Written by Rick Archer
12, 2009, a wonderful friend of mine named
Marjorie Michaels passed away here in Houston.
Marjorie was 88.
Marjorie and her
daughter Sharon Michaels have been a big part of SSQQ all the way
back to the Eighties. And I can prove it too. I have Halloween
pictures of Marjorie from the 1989 SSQQ Halloween
Party and most of the Nineties as well.
beautiful? As you can see, Marjorie passed her good looks to her
daughter Sharon as well.
Sharon and I have have
shared an odd bond for a long time. We are both "only
children" who were responsible for taking care of our aging mothers.
Sadly, both of our mothers passed away within a year of each other.
My mother died last December.
Marjorie picked an
unusual day to slide to the "Other Side". One year ago -
September 12, 2008 - was the day we lost two friends to Hurricane
Ike, Gary Schweinle and
I guess that makes three for September 12.
Not the most popular date in SSQQ history, now is it?
Marjorie was always a
fixture at two SSQQ events - the Sock Hop and the Halloween Party.
Marjorie enjoyed Swing Dancing at the Sock Hop and she definitely
enjoyed watching all the antics and the goofy line dances at the
Halloween Party. If you browse through the
SSQQ Halloween pictures
on the website, you are certain to find many snapshots of Marjorie.
Most of my pictures of
Marjorie were taken at the Halloween parties during the Nineties.
Most of those photos are hiding in a closet in my house.
In her later years, Marjorie was neglectful about standing in line
to get her picture taken. So many of our pictures of her were
along the lines of "Faces in the Crowd" like the 2005 picture on the
One major regret I have is not having my picture taken with Marjorie.
Certainly one exists somewhere - we knew each for twenty years! -
but I don't know where to find it. That said, I definitely
intend to keep a look out. One of these days I am sure one
will pop up and I will add it in.
Marjorie took an active
part in all the dancing throughout the Nineties. After the
turn of the century, however, Marjorie was more content to sit on
the couch and watch her vivacious daughter Sharon cavort out on the
dance floor. Sharon loves to dance and loves the Halloween
In the picture on the
right, you can see Sharon with George
Rahbany at the 2007 Halloween Party. George has been a wonderful friend to
Sharon and Marjorie dating all the way back to the early Nineties.
George is always quick to smile and full of kindness. He was
willing to help Marjorie any way he could. For example, George
was unfailingly patient in his task of helping Marjorie walking to
and from the car when she came to an SSQQ party. For her part, Marjorie seemed to adore
George. She definitely appreciated his constant consideration.
As for me, Marjorie was
always my special friend at the Halloween
Party... or any party for
that matter. Over the years, Marjorie and I definitely shared
many a smooch at my New Year's Party. I don't care if anyone saw us
smooching. I admit I have had a big crush on Marjorie for a
long long time. I love having her at my parties.
Throughout the night while I am darting back and forth, it is my
custom to wave at Marjorie and let her know I am glad she is there.
Over the years, as things wind down
towards the end of the evening, I have always make a point to go over and
sit next to Marjorie on the couch. Marjorie and I have shared
this same wonderful ritual as long as I have known her. I
adore Marjorie. She has been unfailingly kind to me for twenty
years. Marjorie saves her biggest smiles for me and absolutely
bathes me in her incredible warmth. Of course I do catch her
flirting with other men at my parties from time to time, but I am
ever confident she only has eyes for me.
Frankly, I find this
gracious lady to be irresistible. Marjorie Michaels carries
herself with incredible dignity. She is always alert, poised
and polite. Let me add, Marjorie has the loveliest hair of any
woman I have ever known! I always think of Marjorie as
Margaret Thatcher, the former PM of England, because both ladies
have such elegant hair styles and impeccable presence.
Marjorie truly enjoys looking her best. However, just because
Marjorie has perfect hair doesn't mean she is fussy and
unapproachable. Far from it. Marjorie simply radiates
with warmth and concern. Throughout the night at every
Halloween Party, people gravitate to her naturally because she is so
much fun to talk to.
At last year's 2008
Christmas Party, I sat with Marjorie for nearly half an hour.
That is definitely the longest time I have ever spent with her, but
I had a a reason. As always, I snuggled up close to her and
pulled the blanket over both of us. Underneath we held hands
(don't tell anyone!) As we sat together, sometimes we chatted
about idle things, sometimes we just said nothing. It didn't
matter. As always, I felt very close to Marjorie. We
were old friends sharing our affection for each other for
perhaps the last time.
