Friday, June 10, 2011

There is Mother's Day and Father's day, but I am Declaring Secret Parent's Day. Our Life with Margie McCalla

The best picture, ever, of Mom and Dad, before 7 children hit them. 

We celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day, but what about the other parents we have had in our lives? 
This week, our family fondly reminisced about the one and only, Margie McCalla, our cook and family member. 

Margie is not happy to be photographed

We were so blessed to have her in our lives; we cannot believe the luck and grace of 36 years with her. In our house, Margie was Sacred. What she said--went, even to my Mother. She ruled us so completely because we knew she loved us. She was not our Nanny; she was the head of the house. She was the keeper of our secrets, shared humor and sass, solved every murder in The Post, and stood up for all of us. My happiest memories in life go back to my years and years in the kitchen with her. Margie wrapped me in an apron and stood me on a chair. There we would discuss life, food, Santa Claus, spring flowers…you name it. She absolutely taught me the art of witty banter. With a wooden spoon raised in the air, she would tell me, "That is not funny," or, "I've heard that joke before," or she would double over and laugh. 

More photography under duress

Margie had opinions, and we believed in them. I still believe in them. The kitchen was her laboratory and pulpit, where a vast array of ingredients was transformed into swooning courses—served piping hot, beneath a Southern spiced, running commentary. Soap Operas were analyzed, baseball players were discussed, assassins were vehemently, chopped, diced, and skewered, as Margie ran her race to the 6:30 serving. I felt grown up. The joy of life centered there, and we paused over a sprouted seed in an avocado, lemon or lime, and stopped everything to reverently plant and preserve the tiny promise of life. 

John's first birthday

With all the ritual and pattern of serving, often 36 meals in a day, our kitchen garden produced trees that we transferred to larger and larger pots in our sunny dining room. I was a very important servant to our brilliant cook. I scuttled around to fetch dirt, pots, water, stir, measure, learning teaspoons and tablespoons, cups and pints. Margie unraveled letters and numbers by teaching me how to read the side of a stick of butter and add up her amounts, explaining proportions and ratios. She slowed her bubbling, broiling and sautéing dance to break it down for this little chatterbox, who was hiding from five brothers and a bossy older sister, seeking refuge from the endless correction of the nuns. 

I'm causing some sort of trouble here
Margie in the background with baby John (1960)

She was magic, turning seeds into trees, egg whites into solid peaks, whipping cream, explaining how 20 seconds too long, would create butter. I felt like Arthur in the cave with Merlin. To extend the analogy, Margie, thanks to the miracle of  Noxema, never aged. Her 1940’s hairstyle was an unchanging sculpture of black sheen, tucked demurely into a hairnet. 

Sleepy at night, in front of T.V., watching Ironsides or Mission Impossible, I would take her face in my hands and laugh at her freckles, complimenting the smoothness of her skin. Then I would nestle into the softness of her upholstered side, and inhale the deep rich eucalyptus, camphory smell of her—part dentist office, mixed with band-aid box. 

That's baby John pouring champagne
She looks exactly the same!

Unlike everyone else shoving and pushing me through life, Margie coaxed me through domestic bliss. As I grew older, and was absent for day camp or ski-trips, I would resume my place in the kitchen, and regale her with stories of the mean girls and the cute boys. Inevitably, there was a baby boy in a high chair singing a song, lapping up food, banging his spoon, babbling to us about Santa Claus, Wild Kingdom, army men, and all their boyish thoughts. Our eyes would meet, and we would dramatically roll them. 

Margie bustling around the kitchen, Mary Maudsley, baby Tim and John

Then we would play with the baby and laugh, thicken and thin our gravy, and get dinner out for the hoardes. Every single member of my family felt as special to her as I did. All of my friends rushed to the kitchen when they came to our house to greet her. My parents’ friends loved her. Margie’s kitchen was True North in our house, where all visitors stopped for benediction.

Our dear Margie passed on June 7th at the age of 101, in the arms of her devoted family. If I ever felt lost in this life, I should be ashamed, because God sent an angel to watch over us. 

Charlie's 8th birthday, 35 years ago

I will always love Margie, and be thankful everyday for her love, humor, and camaraderie. I am not allowed to grieve for her, it is just wrong, after her great run through life. We can only be profoundly grateful for the grace and cohesion she provided for the great rabble she always led to the table. 

I cannot duplicate her fried chicken, veal or eggplant, but I come close to her, when I pull my friends and children into my kitchen, and make them chop, and stir and chat. 

It is not a proper party--it is better. It is Margie’s kitchen that I compulsively recreate—a place where we can have disasters, laugh, eat delicious meals, but best of all, find our true selves.


