Pages

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

(3) I ALMOST STARVED TO DEATH THE FIRST FEW MONTHS.



[Kenneth Manley's tribute to Maggie, February 25, 1995]
      Can everyone hear OK?  Yes?  You see, miracles do happen.
      This is the hall where the garden club held their invitational nights every year, and something about the acoustics made it a little difficult to hear the speakers.
      I used to turn to Maggie and ask:  "What did he just say?"  And she would promptly reply:  "He just said that bird was the vulture that ate his grandfather."
      I knew better than to believe every word that came out of her mouth . . . so I would turn to Tom Cavanaugh, who was usually sitting near us, and ask him the same question -- to which Tom with a straight face would answer, "I'm sorry, Ken, but you've obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a . . . "  whatever, I could never catch the ending.
     Anyway, from this moment on, at invitational nights or meetings, you will be able to hear every word.  The brass plaque on the side of the new sound system reads:  "To seaside gardeners with love, Maggie Manley, 1994."
     It has been said that life is made of experiences and memories.  Your very first love; the birth of a child; an incredible sunset or a friend who brought joy and perhaps pushed you to a new level of awareness; the awareness that you can do it . . . and when you decide to do it, go all the way.
     That was Maggie.  She always believed she could do anything she set her mind on doing.  She could always learn something new, and she delighted in pushing other people to do the same.  She felt life was short and it's important to do the things our hearts and minds desire because the worst thing that can happen is you fall on your face a couple of times; but if you never try, you will never know the joy of succeeding.
     For herself, Maggie lived every moment to its fullest.
     Maggie was born Margaret Elizabeth Flanagan on November 6th, 1923, to Charles Flanagan, who had immigrated from Ireland -- an Irish Protestant who dared to wear orange on St. Patrick's day, and to Della Drake.  On her father's side, there had to be a leprechaun in the family line back in the old days, who bequeathed to Maggie a sense of joy and humor and mischief.  On her mother's side, there was a Drake known to the English as the valiant captain who ruled the seas -- and known to the Spanish as that fire-breathing, blasphemous pirate.  From him she may have inherited some of the salty language that spiced up some of her conversations. 
     In 1943 she married John Joy, and even though the marriage ended 20 years later, she felt a love and friendship with his brothers and sister that lasted the rest of her life.  They made the 8-hour drive from Addison, Maine, to be here today.
     But there she was, a single parent, with a direction to choose.  Maggie decided to go back to college and get her degree.  This was Rivier  College in Nashua, New Hampshire, where her teachers were not only younger than she was. . . they were also nuns.  Or as her father would say, "Them."  There were a few lively discussions, but they taught.  She grew.  Then came graduation.  The class was called together to be given information on what would happen in what order.
     In the final procedure, as each graduating student's name was called, he or she would come up onto the stage, bend and kiss the bishop's ring, and receive his or her diploma.
     Maggie's response was:  "No way.  How do I know where that ring has been?"
     "Then you won't be able to graduate," said the Sister in charge of the ceremony.
     "Fine," said Maggie.
     But they went ahead with the rehearsals at Rivier College anyway, with one of the nuns playing the part of the bishop.  Maggie's name would be called.  She would walk up on the stage, the nun would extend the hand with the ring, and Maggie would kiss her hand and arm right up to the shoulder.
     Everyone knew there was trouble in Rivier City.
     The night of the graduation, the bishop was seated on the stage, and one by one the graduates greeted the bishop, kissed his ring, and received their diplomas.  Then Maggie Joy's name was called.  She walked onto the stage.  The bishop leaped out of his chair and warmly shook her hand and extended her diploma.  We think the word had gotten out.
      From there she went on to get her master's degree at Tufts University, received her teacher's certificate, and taught at the University of Lowell.  She became executive director for Lowell Day Nursery.  She established the first Head Start program in Lowell.  She worked with the Department of Welfare and Health, establishing teaching classes for day care and head-start teachers.  This meant dealing with bureaucrats on a city and state level, boards of directors who never really understood why you need a certain standard of teaching expertise to do it right.  And Maggie's creed was to do it right.  Her daughter-in-law, Pauline, recalls the board meeting Maggie attended that required the directors to vote on a program that would cost a little more money.
     It came right down to the wire with the votes almost even, for and against.  Maggie was sitting next to one of the undecided swing votes.  An old Yankee, right out of history.  White hair, firm chin, lofty brow, and tight lips.  As the vote was taken, Pauline noticed a strange expression on the old man's face.  On a hunch, she peeked under the table.  Maggie had removed her shoe, and her toes were creeping up inside the pant leg of the undecided gentleman.
     A moment later it was his turn to vote, and with a firm "For" . . . the motion was carried.
     In February of 1976 Maggie converted to Judaism.  She had attended a few services to please some of her friends in Lowell and fell in love with the music, the rabbi, the warmth of the people.  She also felt it was about the only intelligent life in Lowell.  She started going by herself to the Friday night services where the old men of the temple would gather to worship and argue and debate -- and they practically adopted her.  She was their child to love and teach.  When she told the rabbi of her decision, she was not encouraged.
     Jews do not seek converts and even make it difficult to convert.  But again, Maggie said, I can do this.  I will do it -- the hard way.  The easy way would have to become a reform Jew.  A few questions, a little studying . . . fairly easy. 
      Maggie decided to become a conservative Jew.  That meant learning Hebrew, learning the laws and teachings of the Jewish faith, and then having to face a panel of rabbis who would quiz her on her knowledge.        
      Then there is the mikveh process.  The immersion.  Maggie had claustrophobia, and if you think Baptists have a thing for immersion -- Maggie swore they didn't just dunk her, they tried to drown her.  She survived, of course, and decided she would also keep a kosher home.  She had to go all the way.        
      This is when we first met.  My previous wife had died three years before.  I was at loose ends.  A friend who had known me, my late wife, the person I was living with at the time -- and Maggie -- encountered me at a party.  She said, "You're restless, aren't you."  I agreed, and she gave me three names and telephone numbers.  Maggie’s was the second name on the list.  I never got to the third.
      I also started off with at least three strikes against me.  She asked our friend if I was Jewish.  No.  She asked if I smoked.  Yes. And then I thought she said, "Come to dinner."  
     I arrived in casual attire.  She was dressed to go out.  Fortunately, I had an old sport coat rolled up in the trunk, so we were at least allowed in the restaurant.  But there was magic that night, and the next night . . . and from that time came a phrase that she would whisper to me even when she was in the hospital . . . Can you stay all night?