I could not help but
take note of how frail she seemed. This was new.
Marjorie has always had her wits about her and is such a
marvelous person to talk to. However, at the 2008 Christmas
Party, I was sad because I thought there might be a chance this
would be the last go-round for the two of us. That explains
why I stayed with her as long as I possibly could. I wanted to
be sure Marjorie knew how much I loved her.
As I guessed, this was
indeed Marjorie's last party. You can be sure I will be
looking over at that couch all night long at the 2009 party.
Maybe I will get lucky and Marjorie will make an appearance.
Marjorie will definitely be there in spirit, that you can count on.
I will make sure to put the blanket out on the couch for her.
The Story of
Sharon Michaels, Marjorie's daughter
Archer's Note: For a couple
years now, Sharon Michaels and I have talked about writing
Marjorie's story for the Newsletter.
Sharon knows full well how fond I am
of her mother. Not only do I respect Marjorie for her regal
presence, I love her for her incredible warmth. I have never
bothered disguising my unabashed affection for Marjorie in the
Not very long ago,
Sharon decided it was time to get serious about that story. I
think we both knew. Over the summer Sharon sent me several
chapters. I am so glad that Sharon did this.
Sharon's story turned out to be a sweet testimony to her lovely
Marjorie was born in Blackpool, England,
on August 7, 1921. Blackpool is a town somewhat
akin to Galveston in that working class
Brits go to this seaside resort
for their holiday "vacation".
Blackpool is in the north of England, accessible by train from
London in a few hours. There are a couple of pricey hotels but most
people stay at the ever popular boardinghouses or what we might
think of as bed and breakfast establishments.
The town's true center is the promenade where people walk up
and down, shopping, eating fish and chips at any number of shops
exclusively devoted to the beloved battered fish and French fries,
and playing games of chance along the boardwalk.
Marjorie's grandparents in fact survived by operating just
such an establishment, renting out rooms just a few blocks from the
A popular attraction in Blackpool is the
Blackpool Tower, an unabashed knock-off of the Eiffel Tower.
Inside the Blackpool Tower is an aquarium,
exhibition halls, and restaurants.
At the very top of Tower you will find a
famous Ballroom. Much of the year
the locals go just to the Ballroom to
dance. However, every May,
Blackpool becomes famous for the magnificent
ballroom competitions that take place.
For example, there were shots of the
Blackpool Empress Ballroom that appeared
in the Japanese ballroom movie , Shall
Marjorie's mother, Florence, loved dancing,
and her idea of a perfect Saturday night there was to go the Tower
Ballroom and waltz the night away.
She was speaking of Viennese waltz, just
coming into popularity at that night.
Father Alfred, brother Harry, Mother Florence
One of the serious
misfortunes of Marjorie's early life was temporarily losing her
father for a while.
Marjorie's father, Alfred,
was a decorated war hero
who served for England during World War I.
Alfred came home after World War I, he was
met by rampant unemployment in the area.
To his dismay, Alfred
discovered that few jobs available had
been secured by the locals who had
There was no work to be
It was a cruel blow to
discover he had risked his life for his country only to be beaten
out for jobs by men who had avoided service.
As unfair as it seems
and as hard as Alfred tried to find employment to support his
family, nothing worked out.
Alfred was beside himself with his inability
to find work.
So when a relative told him of the
opportunities in Chicago, Illinois, Alfred
decided to try his luck in America.
had to leave his family behind for the second time. First
it was World War I, now it was this forced emigration.
would be seven long years before
his wife Florence, his
daughter Marjorie and his son Harry
were able to join him in Chicago.
Alfred was able to rent the second floor
of a two-flat in Chicago for the family. Heat
was only available by using coal to heat the massive stove in
the kitchen which warmed (somewhat) the
rest of the flat.
There was no refrigeration, which is why the word icebox
is still used by some older people. Ice was delivered by
trucks to the residents regularly who tried to keep the food cold
for as long as they could in wooden boxes. He actually
built a window box that kept the food cold without any need
for ice in the ferocious Chicago winters.
