Marjorie Michaels
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Marjorie Michaels

Written by Rick Archer
October 2009

On September 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. 

Isn't Marjorie 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 Michael Friedberg.  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 right.

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 Parties.

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 Marjorie Michaels

Written by Sharon Michaels, Marjorie's daughter

Rick 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 least.

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 mother Marjorie.


Blackpool, England

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.

grandparents in fact survived by operating just such an establishment, renting out rooms just a few blocks from the promenade.

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, t
here were shots of the Blackpool Empress Ballroom that appeared in the Japanese ballroom movie , Shall We Dance.

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.

Unfortunately, when 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 avoided conscription!

There was no work to be found.

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.

Coming to America

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. 

Unfortunately, this meant Alfred had to leave his family behind for the second time.  First it was World War I, now it was this forced emigration.

It 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 young Marjorie

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.

The Great Depression

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.

Growing Up in Chicago

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.

Finally 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 mother paid serious attention to her own elegant coiffure.  That her hair was always perfect was definitely a testament to her skills and her temperament!

Mom and Dad

In 1953, Marjorie married Robert Anthony Michaels 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 first dance.

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.

My Grandmother Florence

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 around.

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 conversation.

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  finished college 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.  Marjorie applied for a few different jobs, but there were no offers for a middle-aged woman with no recent work experienceI 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

Marjorie and Simon Gould

Our Move to Texas

During 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 me.
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 industry.
In 1980 I started law school at the University of HoustonI 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.

I Go Out on My Own

It was 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 independent.

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 encouragement.

Today my 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

Marjorie, Swing Dance and The Big Band Era

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 playerMom 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 beautiful? 

It was amazing that so many of her generation learned to dance without any kind of formal instruction.  

Back in those days, f
ew 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 warm-hearted.

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, Ain't Misbehaving

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 cha-cha.

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 at seventy-one.

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 River Seine.

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 death

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 allowed.

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 2006 SSQQ New England Cruise.

had always been an aficionado of lighthouses.  New England of course has many beautiful ones. 

This trip was the opportunity Marjorie to see the sights of an area she had always been deeply interested in.



Email from Sharon Michaels to Rick Archer
Early January, 2009

From: sharon michaels
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 fallen.

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.


RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:  Here is what I wrote in the January 2009 Newsletter

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 we, Sharon?

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 heartbroken.)

Marjorie Has a Fall

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 fall.

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 movie.

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.

fter the second fall and the fracture to her shoulder, Marjorie was 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.  To his credit, Olivier always did his best to accommodate her.  He was always so very gentle and kind.


The Final Chapter

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 was gone

I am comforted that throughout all these years I was able to keep my 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.  

Marjorie 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.

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