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Somewhere to make a home

 

The first time I met Margaret Weatherly, she opened the door of the car, and out poured three grandchildren and two dogs.

That’s how I shall always remember a lady who filled a hole for me in the months after my mother died.

I was comparatively new to the Bladen Journal, and Mike Simmons sent me to Kelly to do a piece on the upcoming Spring Festival. This was obviously well before we made that community our home, and I barely knew anyone. I did, however, know where to find the store, which was being operated by Bill Weatherly at the time. Mr. Bill was considered by many to be the “Mayor of Kelly” at that time, and he was able to fill me in on the festival.

When I mentioned getting some kind of photograph, he called Miss Margaret; she came down to the store hauling three of the four grandkids, a Jack Russell terrier, and a larger, long-haired dog, the breed of which I disremember. The Weatherlys, a couple of customers from the store and at least one of the dogs made the newspaper the next week.

A few years later, when we moved to Kelly and joined Centerville Church, Miss Margaret came up to us on our first day and politely told us we were expected at Sunday dinner. One simply didn’t refuse such invitations. For one thing, the food and fellowship were incredible; for another, you didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

Sunday dinner at the Weatherlys was always just right – it wasn’t pretentious. It wasn’t overwhelming. The food was always delicious, and plentiful. No subjects were forbidden at the table, although good sense and manners kept many things undiscussed. Jeans and shorts were as welcome as a dress or a suit.

The after-dinner fellowship was as special as the meals; Margaret would share stories or pictures of son Allen’s minor league teammates, or letters and cards from old friends, newspaper clippings, or just anything she felt was special. They were all parts of Margaret.

Margaret Weatherly grew up on her family’s property in Kelly, on one of the few pieces of high ground near the river. Her brother Richard lives in the family home, across the White Oak Road. Their brother C.L., better known as Birdman, passed away several years back. Something like 20 years or more ago, Mr. Bill built the house where he and Miss Margaret made a home.

And I mean they made a home. When you walked through the glassed-in side porch, you felt at home, even if you’d never been in the Weatherly house. It was a place of refuge for many through the years, people in need of advice or prayer or an ear or a shoulder or a meal. Miss Margaret always did that, whether she and Mr. Bill were living in Air Force housing as young newlyweds or on his family’s dairy farm near Durham. Where Miss Margaret was, lost things could always find a home.

She drew me out, in those months after Mother died, without me realizing how much I needed to talk. I found out later she’d been the same way with several friends who’d also lost parents, and found themselves wandering. Miss Margaret’s home was a safe place, in a way no safety-pin embellished society could understand. The house was always clean, Mr. Bill’s shirts were always ironed, and the kitchen was always immaculate. There was also a better than average chance that even an unexpected visitor would be offered a cup of coffee, a piece of “an old cake I threw together,” as she put it, or some fresh vegetables. She truly embodied the “Hymn of a Worthy Woman” in Proverbs.

Dogs and a few cats always dashed in and out, along with grandchildren and the occasional wild animal that had lost its mother. Margaret had scars on her tiny hands and wrists from raccoons she’d hand-raised, critters who saw her from the moment their eyes opened until they decided to make their own way in the world.

I doubt there was much of anything Margaret couldn’t or didn’t nurture – her back porch made the dining room windows a television far more entertaining than any electronic device, since the squirrels, hummingbirds and songbirds formed a constant stream to and from the feeders and flowers. She loved watching things grow, even when arthritis made her trips to the flowerbeds in the yard painful.

Before the yard work became too dangerous, I’d see her on a warm day, working to keep her yard as clean as her house. I’d hit the horn and wave, and if her arms weren’t already full of sticks bigger around than she was, she’d return the greeting as though I were a long-lost and beloved relative.

Miss Margaret came from a time when picking up sticks from the yard was a matter of safety as well as pride and cleanliness. Tree limbs, twigs and branches provide fuel for the wildfires that still try to sweep through the Carolina pines, and besides, they made her yard look trashy, which was utterly unacceptable. She only gave up leaf and limb detail after falling a time or two too many, scaring Mr. Bill and the rest of the family, even while she disregarded the missteps as “nothing to worry about.

Margaret Weatherly was a gracious, grateful, loving lady; when she said thank you, she meant it, and she didn’t forget small gestures. Missus and I did a living history display at the festival one year, and Margaret remarked on the bead work we were making at the time.  I had a pound or two of 17th and 18th century trade beads at home, so I strung together a fairly large necklace for her, trying to get colors to match her eyes.

I didn’t take into account the fact that the finished product may have weighed more than Miss Margaret; I told her it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if she just hung them on a wall somewhere, or even gave the string away.

Nothing doing.  That wasn’t Margaret.

The next Sunday, she wore them to church; a year, maybe two later, she made it a point to show me she was wearing them again. She even bragged on them – and me – showing them off to some of her friends. I can’t explain how embarrassed yet proud I was that she made doggone sure I knew she appreciated a gift just one step above a Kindergartner’s macaroni portrait.

Arthritis and other ailments chipped away at the grand lady who left home for the first time during one of the big floods, riding in a boat to high ground for the first leg of the trip to college.  She fussed about forgetting things, and sometimes hurt too much to come to church. Mr. Bill had to leave our Sunday school class a few minutes early to check on her, and it was a special day when she felt good enough to come to services when he returned.

As things got worse, she began to get upset when people came by the house, since she didn’t recognize people anymore. She got lost a few times, and once was found just a few yards from a bluff at the river. She’d gone down to The Cove, as it was called – and was picking up sticks.

She became angry and frustrated sometimes, but holding her hand and looking into her eyes, you could still see the same Margaret. Even when she didn’t know me, the last time I visited, she was still the perfect lady, and tried to be as charming a hostess as she ever was. I saw a lot of my mother again in Miss Margaret, and a lot of myself in Allen and Mr. Bill. Until you have watched a loved one sliding away like that, you can’t really understand the pain.

Margaret Weatherly was a wife, a mother, a friend, a confidante, a child of God, a homemaker, a teacher, a nurturer, and an incredible cook. She went home the other day, to a place with no pain and confusion, leaving behind a family and community who loved her, and whom she loved.

The lady who made sure that lost things always had a home has gone on to another home, where she doesn’t have to sweep, mop, iron or cook, or even spend the day picking up sticks. Knowing Miss Margaret, however, I’m sure she’ll find something to do, and somewhere to make a home.

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