This is Margie’s story, as told by Katie…
Growing up, I had two amazing parents: Mabel Martinis and Roy Little. They were both born in the late 1800s and had me in their late forties. My mother, who exuded strength in ways I’ll never fully understand, graduated college in 1898. As we all know, the 19th century isn’t known for having a surplus of female scholars, but my mother did it anyway. After graduating, she went on to lead a successful career as a buyer in a dry goods store. She also had an expressive, creative side that fueled her talent as an organist and seamstress. As a child, she sewed all of my outfits from school uniforms to formal dresses. Many also know my mother as a hooker—she would hook the most beautiful rugs. In fact, our family loves to tell the story of the time she was flying back from visiting a grandkid when her plane caught fire and the foremost worry in her mind was finishing a rug for me. Of course, she survived and the rug turned out to be fabulous.
My mother married my father Roy in 1913. My father graduated college as well and was selected to be a teacher in Syria where he taught all types of different exchange students. He was always known as the adventurer after traveling around the world, riding camels out to tombs, and even bringing us back a mummy hand as a souvenir. One of the guides gave him the hand as a dowry to marry an eleven-year-old daughter, but my father kindly declined. Us kids used it for every show-and-tell at school.
As my mother got older, her health began to deteriorate. She always stayed sharp but we could all see her body beginning to weaken. At ninety years old, she called me one afternoon to describe some antiques she wanted me to have. It was Easter and as I sat on the phone, she went through a box of various things—a parasol of her grandmother’s, a vintage beaded jacket, a black velvet purse containing gloves and a gold locket, and a bedspread from 1821. She told me the stories of these personal items and then we said goodbye, said that we loved each other, and hung up. The next morning she died of heart failure. I’ve always wondered if she knew her time was coming.
My father was completely deaf at the time and watched as my mother talked on the phone with me. He couldn’t hear a thing she was saying but watched as she held every item in the box and later wrote my name, “Margie,” on the top. I’ll never forget how much it meant to me to have that talk with her; it was one last piece of my mother to hang on to after she was gone. We had a simple memorial service for her at her church in Kentucky, and at the end of the day, my father held my hand and said it was so wonderful he wished she could have come.
My father, who was a high school principal and educator, fell in his kitchen and was knocked out at the age of ninety-five. Luckily, the neighbor found him and called me. When I arrived at my dad’s house, he told me he needed to live in a nursing home. It’s unusual for elderly parents to want to move to a nursing home on their own, but I was grateful for his willingness to receive help. We shopped around until eventually we found Carmel Manor—a nursing home run by beautiful nuns that overlooked a river.
“At the end of the day, my father held my hand and said it was so wonderful he wished she could have come.”
We took the process slowly as he had been living in the same home for sixty-five years. One afternoon, I set a tape recorder on the kitchen table and wrote down all my questions. I asked him what was important about the kitchen, the living room, the family room, and so on. When I was a kid, I wondered why we didn’t get new furniture from Sears and dump the old stuff. This seemed hilarious to me as we spent time appreciating all of his antiques and the memories they stored. We went outside to the garden and my father got on his hands and knees to look at a rabbit’s nest. I followed his example, and sure enough, I saw five little sets of ears huddled together in the burrow—new life about to grow from this old house of his.
Soon after, we packed up a suitcase and drove to Carmel Manor. He said goodbye to his house and the trees and the birds and bunnies as tears started to fall from our eyes. I’m grateful he never had to hear my sobs. After he reached one hundred and we had a big celebration of his life at the nursing home, my husband and I planned a trip to Greece. The day before we were scheduled to leave, one of the nuns called to tell us my father wasn’t doing so well. I listened on the phone as he ordered me to go on our trip, not to worry about him, and get him some Greek cigars. Ten days later, we came back from a great trip and called to check on my dad. A nun informed him we got home safely and he died that same night. I believe in my heart that he was waiting for our safe return so he could die peacefully.
“A nun informed him we got home safely and he died that same night.”
At eighty-nine, I’m still learning from the lessons my parents taught me. It’s been a true blessing to have them in my life. They gave me a wonderful life, a sense of humor, coping skills, and a long legacy. As the only one left of my immediate family, I try every day to honor their wishes and make them proud of me.