I was named after my mom’s best friend, Margaret Mahoney. I did not, however, inherit her great height. Margaret was a second mother to my entire family and came to all of our birthdays, Christmas and Easter dinners, and any other family celebration, which, given we were Irish, must have kept her dance card quite full. She was the younger sister of my mom’s best friend growing up and it just evolved into a bit of an odd-ball friendship, with my mom at 5 foot maybe 4 inches and Margaret towering near 6 feet tall, and opposites in every imaginable way. My mom had 11 children, Margaret chose not to marry or have children; Margaret was a career woman with her own income, my mom was dependent on my dad’s earnings entirely; Margaret didn’t smoke, my mom smoked like a dock worker; nevertheless, they were two peas in a pod for over 65 years.
Growing up, I mostly played in the dirt. Literally. With cars. Climbing trees higher than the boys could. Building forts. Biking over jumps. Losing at Kick the Can. Running topless like a jungle child barefoot down dusty back lanes. I had no Barbie, or dollhouse, or girlie pillows, shoes, bows or barrettes. But every few months, my mom sent me for a sleepover at her best friend’s house and I had to bathe and dress nicely before going.
I will never forget the first time I slept over at Margaret Mahoney’s Kitsilano penthouse suite. I must have been about 4 years old.
In those days, they didn’t have elevators for these places along Kits beach, and as I went up the stairs carrying a plastic Woodward’s bag with my things, I thought I had entered the most glamorous world possible. I touched the rounded, wrought-iron banister, and felt the soft, cushioned carpet below me in a rich red that seemed to go on forever. When Margaret opened the door, I was momentarily blinded, the sun streaming in through a wall of windows, the cream coloured carpet, the white pillows, the teal blue couch, white walls, all so…clean…it felt like I had entered an alternate universe.
Margaret smiled broadly and invited me out onto her rooftop garden and patio. On a hill, blocks up from Kits Beach, the view took in all that was fabulous about Vancouver in the early 70’s. The expanse of mountains, the twinkling blue English Bay, the spattering of buildings downtown, and the roiling, bustling beach below. Margaret mixed a few drinks and brought them out. I don’t know what it was that I drank, some fancy Shirley Temple ‘mocktail’, but I will never forget it touching my taste buds, the sun on my shoulders, the perfection of her garden, the buzzing of cars below along Point Grey Road, the way the planters lined up, like behaved little deities of taste, waiting for Margaret to faithfully water them at dusk.
We ate outside, at her little table, and then had dessert, while on the couch! I’d never in my life seen such a thing, but it felt so grown up, and the way things should be, our cloth napkins draped elegantly over our laps, the sun setting, shadows in long streaks across the apartment, as I scooped up rich chocolate and decadent whipped cream out of a delicate china bowl. Please God never let this moment end, was all I could think of in my four-year old besotted mind.
In her bathroom, there were tiny perfume bottles all lined up on a silver tray and I picked each one up, lifted it to the round lightbulbs that ran across the top of the bathroom like an actress’ dressing room, and memorized the names. Nina Ricci. Dior. Yves St. Laurent. Chanel. I was given my own room to sleep in, by myself, and the couch that served as my bed was ten times more soft than my bed at home and the covers felt like kittens fur and the pillows took my head and kissed it all around.
“Now, here is the clicker dear, you can watch television for as long as you like, just turn it off when you feel ready for bed.”
“I can change the channels from the couch?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes dear, of course you can! That is what you can do here when you stay with me–change the channels from your bed.” Margaret smiled lovingly and kissed me on the top of my head and left the control in my tiny hands.
That night, with the sound of the alley outside my open window, I pressed on the buttons that went cathunk and can still recall that the sound of the channel changing was the most magical thing I’d ever heard, miraculously opening to worlds I had only dreamt of. I can’t remember turning the television off that night on my first sleepover at Margaret’s, only the feeling of having arrived at nirvana, the portal to a world that resembled nothing of where I’d come from but everything of where I wanted to go.
Margaret Mahoney was my hero.