  1. My friend, there
    could be a whole
    story here, as this
    little slice of
    Margie's life with
    your family has me
    hungry for more!
    Loved every word.
    Bless her heart!
    xx Suzanne

  2. Ok, let's see if I can type through the tears. I know exactly how you feel, as I had a Margie too, although her name was Lily. She was an added stability in my life, and i miss her so much.
    Your Margie lived to be 101 and was dearly loved. As I read, I see that there were so many memories that will always be there for you.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to the lovely Margie.

  3. This was INCREDIBLE and by far the best post I have read all day (and I have read a lot) What a beautiful story about someone who touched your life in such a beautiful profound way and what a beautiful fitting tribute to her life and the impact it had on you. I am touched by this story and loved how the pictures told the story so was obvious she was adored by your entire family and clearly that feeling was mutual. My grandmother had a similiar type helper, Spencena was her name and she was the big lovable doting mother every kid wishes they had...always could knock some sense into our silly immature brains and never was afraid to let us know we were kids and kids listened to adults....she was loved and cherished as your Margie was. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post and story....I am sure God is smiling today with her at his side.

  4. What a beautiful woman and a beautiful story of your household growing up....I'm touched that you have shared so many great family photos, Liz! I am sure Margie is smiling down on your lovely tribute~

  5. If I make it to Margie some day, I hope we are back in the kitchen. Thank you for indulging me in an off topic tribute to a Sassy Saint.

  6. Oh this is so precious. It is not very often I get teary eyed reading blog posts... What a special post... a very special relationship. Reminds me of The Help... those loving family members who aren't blood relatives but couldn't be any closer or more intimately connected.
    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story. For just meeting you tonight, I feel like we're BFF's!
    Beautifully written and so inspiring... like I've just read a book!

  7. your skills at story telling seems to have been another legacy from margie, i could imagine her hug, words and scent. what a treasure in your life, thank you for sharing

  8. Thank you for sharing. Margie is (still in your life) a wonderful blessing of love--I have tears rolling down my cheek. Please write more about Margie and the adventures of a family of seven. Have a blessed week-end. Mary

  9. Your story was so lovely and I could imagine the wonder of a youth spent with such a wise and wonderful woman. How lucky you and your family was to have had her in your lives.

  10. This is such a touching and beautifully told story. Thank you for sharing it. I am crying my eyes out! Your post has inspired me to pay more attention to the little things and how they can leave such a big imprint on our children. Such a good reminder.

  11. Oh Liz, what can I say - Margie would be pleased and proud I'm sure. What a wonderful loving tribute to clearly a very special person! And I had no idea you came from such a large family!!

  12. Dear Liz,

    I was not at all prepared for such a deep post, so lovely and so tearful. I a sorry to hear of her passing. I just loved this post and the history and love that is so deep and still ever present. Hugs to you XO, Kelly

  13. I have no words, Liz. I think this post touched not only my heart, but also my soul.

    I'm sorry for your loss, but showing your love like this is the best gift of life. Love lives on...


    Luciane at

  14. Dear, this was a beautifully written testament to how Margie touched your soul and molded your life starting as a wee child. I very much enjoyed reading this and I didn't want your memories of life with Margie stop. What a life she lived and what an impact she had on you and your family. The photos were tremendous and what a magnificent family you are from. Even the dog is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. Stories like this just make you feel good.

    xx Deb

  15. Liz you are an angel to share this wonderful story with us all. A wonderful tribute to a very special woman whom I can see loved your family as much as you loved her.

    I am the eldest of eight children; alas we did not have a Margie, however were blessed with a very patient Mother and Father who taught us all of the important values in life.



    Art by Karena

  16. This is such a wonderful tribute. It brought a tear to my eye. We should all remember those people outside our family who make such an impact on our lives. Looks like your mother chose your caregiver well.

  17. This is so wonderful! In our house we had Annie. She sent me a birthday card until the year she died at 99. Don't make them like this anymore...

  18. Dear Liz
    This was such a heartfelt testament to a well lived life of selflessness and daily joy. A beautiful tribute. My father wonderful nanny became my own and remained part of the family until her last day at 101 . I gave her her first flight as a 100 birthday present.
    I just loved reading your story. It would make a rich wonderful biography to tell us about her lfe through your words
    Hope to see you soon francine

  19. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to the lovely Margie. You are an angel to share this wonderful story with us all.

    Silver MLM

  20. What a lovely tale. You are a writer!
    Lucky you to have had Margie.

  21. What a sweet post!
    -Jessica & Holly

  22. what a lovely, lovely tribute to your dear friend. how lucky you 'all' were to have one another!
    you were so right she just did not age at all in those photos- a lovely lady indeed.
    may she rest in peace....


  23. Definitely. These people deserve to be honored. Very touching article you have here. Thanks for posting.

  24. That family portrait with the dog looks like something off of a tv show, what a fab photo!


We love your comments and hope you will join the conversation! Please do not use this forum for advertising.