      Nine weeks later we were married.  My small advertising agency had gone under the year before.  The board of directors at the Lowell Day Nursery had finally won, and Maggie was collecting unemployment, but we had each other and her staunch belief that anything can be done.
      I almost starved to death the first few months.  Maggie was not only keeping a kosher kitchen, but she was a vegetarian.  I never could keep the dishes straight.  I even fed the cats in the wrong dish. Then one day Maggie had a Big Mac attack and it was all over -- there went the kosher home, but she proved to herself she could do it.  She was also much more tolerant of other religions -- unless they were pushy.  Then watch out.  When we were first living in Billerica, there was one church whose main purpose in life was going door-to-door converting the unconverted.  One old man banged on the door on a Saturday morning.  They never rang, they banged.  He told her he had come to save her and bring her the true word.
       Maggie politely explained that this was a Jewish home.  To which he thundered:  Well, I hope you at least read your Bible.  To which Maggie thundered back:  WE WROTE IT!  Never saw him again.
       Back in the 70s the Silva Mind Control Program was all the rage. [This was something Maggie and I had in common besides the Oriental Brush course and Floyd Rinker. bbm]  Maggie not only took the course, she took the instructor's course in Larado and taught it in Massachusetts and Puerto Rico.  Today the same meditation/bio -feedback visualization techniques are being used at several hospitals around the country to help regenerate damaged nerves and muscles.
       I used to kid Maggie about having the fastest mouth in the east.  Very often she would say the first thing that came into her head, before logic determined if it was appropriate or not.  At least it was honest.
      When Rene Cosmopolis met her for the first time, it was at a baby shower.  She was standing next to Maggie, watching the presents being unwrapped to the usual oo's and ah's.  Rene was just taking a sip of something when they unwrapped a very ugly sweater, and Maggie muttered out of the corner of her mouth, "I wouldn't put that on a pig."  Whatever Rene was drinking went spraying all over the room.                                                                                 

I WOULDN’T PUT THAT ON A PIG.



