A couple of months ago I started composing a letter to my friend, Margaret. I’m a bit of perfectionist and because she meant so much to me, I wanted my words to be moving - I wanted her to know what an impact she had had on my life. In those first drafts I had mentioned that my mother-in-law, Robin, had been battling cancer for years. That Robin was winning, persevering. But in the midst of my drafts to Margaret, Robin fell ill, and then abruptly passed away. I remember somewhere in my grief stumbling across the messages to Margaret and deleting them. I couldn’t reference Robin as anecdotal hope any longer - but it felt wrong to skim over Margaret’s own battle with cancer. Reeling with loss, I shelved the whole message as something I would send “later”.
Once again, I am blindsided by loss. And because I failed to send Margaret her message in time, I am going to share with you what this woman meant to me.
I met Margaret when I was 24. She was well into her 60s at this point - closer in age to my Grandparents than my parents. But Margaret was not old. She wore stylish clothing (and jewelry, duh!), and always a bold lip. She was beautiful and seemed ageless. She had met Johnny in the Apple store and after several technical difficulties, a friendship was born. She asked Johnny and I to model for one of her ads - an honor. Margaret ran Margaret Ellis Jewelry out of Nashville and was a legend. She liked us because we were different, about 180 degrees so, from her sometimes stiff and uppity demographic of buyers. We were a middle finger of sorts, with our pink hair, dark makeup, and tattoos. Margaret liked to push boundaries - a true renegade.
A few years later I was looking for change. I was working at a boutique where I felt very undervalued - I reached out to her in hopes of maybe becoming an apprentice. While I had no true interest in jewelry making, I was absolutely interested in learning or studying or working with or just being around Margaret. She met with me a few times and while she tried to figure out a way to hire me, there just wasn’t a need. But on one of our lunch dates, she told me the story about how she had met her husband, Fred. And how her life was forever better after they’d married. She had been previously unhappily married, and working as a teacher. After meeting Fred, she knew she needed to risk everything and take a leap of faith. She started jewelry making in her home, and her goals and success just grew and grew and grew. She encouraged me to follow my passions, and to take risks. I should revisit that pep talk more often, because I’m not too sure I have done either - but I still carry those encouraging words with me.
It meant a lot to me that a woman of Margaret’s success and age could or would invest in a young, somewhat lost, person like myself. She listened to my stories with vested interest. She offered sage wisdom and advice - and when I groaned about the bullies of my life, she offered me a shrug and said, “Fuck ‘em”. I admit, I felt really cool to have somebody like Margaret as a friend.
Margaret lived in a museum of taste. Every corner of her life was perfectly curated. She surrounded herself with people who made her feel good. She had young friends, and old friends, and didn’t buy into the idea of age at all. I remember once, in one of her famous Facebook rants, she discussed the word “old”. It upset her the way we “youngins” were labeling ourselves. She didn’t think an early bedtime, or a boring Saturday qualified anybody as old. She preached that 30, 40, 50 and beyond - whatever the number, youth existed in our souls. My big takeaway was that by labeling myself “old”, I was brainwashing myself to believe it true. Margaret, at this point in her 70s, was still living proof that any number could still be young. I’ve worn my age as a badge of honor since then ... I never ever ever say I feel old, and because of Margaret - I never will!
I didn’t see much of Margaret after I added more (and more) children to my brood, but we kept in touch here and there. She and Fred moved to Mexico, her heaven on Earth. She blogged beautiful stories, took gorgeous photos, and seemed to make new friends daily. I loved these updates. She was candid about her battle with cancer, and her hope inspired my own.
Her lively, colorful, powerful, sometimes angry Facebook messages brought me such delight. I loved her point of view and the brutally honest way it was worded. I was so thankful to have a voice like her on “my side” - She was sure happy to cut people out of her life who didn’t see it her way. I loved how bold and strong she was. She didn’t back down, ever. She was one of the most vivacious women I have ever known. She was a leader. A mentor. A muse. And so much more.
I wish I hadn’t been so particular in my wording - I wish I would have just pushed “send” after my first sloppy draft. Margaret inspired me so deeply - and even though time and distance had separated us, I thought of her often and regularly. I know for sure that will never change.
If I boiled everything down into one statement, it would simply be this: Margaret is the kind of woman I hope to be. She was a treat to know, and the vacancy she leaves this world will be felt by so many.
Beautiful Margaret Ellis.
A photo Margaret took of Johnny and I modelling her jewelry. The photo ran in an issue of NFocus Magazine, out of Nashville. (The quality is because it’s a photo of the photo, cut out and hung up on my Grandma’s fridge!)