Thursday, January 27, 2011


I can still hear the reedy whine of my great aunt Margaret singing the old song with her arms outstretched following my aunt Sue and myself around grandma's house.  She seemed to enjoy kids a lot and liked to play with us in her own way.  We liked Margaret.

Margaret was my grandfather's youngest sibling.  She had suffered an illness which brought with it a very high fever leaving Margaret with a damaged brain and epileptic seizures.  She was raised by her mother until she wasn't capable of handling Margaret anymore.  In spite of all her problems Margaret was very social.  She could carry on a conversation and was very aware of things and events around her.

If we had known of a checker tournament anywhere I would have insisted that she enter it.  She was the best checker player I ever saw.  I don't ever remember seeing her lose a game and I know I certainly never was capable of winning against her.  Checkers was something that Margaret saw in a way that most of us don't.  She knew the game and she knew strategy.  Think about the game of checkers.  Pretty simple, right?  I feel that we think of checkers as a simple game because the rules are so simple that most people don't give a second thought as to strategy in the game.  The game seldom lasts more then five or ten minutes and in my experience the player who makes the first move has a distinct advantage close to ninety percent of the time.  This was not the case with Margaret.  She would play the game with the precision a master of chess would play chess.  It was an incredible thing to watch.  She always wanted to play checkers and a lot of times the nature of being a kid takes over and you tire of losing to her every single time.  She would plead for a game of checkers and usually Sue or I would give in and put ourselves and our pride in the hands of Margaret who would surely beat us every time.

Margaret never knew a stranger.  While riding in a car with my grandparents, she would start talking to the people in the car next to them while stopped at a red light.  She would start the conversation and occasionally some people would answer her and talk a bit.  Occasionally she would exclaim out the car window that she was being kidnapped or some other thing.  If ever there was proof of my grandfather's patience, Margaret was it.  She was also proof to the limits of my grandfather's patience.  There were times when I saw him lay down the law on Margaret because it needed to be done.  It really wasn't any different than what he did to his kids while they were growing up or to his grandkids as we were growing up.  Grandpa did have rules and everyone was expected to abide by them.

As much as Margaret use to play with us and irritate us she never scared us.  She was a loving soul deep inside even if she did not have the capacity to show that love all the time.  Her way of showing Sue and myself how much she thought of us was by wanting to play with us.  Then there was that one day when Sue and I were probably under ten years old that sticks out in my mind about Margaret more than any other time.

Music was always a part of family life whether at our house or at Grandma and Grandpa's.  Grandpa would break out in song once in a while and he would take my grandma by the hand and dance in the living room while he sang.  Every once in while, if you were lucky, you would be there when he talked grandma into singing a verse of an old song.  Grandpa knew a lot of old songs and if I remember correctly earlier in the week of the day in question he had been singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart".  Apparently Margaret like the song and picked up on it.  It was mid-morning and Sue and I were supposed to be doing some chores around the house when we heard Margaret start to sing that song.  We kind of giggled a little and suddenly Margaret was in the living room with us and she was smiling and pointing at us as she sang.  She continued to move toward us, "Let me call you sweetheart, I'm in love with you..." and she started to reach out her hands as she got closer.  That was the only part of the song that she knew so it became almost a mantra as she sang the opening lines over and over again.  Sue and I got tickled and jumped up and started to run away from Margaret as she continued to sing with a huge smile.  Grandma's house had a natural track built into it.  You could run from the living room through a tiny hallway into the kitchen turn into the dining room and head back into the living room.  I have no idea that morning how many laps we took as Margaret continued to sing to us and follow us being sure never to catch us.  I am not sure she would know what to do if she did catch us so I figure she didn't catch us on purpose.

It was a fun fifteen or twenty minutes though.  Sue and I enjoyed it as much as Margaret did.  We were all having a great time until Grandma finally showed us the limits of HER patience and told us all to settle down and rest.

Grandma then suggested, "Why don't you play some checkers?"  Margaret looked at the two of us and smiled a very large smile.

1 comment:

  1. OH, Bill, this memory made me laugh out loud! Oh, how unique Margaret was. I'll never forget the time my kids and I drove her to Springfield for Grandpa. After having announced the miles left to Springfield with every single mileage posting, we arrived at her nursing home. As I was getting out to help her in, she looked up at me with the sweetest of smiles and said, "Now, WHO are you?" Not in a scared manner, not in a surprised manner, just in a matter-of-fact manner...Joyce's daughter, Margaret, Joyce's daughter. And that was all she needed.