Florence, brother Reggie, brother Harry, and
Marjorie and her mother Florence
In the summertime when it would get to ninety
degrees and more, they would drag the
mattresses onto the floor and leave the doors open to get the most
air possible. Washing clothes was done by hand in tubs and then hung
outside on clotheslines. TV did not arrive in most American
households until the 1950s, so the popular
form of entertainment was listening to the radio, featuring what we
would think of as the
radio version of soap operas.
Today's present economic difficulties
strike very familiar chords from Marjorie's
youth during the Great Depression. The flat which was mentioned
earlier had an initial rent of $21 per
month, but my grandfather successfully convinced the landlord to
lower it to $19.
Alfred had risen through the ranks to become a supervisor
at one of the Chicago steel mills. However
when he was reduced to only two days work per week,
he had to watch every penny as closely as
possible to survive those hard times.
Our family was fortunate in that Marjorie's
mother, Florence, had always been frugal.
She had maintained a savings account which
were able to supplement the reduced earnings of my
grandfather and allowed them to stay in
their home. Without Florence's foresight,
the family would have been forced to move
to a tenement and go on relief as
was so common in those days.
They also saved money on
grocery bills by their "Victory Garden". The
city actually gave out plots of land to families willing to grow
their own fruits and vegetables. Her parents and Marjorie and her
brother would take the bus out to their Victory Garden which they
faithfully tended. The fruits and
vegetables they could not use they either gave to less fortunate
neighbors or my grandmother canned
them for a rainy day.
This story is poignant because it shows
that people did whatever they could to survive the hard times.
It took a few years for
Alfred to get established in his adopted country. Once Marjorie's father
Alfred got settled in his new surroundings, he sent for his family.
Marjorie came to the United States
in 1928 at the age of seven years old.
She was incredibly happy to be reunited
with the father she had never known.
her family had found its home in Chicago.
Mom had been born in England, but she grew up as an American.
After high school,
Marjorie began cosmetology classes. Being
blessed with great natural beauty and a
dynamic personality, it is understandable why she was drawn to a
profession that helped to create beauty and style for others.
Throughout her life, my
paid serious attention to her own elegant coiffure.
That her hair was always perfect was
definitely a testament to her skills and
Mom and Dad
Marjorie married Robert Anthony
My mother and father
met at a public dance in Chicago. Both were recovering from failed
relationships. The night they met they swiftly discovered that
they really wanted to talk much more than they wanted to dance. Mom
told me that he was the best boyfriend she ever had - handsome,
dynamic, and generous. Apparently he was also very persuasive
because he convinced her they should marry within four weeks of that
My father did not have
much formal education, not an uncommon occurrence from the
Depression years. He began working as a switchman on the railroad, a
job that required a great deal of agility and nerve as he had to
jump from one moving boxcar to another and in all kinds of weather.
From time to time a switchman would not make the jump correctly and
would either be killed or maimed. What my father lacked in formal
education he more than made up for in natural raw intelligence.
Thankfully as the years passed, he kept getting promoted and
eventually became a conductor.
People often asked my mother what went wrong with their marriage.
The inherent conflict between his background as an Irish Catholic
and hers as an English Protestant was certainly an impediment. The
teaching of the church was that this second marriage could never be
recognized by God nor could I truly be "legitimate." My father once
said rather poignantly many years later that he thought they might
have been good together except so many other people and their
beliefs kept getting in the way.
My parents actually only lived together for a few months. They
remained married and in a sort of relationship until I finished
college at Northwestern.
I am sorry to say my
father predeceased my mother some
10 years ago.
Even though my parents divorced long long ago, I sensed an affection
on both sides that never died.
The story of my parents is
a sad, bittersweet tale.
While I grew up, my mother and I lived with my grandmother Florence.
I was nine when my grandmother passed away. Marjorie and her mother
had lived together most of my mother's life, even into adulthood and
the time of my parent's marriage.
My grandmother played
more of the role of mother to me than Marjorie did at that time.
Although I am sure our mixed household may have been unusual by
today's American standards, this sort of living arrangement
was not so unusual in European households. We were still in
many ways a European family.
My grandmother was a very wise and astute woman. She recognized that
there was more than a little of the fragile but lovely Blanche
DuBois character from Streetcar named Desire in my
mother. Mom was a bit of dreamer at a time when a practical
side could have come in handy.
When my grandmother knew
that she was dying, she asked me to promise to always take care of
my mother. Of course I said I would. I was nine years
old at the time.
