Reviews

A book review of “Dear Deb” by Margaret Terry

 The first lines that went straight to my heart in Margaret Terry’s book Dear Deb, a collection of 55 letters written to a friend dying of cancer, came two pages into the book. In the introduction, called The Inspiration, Terry relates that she was surprised to have been asked to pray for Deb, and “believe in my miracle.” Terry admits that she was a church friend to Deb, but they weren’t close. She knew that Deb was a capable and energetic woman, she loved Motown and hockey, but outside church she and Deb didn’t socialize. Terry goes on to say, “I’m not sure why this happens in churches. We hug the same people every Sunday for years, we watch their children grow, and we share their trials and joys, yet for some reason we limit our friendship to church.”  “True, so very, very true,” I marveled.  “And if Margaret Terry is able to nail down that situation in two sentences, what other treasures are in this book?”  Well, there are dozens of treasures in Dear Deb! I have several favorite stories in the book, but I love the story of Crowning Mary, probably because I can recall similar May celebrations from my own days at St John’s Catholic Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. Crowning Mary is a beautiful story full of innocence and faith, and it includes a miracle that will make you smile for days.

The old-fashioned name for a book made up of letters is epistolary. This being the 21st century, Terry’s letters were originally composed as emails, and were sent daily to Deb, who had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. They were a form of encouragement which Deb asked her friends to send her as support while she endured cancer treatment and waited for her miracle. Over time, as Terry’s letters went beyond platitudes, she found that sharing her moments of failure and fear were, paradoxically,  a way of sending strength to Deb, and they also were an avenue for Terry to unburden her own secret past. Through that process of letter writing, Terry shares with us the great truth that God doesn’t abandon us when we and our world break apart, but He comes close, and cares for us through it all.

Here’s is my take away from Dear Deb – maybe the broken pieces of your life aren’t meant to be put back together the way you think. Maybe a jagged piece of your story is meant to heal the brokenness of someone else’s life. But that won’t happen if you don’t share your story and let the Master Potter use it as only He can. I believe that in Dear Deb, a book that touches both your heart and your funny bone, you will see this amazing process at work.

Review of Dear Deb in 140 characters or fewer: “You’ll need Kleenex, you’ll laugh out loud, you’ll be stunned, and you’ll be inspired. Read it!”

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
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.

The 1950's, The House

The King House – Part 2

English: Custom House Steps, Scarborough
Image via Wikipedia

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!

Uncategorized

The King House, Part 1

English: 6706 23rd NW, Ballard neighborhood, S...
Image via Wikipedia

“Hey Margie, is our house scarey looking?” I brought this up as my older sister and I walked to Daley’s Grocery Store  – an almost daily event, no pun intended.  “I don’t know. Why?” “Because Janice Whartmore said ours is the scariest house on the block.” Margie was quiet for a while. “You just tell Janice Whartmore that you’d rather have a scarey house than a scarey and mean brother.”

Whartmore’s were our closest next door neighbors with kids. Janice was right between Margie and me in age; she had only one younger sister and one older brother. They always seemed kind of stuck-up to us, those Whartmore’s, but that didn’t matter too much when it came to getting a game of four-square, jump rope or dodge ball going.  Ballard, a northern Seattle neighborhood, was a pretty nice place to grow up  in the 1950’s, with  games of ball, and hide-and-seek and even impromptu home-made parades being the norm.  Still, that remark about our house made me  uneasy. We did have the biggest house and yard on the block, and we had the biggest family to go with it. The final count for kids in our family would be ten. I was the seventh born – the fifth girl. So it seemed fine to me that we had a big house, but what was scarey about it?

After we got home from the grocery store with the milk and bread (we were always running out of these things, even though the milk man and the bread man came to our house twice a week), I would go across the street, sit on the Anderson’s steps and get a good look at  my house to see if Janice Whartmore was lying or telling the truth. And then I would march right next door to ask Janice what she was scared of.  I’d go, that is,  if her mean older brother wasn’t around.

Before Starbucks, Thinking back, Uncategorized

“Who has my slippers?”

This entry was inspired by Tuesday2’s Blog written by ~  ShelleyMacPherson. Visit her delightful blog here:   http://tuesday2.wordpress.com/

Do you ever get miffed at your kids for forgetting to
return borrowed items? My six sisters and I were the WORST at borrowing something from Mom’s closet or accessories and
then ‘forgetting’ to return it. It is my belief that this borrowing had nothing
to do with real need on our part, or with envying Mom’s style, for our Mom was
a very stylish woman indeed. I think it had more to do with comfort, that is,
it brought us comfort to wear something of Mom’s.  Then we would find it hard to return the
article because we wanted to have her ‘with us’ in this way. We all seemed to
have a favorite type of item to borrow, too: Judy was into cardigans; Pat would
need to borrow an umbrella for the walk home. Claudia loved Mom’s costume
jewelry. Chris would grab a scarf as she went out the door on her way back to
the Olympic Peninsula via the ferry. Margie would use a vintage hand bag ‘just
for the night’; Annie fit Mom’s jackets to a ‘T’; I usually managed to take her
bedroom slippers. Mom was fully aware of what we were doing, of course, and I
know that it frustrated her very greatly at times.

One year, as adults, we were finally all able to gather
for a Mother-Daughters picture. We met at Mom’s apartment in Seattle to get dressed before the
sitting, which was where I realized I had left my suit in Minnesota. “Don’t worry!
Just look through my closet for something to wear,” said Mom. Well, you
know what happened next: all seven of us daughters were in Mom’s closet looking
for something to wear! We had a terrific time! We mixed and matched suit
jackets and skirts with different colored blouses. We tried on earrings,
necklaces and bracelets. We all found a pair of shoes that we loved. Mom had as
much fun as we did!  And in fact, that
became the theme of the picture – we decided that we would all be wearing something
of Mom’s in the portrait. The results were a success – it is a lovely picture, and
a great memory.

This experience convinced me that sometimes things
which are a great irritation can end up having a happy result. You never
know what might increase the bond between a Mother and daughter, or seven sisters; it just might be a pair of borrowed bedroom slippers.

Before Starbucks, Thinking back

Of siblings and schools

Holy Ghost Catholic Parish School in Dubuque, Iowa
Image via Wikipedia

As a first grader at St John’s Elementary School, I remember clearly  how impressed I was by the speed and sound of hundreds of kids as they came thundering down the stairs at the end of the day. The metal edging on the steps clanged as students’ shoes met the stairs, drowning out Sr. Mary Davidica’s warning of “NO Running!” Scores of bodies whizzed by me in a blur, and before you could say “saddle shoes”, the school was empty and quiet.

It was my older sister Margie I was waiting for outside my first grade classroom; she was going to pick me up and walk home with me. Our school didn’t  have buses to transport kids – we all had to walk, whether our homes were near or far; ours was far. There were 10 city blocks between home and St John’s, with a very large intersection across a busy  highway at about the halfway point. At 5 years old I had not yet been granted permission to cross 4 lanes of busy city traffic, even with a light, by myself. Margie, at 7 years old, was my guide and protector, at least at the beginning of the first grade year.

Margie was my hero all of my life in Seattle. She had red hair and freckles, was very smart, could play the piano and sang beautifully. We shared a bedroom, a small doll collection, and short tempers. As sisters we fought constantly, and drove my Mom crazy. But as friends, we were shirt-and-pants, doing virtually everything together until Margie left St John’s for highschool.

Still, there were plenty of years before she went on to highschool for sibling rivalry to reign supreme. But that is another blog post.