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.