I never thought until
many years later that typically it should have been the other way
Mom and Me
Wasn't I a pretty baby?
Too bad the picture isn't bigger so you could see my dimples.
Growing up, I can say
that I had a good home and a good mother, but I definitely didn't
have an easy life. Even though my parents were still
technically married, Dad operated more like a divorced father.
My father would visited me and my mother a couple of times each
week. He would take me to fairs, museums, restaurants.
However there was not much advice ever given or in-depth
My mother worked
part-time during those early years. Of course she and I were
living in the house her parents owned. My father did contribute some
support during that time. It was when I turned 18 and started
college that the finances became grim.
I was accepted into
Northwestern, a school in the Chicago similar to Rice in its
academic standards. My father had set aside money
for my actual tuition. But the living expenses outside of the
tuition were a huge problem.
Dad only sent $250 a month for both of us. Marjorie drew down
$100 per month from the sale proceeds of her parent's house that she
had inherited. So together Mom and I actually lived on just
$350 per month until I finished college. After that, it all
fell on me.
Tough Times in the Seventies
I graduated from Northwestern in 1975
with a double major in political science and journalism. The
Illinois economy was in a recession back
then. After being offered jobs as a glorified secretary, I elected
instead to work as a social worker for the Illinois Department of
Public Aid. That lasted five years. I had to go into the toughest
neighborhoods of the Chicago outlying areas to conduct in-home
interviews with the clients. This meant going alone up crumbling
staircases or around the back of half-deserted apartment complexes
or duplex homes to try to find the recipients, some of whom did not
want to be found. I discovered I had best
start the interviews by 8 am so I could be
out of those neighborhoods before 11 a.m.
when some of the gang members managed to wake up.
Marjorie wasn't doing
well. My mother had just become
divorced from my father when I
Marjorie had been
furloughed from a banking clerical position some eight years
earlier. She had not been in the workforce for some time
although she continued to work part-time as a hair stylist.
applied for a few different jobs, but
there were no offers for a middle-aged woman with no recent work
experience. I think that diminished
her self-esteem and depressed her sufficiently that she did not try
to find work again.
In retrospect, I probably should have encouraged her to at least
work part-time as a hair stylist again. However
she was painfully aware that she did not know the latest
hairstyling techniques and did not have the confidence to learn
anew. My mother was a very forceful personality in that way.
Once she had decided she would not be working again, she
would not change that decision.
Our Move to Texas
my career at the Public Aid office I met Barry Collins,
a distant relative.
Barry would point me in the direction of my law career.
One day I flipped through some of his law
textbooks and realized I had an affinity for the law.
I sensed this was going to be a path out of public aid for
I discovered that the Texas law school tuition was one of the
cheapest in the nation.
I wanted to escape the
harsh Chicago winters. Also the Texas economy was much
stronger that what we had Illinois.
So when I secured a very high score on the law
school admission test, I knew that Mom and
were on our way to Texas.
After living here just one year, I qualified as a Texas resident.
This meant I only had to pay about four hundred dollars a year in
tuition because of the subsidy of Texas colleges by the oil and gas
1980 I started law school at the University of Houston.
I worked full-time
as a paralegal and went to law school at night with nearly a
full-time course load.
Technically this is not supposed to be
done but what choice did I have? I was highly motivated to get through the
program as quickly as I possibly could.
I graduated magna cum
laude from law school. This enabled me to win a spot as a
briefing attorney at the First Court of Appeals in Houston. For a
year and a half I worked with Judge Warren, reviewing the appellate
briefs, hearing the oral arguments and actually writing most of what
would become the judge's opinion in a vast range of appellate cases.
Out on My Own
invaluable training for my legal career. After this training
ended, I elected to start my own practice rather than going
to work for one of the larger law firms. I thought there
would always be gender bias at such firms and I wanted to be
My mother was
very supportive of this decision. I had rented a tiny
hole-in-the wall office with a rented desk, a phone and no
other equipment. When documents needed to be copied, I
used the copier at the library next door to my office.
My first office was something out of a John Grisham story
about an impoverished young lawyer fighting for survival.
I remember my
mother was waiting for the telephone line to be installed
while I was running an errand. Just as I came in the
door, I heard her proudly telling the telephone installer
that this was going to be my law office. She said the
man looked at the lone file belonging to my only client that
was sitting on the desk with a raised eyebrow. He
asked Marjorie if she really thought I was going to make it.
