will be right out!” When she finally did appear from behind the doors of the tuck-under garage, she caused us little girls to stop and stare. This large and elegant lady  invariably wore a floral dress, was bedecked with jewelry,  had deep red lipstick artistically applied, and wore a Spanish mantilla over her hair. She was a showstopper. When the garage doors were fully open, we Kings would file into the garage and climb into the car. Mom would sit in the front seat with the youngest, and the rest of us would find a space in the wonderfully expansive  backseat of the Nash. Magically, there was always enough room for us.

Now the epic journey to church would begin. In the front seat, Marguerite would be talking like a mad hatter to Mom while shifting gears on the Nash like nobody’s business. From the backseat we could look out the  windows of the car and see the neighborhoods of Ballard and Greenwood from a vantage point we rarely had – elevated and enclosed. It was an entrancing time. And there was an element of suspense, too We knew the clock was ticking – 10:45 Mass would start any minute, and we were still blocks away from the church parking lot.  But we were covering ground! It was amazing how quickly we could get to church in a car. And yet I could tell Mom was concerned – her eyes had a thoughtful, serious look, even though her lips were smiling. I don’t ever recall a time when we were late to church, but on the Sundays when we rode to St John’s with Marguerite, we were often still looking for a place to sit as the priest approached the altar – which was perilously close to late according to King family rules. I think it was this tendency to tardiness that eventually caused Mom to gently refuse Marguerite’s offers of a ride, and forced us kids to be content to walk to church.

My sister Margie and I had a weekday connection with Marguerite, too. When I was six and Margie was eight,  Marguerite offered to teach us how to crochet lace at her home. I don’t know if I really wanted to learn to make lace, but I definitely wanted to look inside that big, white house. What would we see when the dark, wooden door was opened and we walked in to Maguerite’s?

Stay tuned to this blog for the next entry in Life Before Starbucks – Marguerite Reiten – Part 2

Overcoming a fear of… roller coasters!

Roller Coaster

Rising, dropping, turning, twisting roller coaster!

In Seattle there is a lovely public zoo and park area called Woodland Park. Years back, before Starbucks, there was an area of the park that had kiddy rides. Money was scarce in our house, and going to the park and seeing all the animals in the zoo should have been treat enough, but we kids always looked with longing at those rides! Once in a while our pestering would finally wear the folks down, and each of us kids would  get a dime to use for one ride.
I don’t remember how it happened. Maybe a tender hearted aunt or uncle or older brother or sister sent some money for the specific purpose of going on the rides at the park, or maybe it was “Free Ride Day”- I really can’t tell you – but I know that one year when we went to Woodland Park, I had a choice to go on any ride I wanted as many times as I wanted!

I had long had a fear-filled fascination with the roller coaster in the park.  I was scared spitless just watching the contraption. It would wobble and clatter and almost fail to reach the top of the first tremendous climb, then it would SWOOSH and drop straight down to the curve at the bottom, rolling and swaying as though it would jump the tracks at any moment. Or at least that’s what it to seemed like to me. Shoud I really try to ride it? I could barely make myself  watch the roller coaster, and that only if I had my hands in front of my face, peeking through my fingers. Could I really handle being on the  thing itself?

My first ride on the rollercoaster was the absolute epitome of frightening. I didn’t think I would live through it, and my legs would hardly hold me upright when  the nightmare trip came to an end. BUT, I knew I could go on the ride  as many times as I wanted. What’s a kid to do? Ride again, of course. I don’t recall how many times I climbed back on that roller coaster, but each ride became less frightening and more entertaining. I ended up having a wonderful time! I think the final ‘take away’ from that day’s experience was this: Fear can be overcome, and  going from fear to fun is an exhilarating journey.