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

The 1950's, The House

The King House – Part 2

English: Custom House Steps, Scarborough
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Janice Whartmore’s assessment of our house as the scariest one on the block had burned a hole in my brain. Was she right? And if so, why?

A couple of days passed before I could begin my self assigned task of trying to get a good look at our house from across the street. I wanted to determine whether or not it was the scariest looking house on the block, as Janice had said, but I had to cope with a few set-backs in my plans. The first delay came when my sister Margie and I arrived home from the grocery store that day; Mom told us we were to  finish our chores of dusting and vacuuming the first floor living areas – that wiped out the entire afternoon. The second delay occurred when the Anderson’s,  whose front steps I had selected to use as my post for checking out our house, decided that they were going to work in the garden of their front yard that weekend. Why should this be so upsetting, you ask? Why not politely enquire if I could sit on their front steps while they worked?  Because I had never spoken to Mr. and Mrs. Anderson in my life, (children were still ‘seen and not heard’ in my circles in the 1950’s) and I wasn’t about to start a conversation with them by asking permission to sit on their steps in order to spy on my own house. A much better idea, to my way of thinking,  was to sneak across the street and stealthily sit on their steps without them knowing.  You see,  the Anderson’s didn’t know any more about talking to kids than I knew about talking to adults since they had no children of their own, nor did we ever see any children visit them.

Mrs. Anderson did come to our house to watch us for a couple of hours one afternoon, though. She must have come over to help out with some kind of emergency  since Mom rarely asked a non-family member to care for us. I recall Mrs. Anderson sitting on the edge of her chair in our living room with a box of kleenex on her knees, wiping the nose of every passing child. I was fascinated by her; she seemed to be all one color: beige. Beige hair, beige eyebrows, beige skin, a beige suit and shoes. She did her best that afternoon, I think, but we were too much for her. She never came over again. As far as Mr. Anderson went,  I learned from one of my sisters or brothers that he was a lawyer. I was quite impressed with this news until Mom explained that he was not a criminal trial lawyer like the debonair Mr. Perry Mason on TV, but a corporate lawyer who worked quietly behind the scenes at a big, beige office building in downtown Seattle. I should have known.

When I finally did get a chance to scope out our house from the Anderson’s steps, I was surprised to learn these things:

1: Our large, two-story, porch-surrounded, balconied house was placed quite far away from the  public sidewalk, at the back edge of a very big front yard. Everyone else on our block had a small to average-sized front yard, with their house being relatively close to the public sidewalk.

2. What I thought of as the friendly old tree next to our mail box was really a gigantic, looming pine tree that threw a huge shadow on our private walkway. We also had  very high, dense laurel bushes which made up the front border of our yard. These bushes formed a dark, tunnel like structure through which people had to pass to get to our house.

3. Our house definitely needed painting.

4. Our lawn definitely needed mowing.

5. Janice Whartmore was right, our house was probably  the scariest looking house on the block. I could see why she might be afraid to walk up to our front door, especially after dark. And I bet her mean older brother was afraid of our house, too. Perfect!

The 1950's, Uncategorized

Preface to the continuing saga of ‘Seattle Before Starbucks’

English: The top of the Space Needle in Seattl...
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It may not seem possible that there was a Seattle before Starbucks arrived on the scene, but there was. I was a kid then, so my perspective on life was a little  fore-shortened, but my memories of growing up in the Emerald City are numerous and strangely clear. I was born in 1952. That means when I was but a babe Dwight Eisenhower was president, Rock and Roll had proclaimed Elvis King, and the vast majority of mothers stayed home to raise their kids. Speaking of mothers, my Mom will figure quite prominently in this saga, as will my 9 brothers and sisters, St John’s Church and School, and our Ballard neighborhood. Dad is in the saga too, but mostly around the edges – hovering in a melancholy sort of way.

I hope to gather some of the stories of growing up in Seattle that I have written over the years and shuttle them in to this blog, which is presented in chapter form. So, yes, this will be ‘a continuing saga,’ with cliff hangers and love stories and surprise endings – on the order of the old radio shows that I used to listen to while growing up in Seattle …. before Starbucks.