Marjorie said "Of course!" She was positive there were
more clients would be on the way.
And she was right. Thank goodness! There was a long
stretch there where I am not quite sure how we did it. To
her credit, Mom gave me a tremendous amount of
practice ranges from family law to probate to bankruptcy and
other transactional work.
I started as a member of the Harris
County Bar Association and have been president of its lawyer
referral service for over five years.
As you might
gather, Marjorie has been my constant companion for
my entire life.
Sometimes I was her daughter and sometimes I was her mother.
Of course there were times we disagreed (usually about the silliest
stuff), but throughout all these years we were always the best
friends in the world.
Marjorie with her
friend and dance buddy George Rahbany
The Big Band
Mom grew up in the Big Band Era. Benny Goodman, Glen Miller,
Artie Shaw. Everyone found a way to swing dance and Marjorie
was no exception. Dance
she did, even after many long hours working as a hair stylist.
Where there is a will, there's a way.
Marjorie had a wonderful
ear for music. Let me tell you, my mother was a
gifted piano player. Mom
loved to play. She had learned many classical pieces on
the piano, so I grew up listening to her play.
Those were special moments for me.
Her repertoire ranged from
classical to the swing music
that was so popular during World War II.
Besides playing music, my mother loved to dance from an early
age. Her favorite dances ranged from
waltz and foxtrot to jitterbug (what we now call East Coast swing).
Like everyone else, Mom
had to face the terrible days of World War II. As you can see, Mom did
everything she could to improve troop morale. Wasn't she
It was amazing that so many of
her generation learned to dance without
any kind of formal instruction.
those days, few people could afford formal dance lessons.
Most of my mother's generation
learned to dance by watching movies and
practicing with their classmates. My
father, for example, never had a lesson, but he
could dance swing,
waltz, and a basic foxtrot.
Like everyone else, both
of my parents learned by watching the dance movies so popular
at that time and by practicing with their fellow classmates.
Of course, World War II was
taking place in the late Thirties and early
Forties. This gave an entirely different
perspective to the value of trying to enjoy life in the few stolen
moments between the catastrophic events of that time. When so many
of your classmates were being killed or maimed, there was the
tremendous appreciation of life and being able to enjoy a little
romance. No one cared about the
technicalities of ballroom dance or swing patterns, or anything else
for that matter. Live for today; there
might not be a tomorrow.
For anyone who has seen the film
From Here to Eternity with Burt
Lancaster, the passionate kiss on the beach was representative of
the emotion of that era. My mother remarked how confident most of
the men seemed both in pursuing women and dancing. She was actually
a little amused by how shy some of the younger men seemed in
contrast when she first danced at SSQQ. But she said once they
relaxed and came to know the women around them, they were quite
What had remained the same was the classic swing and ballroom music.
Some of her favorite songs from the past were Blues in the
Night, Stardust, In the Mood,
I started at SSQQ in
1985. After I graduated from law school, I realized there had to be
more to life than always going to school and studying. While I
established my law practice, I also began looking for some fun
extracurricular activity. That is when I discovered the dance
classes at SSQQ.
Mom started at SSQQ
about three years after me. One day in 1988 a former SSQQ
student named Dave Isaac was visiting at my house. He
suggested to Marjorie that she might enjoy taking some dance classes
too. My mother had some initial trepidation but agreed to try it.
It didn't take much. After one crash course she was hooked. I
had a new running buddy on the dance floor!
Even though Mom was
in her early sixties now, once Swing
Dancing came along, she found an enthusiasm that took her by
surprise. Mom was thrilled to be reacquainted with her love of
dancing! Many fond memories came rushing in.
However, there was one initial setback. Marjorie was surprised to
discover Swing dancing had changed a bit. The count
she had learned to dance to was somewhat different
than the six-count
Swing of the Eighties. Marjorie had to adapt to a slightly
different timing and footwork.
But adapt she did.
Later Mom admitted that the present
swing basic allowed for better control of
turns and advanced patterns.
Her favorite dance continued to be
swing. Friday nights at that time at SSQQ were solely devoted to
swing. Mom would dance song after song, many times after a
two-hour class. Soon enough, Mom was on the dance floor every chance she could get.
