I don’t know how it happened, but one day Mom broke the news that Marguerite had invited Margie and me to her home to learn how to crochet lace. Neither Margie nor I had ever heard of such a thing as lace making, and didn’t have a clue what was involved, but Mom knew a good idea when she heard one, and accepted Marguerite’s offer to teach us this beautiful craft. Soon a date and time were set for our first meeting. Before we went, Mom drilled the two of us on the rules of good behavior when visiting neighbors so that we wouldn’t bring embarrassment on the King family. The major attraction for me in this whole deal was getting to see inside the Reiten’s big white house; if I learned a ‘good hobby’ as Mom put it, then that was an added bonus. I was nervous as we walked across the street the night of our first lesson, but big sister Margie was with me, and Marguerite had never been anything but gracious toward our family, so I bravely walked up both sets of steps to the Reiten’s house and Margie and I knocked on the big, brown door .
Marguerite answered our knock, and swept us directly into the living room, talking a mile a minute as she did. You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the tornado stops, and Dorothy opens the door to see the land of OZ in color? Well that’s the kind of experience opening the door to the Reiten’s house was – a completely different world existed in that house. From floor to ceiling, things were dramatically different from what I knew. Speaking of the floor – the floor of the living room had a magnificent, multi-colored rug with amazing designs woven into it; we girls stopped in our tracks to stare at it, then slipped off our shoes and waited for permission to enter. We gaped at the velvet covered couches and chairs which seemed to take up all the space in the room. Each one was festooned with lace doilies (was this what we were going to learn to make?) which were draped on the backs and the arms and table tops of the furniture. A grandfather clock dominated one corner of the room, and floor lamps with fringed or painted shades cast subdued spotlights. Plus, there was a parakeet in a hanging birdcage. Correction: there was a bright white cockatoo in a very large hanging birdcage. Where was I? How did I get here? Didn’t I just cross the street from my home? I don’t recall Margie’s reaction, but I was overwhelmed with a sense of discovery and curiosity. I am sure I asked a hundred questions, which Mom said was impolite to do, but I couldn’t help myself. I voiced every question that came to my mind, and all of them were eventually answered by cheerful Marguerite.
Marguerite took us through the amazing living room and into a parlor where we were introduced to her tiny, white-haired mother. What a contrast they were – tall, round, dark-haired and voluble Marguerite towered over her petite mother, who was sitting in a chair by the table, her pure white hair in a soft shaped knot on her head. Mrs.Reiten wore a long black dress that covered her from her chin to her toes, and had knitting needles and yarn in her hands. She smiled and nodded to us as Marguerite chattered away. Even better, Mrs. Reiten offered us some sugar cookies, which we gladly took. I am sure she said something too us, but I don’t remember what it was. As we were leaving the parlor , a cuckoo clock started to whirr, then the grandfather clock struck the hour, another type of mantle clock chimed in, and the cockatoo whistled and sang. There was a huge collision of noise in the house for a short time, then everything went quiet again. When we were seated in the living room, on one of the velvet couches with a lamp shining over our heads, Marguerite handed us each a slender, shiny, silver crochet hook, and a ball of what looked like kite string but felt like thread. The first lesson in learning to crochet lace was about to begin.
“Mom, have you ever been inside the Reiten’s’ house?” I squeaked. I was breathless from running home after our lesson.
“Yes,” she said as she stacked clean dishes on the kitchen shelf.
” You have? Why didn’t you ever tell us about it?” I was looking at Mom intently as she put plates and cups and bowls away.
“Now Teresa, did you go over to the Reiten’s for a crocheting lesson, or to be nosy and see inside their big white house? Why don’t you show me what you learned tonight. And I hope you said your ‘thank yous.’ ”
I felt sheepish as I showed Mom my short chain of single-crochet, but she said exactly what Marguerite had said,”That’s just fine. Stay with it; you’ll get better.”
Margie and I went to Marguerite’s several more times. I really didn’t get much better at crocheting, although the chain of single-crochet eventually became a chain of double-crocheted stitches, and slightly resembled a lace edging. But I did learn a little about Marguerite. For instance, her father,who had died years before, had been the captain of a merchant ship. That was why there were so many exotic (to me, anyway) things in their house. He brought or sent home something beautiful from many of the ports he visited. I learned something about Mrs Reiten, too. In the living room there was a small painting of Captain Reiten which always caught my attention. The portrait was rather odd and flat looking. I must have asked about the ‘flat picture’ because Marguerite then explained the importance of perspective and depth perception in art. She also told me that her mother had painted the portrait, and that because she was blind in one eye, she had lost her depth perception, and that’s why the painting looked as it did. I felt sorry for Mrs. Reiten then, and wished I hadn’t asked about the painting. I also understood a little better why Mom warned me about asking questions.
Eventually Margie and I stopped going for our lessons. Our interests changed, and we got involved in sports and music at school. We saw Marguerite from time to time, but only as we waved to her from across the street. Those of us on the periphery of Marguerite’s life assumed that the day-today patterns inside the big white house remained as steadfast as the mountains which surround the Seattle area, but we were wrong. Marguerite was not an extinct volcano like Mt Ranier; she was a dormant volcano, like Mt St Helen’s, and her volatile behavior was going to change the landscape at the Reiten house just about as much as Mt St Helen’s eruption affected the area surrounding that mountain.
By the time these things came about I was married and living in Minnesota. Mom and I were talking on the phone when I heard Dad in the background saying something about “That crazy woman…”.
“What’s Dad upset about, Mom?” I asked.
“Oh, you don’t want to know, Teri.”
“Yes I do. Who’s ‘that crazy woman’ he’s talking about?”
“It’s our neighbor, Marguerite – Marguerite Reiten.”
Tune in next week to check out more of the continuing saga (or should I say ‘bloga’?) of Seattle Before Starbucks, Marguerite Reiten- Part 3