Rene and her husband were in Florida when Maggie died.  Her friend, artist Stravos, had just gone to the beach and written her name in the sand.  He was going to take a picture and send it to her, telling her he was walking along the beach and saw her name there.  His famous picture of Santa Claus was on her wall during the Christmas season.   
                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                           Maggie found a way of using humor to soften fear and sadness.  When I went through chemo 6 years ago, I had a head that looked like Yule Brenner.  We had traveled to Vermont to visit my father in a nursing home, and my daughter was going to join us.  She had never seen me without hair, and we could understand the apprehension.  Maggie found a huge clip-on gold earring, and when Janice entered the room at the motel to join us, she almost collapsed.  Instead of Yule Brenner -- there was Mr. Clean.
       Maggie lost her hair, too, but never her sense of humor, and when my daughter arrived last summer with bald wigs, we held a beauty contest.  Maggie won hands down.
       Christmas time was difficult this year.  The hospital was filled with the sound of carols, and occasionally a school music class would go from room to room serenading each patient.  As one group came, sang, and left, the music director looked back at Maggie and said, "God bless.  Merry Christmas."
       Maggie lifted her hand and said, "Shalom."  A minute later, he reappeared at her door and softly said, "Shalom."  It was a lovely moment.
       The most caring moments away from home were at Jordan Hospital.  Maggie had been in several hospitals over the year, but Jordan was like no other.  The warmth, the compassion, the tenderness and care were incredible.  Each person there became a friend.  Maggie soon learned that underneath the professional outward appearance of 90% of the nurses and lab workers beat the heart of a dirty old lady who was delighted to let her hair down and laugh.
       From the Garden Club and friends came wonderful cards and flowers.
       From her Oriental brush class came an incredible painting.  Each member contributed part of it and left her chop mark beside it.  In the few days she was home before returning to Jordan for the last time, there was the care of the nurses and home health aids from Special Care, and an endless food supply that would arrive each day from friends.  Often someone would arrive at the door with a wonderful dish and then look at me strangely when I didn't invite her in.  It was at Maggie's request.  By then the lymphoma had reached the central nervous system and would set off electric storms in the brain that you and I can only imagine, and she would become lost and confused.  She never wanted any of the people she loved to see her and remember her this way.  Once in awhile, two or three hours a day when the medicine had quieted everything down, and she was herself -- completely -- she would welcome anyone who stopped by.
       She wanted you to remember her exactly the way she was when all of you first met.
       I told Jan I was going to explain how a couple of our favorite expressions came into being.  I could see her turn white.  Not those expressions, I reassured her.  What better way than our first trip to the Yukatan.
       Our route was a stopover in Mexico City, then change planes for Viahmosa, then by car into the jungle to the ruins of Palenque and then 600 miles to Merida.
       That was the day the Pope was leaving Mexico City, and even though they had planned his schedule carefully, they didn't count on a half million people lining the streets.
       We circled for a while, went on to Acapulco and sat on the runway, and then finally back to Mexico City where air traffic was backed up for five hours.  As we sat there on our luggage those five hours, Maggie looked up at me and said, "It's better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick."  Years later, after a spinal tap or other painful procedure at the hospital, I would ask her how she was doing.  She would always answer, "Better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick."
       We had arranged for a car at the local Hertz office through a travel agent.  Went there, talked to them.  Everything all set.  Next day we went there, and the place had been picked clean. We think it was a raid by Avis, and the only people who spoke English were a very disagreeable couple who had also reserved a car, but they paid for it in advance.
       Somehow Maggie got us a car, and we were off  through the jungle to Palengue.
       In that area they did not speak English.  Most did not speak Spanish.  They spoke one of ten dialects of Mayan.  Maggie thought she could figure out at least some of the language, but whatever she said to the Mayan priest wasn't quite right.  He shrank her to six inches tall.  (Slide shows Maggie next to an enormous plant.)  Actually, there are some very big plants there.
       We were also delighted to run into the obnoxious couple we had left in Villahermosa.  Maggie had told them we were archeologists, so when they asked what that man was doing, pushing a woman up the steps of the temple, she told them there was a human sacrifice at ten minutes past every hour.  I think they went home.
       One of the final stops on our trip was the island of Cozumel.  We wanted to explore the beaches and the clear waters of the reef.  When we got to the hotel, we asked the manager if our room was on the ocean side.  "No," he said, "it is on the road."  The road where the motorbikes go by all night.
       This is when Maggie asked me if I had selected someone for the interview.   She explained that we were from People to People magazine, and we needed to interview someone for an article in the travel area, and would he be available.  He was available.
       We ended up in Suite A on the ocean side.
       The last day Maggie took pictures.  I interviewed the manager.  Everybody was happy.
       Maggie's life was her family, her friends, her painting, her flowers, and the joy of living each day to the fullest.  No matter what it is, if you believe you can do it, you can do it.
       We would like to share with you now the things that Maggie found beautiful.
       [Slide presentation followed.  Kenneth had a table stacked with taped copies of his superb celebration of Maggie's life.  He invited anyone who wanted to own one to take it home.]
       {I still have that tape.  BBM 7-26-03]
       Kenneth’s presentation included several portraits I had taken of her and Floyd Rinker.  One time when we three were having lunch at a restaurant in Hingham in the arbor room, I took a number of pictures of Floyd and Maggie.  They were so pleased, they both asked for copies.                                                                       
                                
                  “Are your feet cold? Put them in my lap and I’ll warm them for you.”


KENNETH AND MAGGIE

No comments:

Post a Comment