I couldn't get her to go home!
Marjorie even had a
brief foray into Western music. Frank Hartney
(pictured) convinced her they would do well at Gilbert
Huron's country western competition. Without much practice time,
they did perform well and she came in sixth in Western waltz and
But with advancing age and also her greater exposure to the ballroom
and Latin classes at SSQQ, her favorite dances
began to shift to ballroom waltz and American tango. The
music tempo was generally slower and there was the security of being
in closed dance position. And she really loved most of the ballroom
music which suited the romantic side of her personality. She never
seemed to lack for dance partners, much to the chagrin of many of
the younger women who were sitting on the sidelines. This may have
been due to her beautiful smile that made each of her dance partners
feel that he was truly the best and her favorite.
Mom has regularly come to the Halloween
party over the years at SSQQ and dressed up to become such
characters as little Miss Red Riding Hood, a Spanish flamenco
dancer, a gypsy, an Indian maiden, a flapper and even a she-devil.
I think Mom and I are tied for the most SSQQ Halloween Parties.
After Rick of course.
Even up to the past year 2008,
Marjorie has faithfully been in attendance
at the U.S.A. second Saturday dances at the Dance Place, and the
major social dances at SSQQ such as the Halloween party and the
Christmas and New Year's Eve parties. Mom
began to have some balance problems and shortness of breath, but her
partners came to wait for the slower waltzes and rumba melodies that
were good for her. The music always seemed to work its magic and
bring her alive.
Mom and I began
our first significant traveling back in 1992. Despite having been
born in England, Marjorie had never been back to Europe in all those
years. Both her parents in fact passed away without ever seeing
their parents or England again once they immigrated
here to the US. This was the common experience for so many
families. Traveling overseas at that time meant two weeks to cross
the Atlantic on a ship; adding in at least a week or two to actually
visit upon arrival and then the same return trip meant a six-week
vacation, hardly possible for anyone except the very wealthy.
This is why the parting when an adult child
immigrated to the United States was so bittersweet. Both parent and
child knew they would never see each other again in this lifetime.
My grandfather, despite all his war medals for acts of bravery,
could not find employment in England. He had
little choice but to leave to seek opportunity. So it
was an act of love for my grandparent's families to encourage them
to leave and say goodbye.
So Marjorie was very excited to finally return to England and see
the land of her birth as an adult. I had some trepidation about
whether the family home she remembered, the boardinghouse, would
still be standing. However, fewer buildings are demolished over
there in the name of progress. Instead, buildings are renovated or
incorporated into the newer architecture. Mom
would not be disappointed after all.
We took the train
to Blackpool and then a cab from the station to the famous
promenade. Incredibly she remembered the exact address from seven
years old, 241 Central Drive. After a wrong turn or two, we walked
the short blocks to the house. It was for sale, and we were able to
see into the parlor where the guests had been entertained at the
boardinghouse and the hallway leading to a downstairs bedroom. She
said the glass door had been replaced with a nicer one. I have a
photograph of her standing at the front gate outside of the house at
seven years old and now the one of her upon her return triumphantly
Being such a small child when she left England, she had never
vacationed outside the region of her birth while living there. So
London was just as new to her as it was to me. We saw together the
Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Windsor
Castle (where a line of Palace guards in military formation almost
marched over her until I grabbed her to safety), Hampton Court (one
of the most beautiful castles where King Henry VIII maintained his
residence). Other highlights of London were cruising on the Thames
and of course, the plays.
Then we went on to Paris. She particularly enjoyed the Eiffel Tower
because of the Blackpool Tower image, the view from the Sacred Heart
Cathedral of all of Paris spread out below, and the cruise on the
Her picture in the hotel room in Paris was a favorite
of my father, even though they had been divorced for many years. It
was quite poignant to find that lone photo in the top drawer of his
dresser when I was collecting all his personal possessions after his
In subsequent years we traveled to Puerto
Vallarta, Mexico (largely because a former classmate of mine at
Northwestern University had become a permanent resident there); to
Montreal, Canada; to the Cayman Islands on an SSQQ venture; Colorado
Springs, Colorado; to San Diego, San Francisco and further north in
California on Highway 101.
