Marge died Wednesday. Many people will write many words about Marge Champion: dancer, movie star and generous contributor to the community. Worth the ink. For me, however, Marge was a gal-pal, part of my posse.
Interesting about friends — we all have them or claim to. Friends are commonplace, taken for granted and valued most when gone. In fact, though, being a friend is an art form and many don’t know how. Having friends is a gift – an invaluable gift. Marge knew how to be a friend, and if she counted you among hers, you were lucky. Anyone who writes about her, if they actually knew her, will have a story about Marge’s gift to them.
For me, it was a car. It was a yellow convertible. It was big, akin to driving a living room. It was so wide it rocked like a boat in a high wind. Do not mistake this for criticism – that car was a practical life saver, a spiritual boost, and Marge knew it. I was supposed to stop by and hadn’t.
Marge called: “Where are you?” (Not pleased)
“I was on my way, but the police came and repossessed my car,” I said.
“The Stockbridge police?” she asked, incredulous.
“Yes – you know — the divorce,” I said, resigned.
“Well I’m not having it.” Marge slammed down the phone. Sounded as if she meant it, but unclear what she meant.
Twenty-five minutes later – clarity. She arrived in a two-car caravan. Marge driving the yellow boat, another woman following in her car.
“The car is for you for as long as you need it.” And it was.
With that Marge was gone. No need to thank her. She was just putting the world right.
Then there was Fixer. Marge had a quiet, well-behaved menagerie – a couple of cats and a dog or two. Fixer was a dog of dogs. With the exception of my first dog, a fifth birthday present from my father, Fixer was the best dog ever. All dogs are good. What makes a good dog great is a combination of intelligence, awareness, love and loyalty. Fixer had all four in abundance.
As far as any of us knew, Fixer was a German shepherd-husky mix. As far as any of us knew, Fixer adopted Marge. Showed up at her door one day and never left. Just as Charlie, a dachshund called the Mayor of Stockbridge, Fixer had rounds — rounds they made daily without fail. Postprandial, Fixer appeared at my kitchen door to say hello, sniff around and receive a bite of whatever was on offer. Afte rall I was a friend of his household, and it was his job to check in and check up.
Fixer was killed by a bear. Marge and I mourned. Fixer was a stubborn alpha. The bear came into Marge’s fabulous garden. The garden she generously shared with us. That was his mistress’ garden and his yard. Fixer went forth and did battle with the bear. It did not end well, but that was Fixer.
Amusing that men wished to come to our weekly tea group meetings. No argument that it was a very interesting group, but it was women only – Mary Flynn, Marge Champion, Eleanor (City) Wilson, Maureen Stapleton and me.
Mo always said, “It is the damnedest group, a virgin and a teetotaler, a sinner and a lush, and ...” Mo had an incisive mind and an immense talent for observation, so other comparisons are deleted. By law, you cannot defame the dead, but dead or alive, you can always displease a woman.
The tea group was there for each and proud of it. For example, Marge and I shared a closet. We were the same size, and Marge had a thing about not wearing the same outfit twice, something those of us not photographed everywhere we went did not worry about. My closet doubled her wardrobe, and I borrowed from hers as well. She noticed everything about her friends, and when she sold the house, she prepared a pile of the garments I borrowed most often and gave them to me.
She invited me to lunch with Al Hirschfeld, “because you are both smart and talented.” Good grief, there is an order of magnitude.
Two conversations helped me as a writer more than all others. Sol Bellows telling me, “No one thinks they can write a book, but everyone knows there can write a sentence and then another and another.” The second was at lunch with Hirschfeld when he discussed approaching the blank sheet of paper. When she sold the house, she gave me the Hirschfeld of her and Gower dancing. She was generous and always present, yet her greatest gift to me was that she trusted me – with her keys, her garden, her closet and her secrets.
There is a kind of joke: “Satan get thee behind me … and push.” Marge was certainly not Satan, but there was no one better to have behind you pushing. There is a serious saying: “May your memory be a blessing.” That, in the end, is what I am trying to share: Marge lived so that memory of her is a blessing. Rest in peace my friend – you deserve it and have a cuppa with Mary, City and Maureen.