Saturday, September 29, 2007

Elder Ladies of Wellfleet

May I introduce Margo K? This lovely Wellfleet lady will celebrate her 88th birthday tomorrow. We first met at a Writers’ Guild meeting where Margo read a poem in her clear and resonate but accented voice. Quickly I learned to appreciate this strong, gentle woman who embraced Wellfleet in the second half of her life and now is a well-respected member of the community. “My mother was beautiful, but distant,” Margo tells me wistfully. “My father, he was a dreamer. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had he lived?” She dismisses the thought with a quick wave. Margo never dwells on the past. When she was 12, her mother left for Italy, and Margo spent her teenage years with grandparents on the Rhine. They sent her to Switzerland when the war broke out. “I was imported,” Margo says with a smile to explain the next period of her life, spent on Staten Island where she taught languages. Following a divorce, she acquired a masters and a new profession: art therapist.

Margo first discovered Wellfleet in 1953. From the door of the $20/week rental cottage, she could watch her daughter play in the sand by the bay. “It was very primitive, but just wonderful,” she says with a sigh. Permanent residence started in 1976. First she lived on Commercial Street, wearing gloves to keep her hands warm while painting. A friend on the library staff told her about the passive solar house on Daniels Drive, her home since then. The house is surrounded by wild gardens where black-eyed susans meander from bed to bed. Margo loves gardening, but no longer can tend the garden as intensively to her deep regret.

Two years ago Margo was chosen to represent Wellfleet on the Human Rights Commission for Cape Cod. Town Hall has not always been so supportive. Margo’s tenure on the Planning Board was marked by her wariness of cell towers and refusal to write the cell phone companies a blank check. In the 60s, every Saturday she set up a folding table beside town hall and provide Wellfleet's young men with choices: "between fighting/killing people and resisting the carnage every war brings, or ... to enter the military voluntarily." Margo’s memory of a polio epidemic in Germany motivated her first steps toward activism: a campaign to collect money for the March of Dimes in 1953. Soon Adlai Stevenson inspired her to stand at the Staten Island ferry and distribute leaflets about his candidacy. In later decades Margo, a Quaker, participated in many an anti-war vigil. She is a proud member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and can still be seen about town posting flyers. Most recently Margo organized a program at the library to educate citizens about consumerism.

Margo’s daughters want her to move out west, but she hesitates. “This community is really special. The Caleb event emphasized that to me. It’s quiet here. I can hear the owls. It takes 8 minutes to walk to the library.” Margo is one who thrives on the stimulation Wellfleet provides. If you want my opinion, I think her daughters will have a hard time getting her to leave …