Then in 2000 we returned to both England
and Paris. On this second trip to Blackpool, we traveled to the
graveyard where her youngest brother was buried. He had died at the
age of seven from whooping cough, a very common infectious disease
at that time. Because her family was quite poor at that time, he was
buried in the pauper's graveyard where no headstones or markers were
We had the location of the grave written
down and were able to approximate its location with the kind
assistance of the staff there. As with finding her first home,
locating and placing flowers at her brother's grave had the same
symbolic sense of accomplishment and closure.
We added one more destination to the trip of 2000, a flight to
Venice after the travels to London and Paris. She particularly
enjoyed sitting in the cafes which flanked the square described as
the dressing room of Europe and marveling
at the Moorish architecture.
Our last trip together was the
Mom had always been an
aficionado of lighthouses. New England of
course has many beautiful ones.
was the opportunity
Marjorie to see the sights of an area she
had always been deeply interested in.
MARJORIE MICHAELS TAKES A
Email from Sharon Michaels to Rick Archer
Early January, 2009
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2009 9:28 AM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: My mother's fall
Rick, We have always attended your
New Year's Eve Party for over twenty years and planned to do
so again this past one. This time fate intervened. I already
had my evening dress on, and my mother had just stepped into
her bedroom to dress when she called out that she had
I knew it was a bad fall when she could not attempt to stand
even with assistance. They always say that if a loved one
needs you to pick them up, you have the strength to do so.
And I found that to be true. I just somehow picked her up
and put her on the bed until an ambulance came.
Fortunately my friend George arrived a few minutes later and
drove my car to the hospital while I rode with her. They
quickly determined it was a serious fracture of her right
hip, but it took literally hours for the x-rays and then
getting a hospital room.
What a New Year's Eve for George! He was very loyal and
supportive. We did not get to leave the hospital until about
4 a.m., and then I was called at 7:30 the next morning to
come back to authorize the surgery. It was a very scary
decision, what with her age and her lung disorder that
causes shortness of breath even without external stresses.
But she had an excellent anesthesiologist and tolerated the
surgery very well.
In fact, there was one bit of humor in all this. I knew she
was going to make it when the nurse in the recovery room
told me that she kept pulling out her oxygen mask because it
was going to mess up her hair.
Now she is in the rehab section at the Hampton and taking
short steps with a walker. She will probably be there at
least a couple of months. Mom had to have surgery to have a
plate and screws to rebuild the hip. It went well but the
resulting stiffness and pain to walk again is the hardest
part. She will be at the Hampton in rehab for quite some
time. It will be a long slow process of some painful
therapy, but she is trying so hard. My friends have been
very good at visiting her, but she still gets lonely when
they cannot be there.
So if anyone wants to send a card or call, please do!
please call if you have a minute
sometimes. It will pick up her spirits.
ARCHER'S NOTE: Here is what I wrote in the January
Marjorie Michaels is an incredibly
kind lady who has been a part of this dance for at least 20
years. Her daughter Sharon Michaels and I intended to write
a story about Marjorie one time, but kept missing
connections. We still need to get that story written, don't
You may have seen Marjorie at one of our dance parties.
Sharon is Marjorie's only child. Not only does Sharon love
to dance, up till about 5 years ago, Marjorie could cut a
rug as well. Although Marjorie doesn't dance any more, she
still likes to come to our parties. Yes, that's Marjorie
sitting on the couch under the blanket at the Halloween
Party (it gets cold sometimes!). And yes, that's Marjorie on
the couch under the blanket at the Christmas Party, New
Year's Party, Valentine's Party, Sock Hop, and so on.
A gentleman never asks a lady how old she is, but I am
guessing Marjorie is knocking on the door of 90. She's
really got this longevity thing down!
I saw Marjorie at this year's Christmas Party. As always, I
got my hug and my kiss. When I am lucky, I even get to sit
next to her and hold hands under the blanket.
Well, I missed her at the New Year's Party. That surprised
me because I think Marjorie and Sharon have made practically
every New Year's Eve Party for many years. Then I learned
that Marjorie took a fall.
(Note: What I
failed to add to the Newsletter article is that I did call
Marjorie soon after I received the email. We were
unable to have much of a talk. That is when I realized
the poor lady was in serious trouble. I was
In 2008, Mom seem to
become more fragile.
She made it through the year okay, but on
New Year's Eve Mom slipped and fell in her own
bedroom. Mom broke her hip just
minutes before we were to leave to go with
our friend George Rahbany to the New Year's Eve party.
