My hands were splayed on the cold granite of the kitchen counter. I noticed my slim gold wedding band and unadorned fingernails. I felt the cold. It steadied me somehow to focus on that bodily sensation and the sight of my hands, as I waited for my husband to come in from his bike ride.
I thought it’s not real to him yet. Until I tell him, it’s not real. It wasn’t real to me until my sister uttered the words over the phone. Even before she said those words, I tried to stave off that reality by saying, “No . . . no.” She quietly replied, “Yes. Margie is gone. She died on Friday.”
Margie came into my life when I was 11, more than a half-century ago. She was all of 19. She was Mexican-American — the daughter of our neighbor's housekeeper, newly married, and following in her mother’s footsteps. She was a quiet presence, barely speaking a word as she went about her work in our house on Potowatami Street.
My dad had started his own medical practice and, being short on money, my mom went to work as his office manager/nursing assistant. With five girls at home, my mom needed help. My dad’s practice took off and within a couple of years, he and several other doctors formed their own surgical group, thus putting my mom out of a job.
However, Margie stayed.
We moved to a house in the foothills on Mina Vista and Margie came with us. She was a continuous presence in our lives, coming two mornings a week to help my mom. The cleaning supply closet in the hallway with all of our bedrooms was jokingly referred to as, “Margie’s room,” as in “look in Margie’s room,” or “I think it’s in Margie’s room.” Really, the whole house became Margie’s house, too, as did our dogs and cats.
Soon, Margie was sitting down for a cup of coffee and a piece of toast with my mom when she arrived and they’d have lunch together before she finished up for the day. My dad often came home from work for lunch as well and joined them. Margie was still quiet but had an easy laugh and a quick smile.
During the summer when we were all home from school, we’d often share breakfast (if we were up) and lunch together. They were casual meals with each person making whatever was ‘on tap’ for themselves and one or two others if they were around. Sometimes there were three of us at the kitchen table to start, expanding to six or more as others joined in. Margie was always included. She came from a large family and she seemed to enjoy the comings and goings of our family.
She knew and loved every one of our dogs except the very first one, Joe, who was before her time. And there were a lot of dogs . . . Jenny, Tippy, Bubba, Mckensie, Maggie, Cheyenne, Sami, and Fannie. In later years, the first thing Margie did upon arrival was to take the dogs outside and throw the ball for them. She knew our cats, too . . . Tom and Suleiman.
She knew my husband from the time we started dating when he was 17 and I was 15. She knew all of our friends. She knew all of our stories and most of our secrets. She knew my grandma who moved into a granny unit my parents built not long after we moved into the house on Mina Vista. She knew my aunt who came to live nearby after retiring and she knew her daughter, my cousin.
We knew all about her life as well, following her lovely little girl, Percy, from the time she was born through her childhood, marriage, and adulthood. And then we knew her granddaughter, Natalie (Nattie), and great-grandson, Gabriel, through Margie.
We knew Wilfred, her husband, who would shyly call the house for Margie only when he absolutely needed to reach her. We’d talk about her mom and her brothers living in town. She’d tell us about her sisters, their husbands, and children. We loved to hear about the annual family tamale-making before Christmas every year and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
When Wilfred collapsed suddenly one night in his early fifties she called my parents. They met her at the hospital and were with her when he passed. They stood by her after his funeral as she received others. She grieved in their presence and would still tear up when I’d ask her questions about him or his work in the copper mines and at Saguaro National Monument years afterward.
Later, we learned about Bob, her second love, who had wanted to date her in high school. He came back into her life through one of her brothers years after Wilfred had passed. Then Bob passed as well, leaving Margie to grieve once again.
At some point, we began to celebrate Margie’s birthday each year with a special lunch. Whenever we baked a dessert or had some other dish that Margie especially liked, my mom would say, “Save some for Margie!” and we always did.
She was with my parents long after all of us had left home. Whenever we did come home, we looked forward to seeing Margie. Sitting outside in the shade of the porch during the hot Arizona summers, we’d sip sun tea and catch up on family happenings, both hers and ours.
When my dad retired and was then homebound with Parkinson’s disease, he too looked forward to the days when Margie came . . . by then three times a week. Her presence was a constant in their lives and, as his health declined, it helped him to know that Margie would be there for my mom when he passed.
Margie saw my mom through the loss of her mom, my dad, and her four bouts with cancer. She saw caregivers come and go. She was there when we sisters would come into town to help and she was there when we’d return to our own homes and families. I could often hear Margie in the background when I called my mom every few days.
Margie was always there.
She kept the house a home for my mom. She took care of all the things that my mom loved but wasn’t able to keep up herself as she aged. Every time Margie came, she’d fill the birdfeeders . . . hung outside nearly every window and in every outdoor space, put vegetable scraps out in the desert for the bunnies, and water the multitude of flower pots, plants, and trees.
When my mom passed rather unexpectedly in the hospital, I was there with one of my sisters. Margie came to the house on her usual schedule the next day. We held each other and cried, both saying we didn’t know what we’d do without her. She was as close to my mom as just about anyone because she’d lived life with her. She saw all the highs and lows, even those which were unspoken.
She was the keeper of so many memories.
After we’d closed up the house for the last time, one of my sisters, my husband, and I (with our dogs) drove away in two U-Hauls and a van loaded with furniture and keepsakes. It was a comfort to know that Margie would be there in the morning to clean the dog paw prints off the Mexican tile floor and the dog slobber off the sliding glass door to the backyard one last time, before leaving the key she’d had for 40 years under the doormat for the new owner.
Every trip to Tucson after that included a dinner with Margie at Casa Molina or a visit with her at her house in the bend of Ft. Lowell road. There was the occasional phone call. And I would keep up with her via my aunt and cousin who would have Margie over for breakfast or lunch and some little project every month or so.
I expected Margie to live as long as her mom did, nearly into her 100s. But Margie passed in her early 70s as quietly as she’d come into our lives all those years ago.
I have a picture in my mind of Margie when she first came to us on Potowatami Street. It’s a picture of her walking by me with an armload of ironing. I can just see her dark, shoulder-length hair and her profile as she went about her work. I could not have known at that time all that she would come to mean to me and to my family. I could not have known how much I would come to love her.
Margie became a true companion, a keeper of memories, a friend, and a family member. Margie knew us. She saw us at our best and at our worst and loved each one of us, just as we loved her. We shared a lifetime together
…a lifetime of unexpected love.