Marguerite Reiten

We meeet again, Marguerite!

Sad times had come to the King family. My next oldest sister, Judy, passed away after a brief illness. I had visited with her on a trip home less than a year before her death. At that time she was in good spirits, and seemed to be her typical Judy self, with challenges, joys and sorrows, but doing well health-wise.  In the five years before her death, Judy had been living in a home for vulnerable adults. The home was managed by a married couple, was located in a lovely suburb of Seattle, and it was a very good fit for Judy, supplying a family atmosphere, but having the structure and safety that Judy needed to get by from day-to-day. When Judy became ill, she was taken to a hospital where, over the course of several days, it was determined that there was nothing that could be done to return her to good health. So, the decision was made to take Judy home, to call hospice in to make her comfortable, and to prepare for her eventual death. Judy understood that her time was short, and faced her remaining days with dignity and grace. She died seven days later.
When the family gathered to make plans for a service to honor Judy’s life, one of the things some of us wanted to do was to go see the place where she would be laid to rest. Judy’s burial plot was to be at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Seattle, where several King family members are buried. I had been to the cemetery on a number of occasions, in part because it is only a few blocks from the home of my brother Bob and his wife, JoAnne. Four of us went to the cemetery on that gray, mild, spring day. As we walked along the narrow stone pathway to the King family plot, another familiar family name caught my eye: Reiten. I stopped in my tracks and took a good hard look – yes, the headstone clearly said Reiten, Hans, Martha and Marguerite! (For those of you who may not have met Marguerite, she is the main character in three earlier entries at this blog. You can find Marguerite’s story in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 above) I put my curiosity on hold, and hurried along to join my family in visiting the place where three Kings rested, and where we would soon have a family service and lay Judy to rest, also.

It is a lovely place, Calvary Cemetery http://www.acc-seattle.com/cemeteries/calvary.html; green, gently sloping, peaceful and filled with the kind of flora that always amazes me when I visit Seattle. At our family burial plot we  reminisced about the ones who had pre-deceased us, prayed, and then discussed how Judy’s service would take place. As we left, I went back to the Reiten  family plot, bowed my head for a moment of prayer, and took a picture of the headstone.  That Marguerite  was buried under her maiden name would have been more surprising if our family hadn’t just decided to put Judy’s maiden name on her headstone. Judy had been married, but briefly, and no one in our large, extended family thought of her as anything other than Judy King . If someone wanted to visit her grave in the future, they would certainly look for her burial site under King rather than Shaw, the name she had for only a few years. Maybe this same situation applied to Marguerite, who had married late in life and was a widow soon after. I wondered who had been present at Marguerite’s funeral? She had out-lived her parents, was an only child, a widow and had no children. How are these things done when one’s family is so small, and the family line ends with you? Had my mother or any other member of my family attended the funeral? How would I ever find the answers to any of these questions?

Thinking of Judy and Marguerite being together at the cemetery brought to mind an occasion when my soft-spoken, slender sister stood her ground against the formidable Miss Reiten. There were several of us visiting in the living room at Mom’s house, when Marguerite recalled a King family  episode which featured Judy in the role of a “naughty little girl.” At the conclusion of the story, Judy calmly but firmly said, “Marguerite, I prefer to live in the present, not wallow in the past.”  I was SO impressed! Marguerite took Judy’s gentle rebuke with unfailing good humor, but it wasn’t long afterward  that Marguerite said her good-byes and made her  merry way home.

The funeral service for Judy was lovely.  We were happily surprised that Uncle Bob Plut, 93 yrs old,was able to join us at the service with the help of  his son,  Randy. Father Oliver Duggan officiated, and my sister Margie gave a beautiful eulogy. Chris Jones, talented husband of niece, Susie, played his saxophone as accompaniment to the hymn Amazing Grace, which all of us sang together. The final attendance was 20 people. Afterward we went to Bob and JoAnne’s for food and fellowship, and in true King family style, we gathered around the piano to sing. Joy and sorrow cascaded around me so closely as we sang that I had a hard time knowing where one emotion ended and the other began; it was an emotional mash-up of  grand proportions. We were surely sad to say good-bye to our dear Judy, yet there was so much life and promise around that family piano that the future looked full of hope. Yes,  hope filled the room, and the house and the hearts of those in that space.

Hope is a powerful attribute. It gives us  power to face another day, and brings with it the belief that  some time in the future, the sadness of this moment will pass, and joyful, productive times will return once again. May it be so. Plus, in the deep reaches of my mind, the germ of a thought began to emerge, “Maybe there is more to the story of Marguerite Reiten!”

Marguerite Reiten

Marguerite Reiten, The 1950's

Marguerite Reiten – Part 3

Dumonstier - Françoise Marguerite de Chivré
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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.

Marguerite Reiten, The 1950's

Marguerite Reiten – Part 2

English: Detail of crochet table-cloth. França...
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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

Marguerite Reiten, The 1950's

Marguerite Reiten – Part 1

UptownMartinFruchterDoorway
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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-incomebracket 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