The rest of the night was spent in
registration at Memorial Southwest Hospital and waiting hours to see
a doctor and get a room assignment. What a
way to bring in the new year!
This was a serious
injury. Although we didn't know it at the time, there would be
no more dancing.
Marjorie was only about six weeks into her
recovery rehabilitation when she fell again at a skilled nursing
facility. This time
Mom broke her right shoulder. The
combination of the two falls really undermined her confidence in
walking; her general weakness and shortness of breath also make any
lengthy periods of therapy also impossible. I
worried greatly about her condition and lack of progress. Mom
just didn't seem to be getting better.
When summer arrived, I decided to
move my mother out of the skilled nursing institutions and
back into a private home. My friend Dave Rolando and his
cousin Terry Fortier offered to let her
come live with them.
However, their home in Spring, Texas,
is quite a distance from where I live and
work so I had to give it some thought.
This would be a
chance to allow
Marjorie to be in the company of
people who loved her rather than the
anonymous staff that cared for
her. Mom would be
allowed her to live her life on
her own terms.
The change was immediate. Now
Mom was coaxed to eat rather than
having a tray just put in front of her and then removed in
half an hour whether she had touched the food
or not. Mom was urged to at
least get out of her room for a few hours of day to visit
with people and watch television rather than being allowed
to passively lie on the bed. The infected bed sores that had
plagued her so much actually healed
thanks to this kind of loving care.
With plenty of additional help from visiting home
health workers and therapists, Mom
was at least able to walk to the kitchen once a day either
holding someone or leaning on the walker.
There was one major disappointment.
Mom had so desperately hoped to regain her ability to walk.
However her chance to walk
independently had been cruelly
shut once she suffered that second
That second fall did her in. Mom
became frightened of walking
lest she fall again. Without
exercise, she became very
weak and helpless. Now
that she was in Dave's home, Mom
was so much happier.
She felt secure again. Mom
blossomed emotionally, even though her impairments remained.
She enjoyed very much being taken out to dinner, visiting
with Dave's children or having me cook for her and watch a
The chance to
take my mother to Dave's house was a blessing for which I
will always be grateful. It gave Marjorie a
peacefulness she had not known for some time. It gave
me a peacefulness as well! I am sure any child who has
the responsibility of caring for an aging parent knows
exactly what I am talking about.
the second fall and the fracture to her shoulder,
unable to ever really comb or fix her hair again. That
drove Mom crazy! With a broken hip and a broken shoulder, you
would think she would give it a rest on the hair, but not Mom.
Her hair meant that much to her!
I asked our
friend Olivier Cortot, a hair stylist, if he
would help. Bless his heart, Olivier was glad to help. Mom was unable to go to a salon.
This meant Olivier had to wash and color
her hair under the most difficult circumstances in
the nursing homes.
The entire time he worked with her, Majorie gave him her "professional
advice" on how her hair should be done!
"Nothing fancy, dear!"
That's what Mom would tell
Olivier every time he came near.
Olivier would reply, "I know, I
know." Of course, anyone who has
looked at her pictures knows that my mother
wore her hair in a very sophisticated style that was not easy to
duplicate. She just thought it was so simple.
his credit, Olivier always did his best to accommodate her.
He was always so very gentle and kind.
As the summer
ended, I had the awful feeling inside that our
time together was dwindling.
Thankfully, I was
able to share one last special time with my mother. On
the Wednesday night before she passed away I
drove up to Spring and fixed dinner.
We spent an unusually long evening together.
The end came with shocking speed. At
5:30 am on
Saturday morning, I was called.
Marjorie was having respiratory problems.
At 6:30 Mom was in the emergency
room. I drove frantically, but I arrived 10 minutes too late. That
long drive to Spring had proved my undoing. At 7:30 Mom
I am comforted that throughout all these years I
was able to keep
promise to my grandmother Florence that I would
always take care of my mother.
Marjorie and I shared
the same home since my birth.
It was not a burden to take care of
my mother. Love lightens the load of any
responsibilities or commitments.
was always there for me in so many countless ways. She was more like
a twin sister to me than a mother. Mom and
I shared a wonderful life together.
Now Marjorie has returned to her
own mother who loved her so very much.
This lovely picture of
Marjorie was taken during our trip to Paris in 1992. This is
exactly how I wish to remember her.