Margie’s life seems to revolve around her family, friends, and Judaism. Born and raised in Highland Park, she later graduated from beauty school, and lived at times in the San Francisco Bay area, where she had occasion to meet rock star – Keith Richards.
Her folks Al and Bonnie (nee Verson) now live in a condo along Shepherd Road, where they deal with the array of concerns that tend to accompany one’s senior years. Her sister and brother-in-law, Elka and Misha, are apparently active in the Reform movement (as Maimonides would say, those who know, know). Margie had served as their ‘governess’ in years past, and more recently serves also as a caregiver to their folks. Younger brother Steven and family also live in town, where they are active in the synagogue, and as caregivers as well.
Through it all, Margie has retained her mother’s sense of humor, and her father’s love of the outdoors.
We met up one Sunday morning recently, just before she opened the Bibelot store on Como Avenue, where she works, and where this photo was taken.
I was born and raised in Saint Paul, in Highland Park. Actually the first place I lived was on Grand Avenue, 711 Grand (two doors west of what is now Dixies). And then we lived on Osceola. So the first two years of my life, I went to Randolph Heights for kindergarten and first grade, and then to Highland Park elementary, junior high, and high school.
But I moved to the Bay area on two separate occasions, the first time because my sister Elka was living there and I went to help raise her first two boys. And then she had a third child, a daughter, and then a fourth child, another daughter. So I was very involved with all four kids over the years. Then she and Misha got their positions as rabbis at Mount Zion, and I came back here shortly after. Elka is my younger sister, and then we have a younger brother Steven. He and I are 13 years apart.
What can you tell me about your parent’s early years?
My parents are native Minnesotans, they were both born and raised here. They met at Central High School and were married some 65 or 66 years ago. Amazing! My grandparents were mostly from Russia … though one was from Israel. My paternal grandfather was born in Jaffa and emigrated as a young man. He arrived in Galveston, Texas, so that’s where some of the wild, earthy streak comes from, because he was a cowboy on a cattle ranch, and quite the outdoorsman. Which I also love. To this day there is nothing I like better than putting my dog in the car and going to a state park on my day off. Just walking the trails.
My father was in the dairy industry. He started off delivering milk for the Saint Paul Milk Company. Then he became Abrahamson Dairy Distributing, and began to work with the Clover Leaf Creamery. So as kids, we were fortunate to spend time at the Clover Leaf Farm, playing in the fields and in the hay loft. They would have an annual employee picnic, and they would invite our family out to the farm.
Who are you named after?
I am named after dad’s aunt Miriam, and Elka was named after my dad’s other aunt, Elka. Both came to this country.
What was your first job?
I sorted coupons.
We would go down there, to Vandalia, where the Appelbaum stores had a little office, and we had to sort coupons that people had turned in. And we would do that for hours! And the woman that was supervising was so strict. We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t have a radio. I think I was just barely 16. But I did it. And some of my friends did too.
Did you take vacations as a kid?
We spent a lot of time out of the city when we were kids. We went to cabins every summer. I remember Phyllis Miller’s family had a cabin up at Square Lake, near Stillwater. So I would go with them every summer. And when I was really little the Hewitts lived near us and they had a cabin in Forest Lake, so we would go there.
We drove to Yellowstone one year, and that was really fun. We covered a lot of territory – we also saw Jackson Hole and Mount Rushmore. My dad is very outdoorsy. His idea of fun was to go fishing with his friends to Saginaw every summer. I feel really fortunate that I had that influence in my life.
Do you still do things like that?
Absolutely! Just being out in the summer, being able to spend time on a lake.
My mother’s idea of getting out was going to New York City to see as many shows as she could. She worked, and she finished college as a mature adult. My dad started college but he didn’t finish. He had a good business, though, and a good business head.
What do you remember about your neighborhood?
Our house was on Beechwood. In my 6th grade class – I still have the picture – out of 32 kids only 8 were not Jewish. So on the high holidays the classroom was empty. We grew up at Temple of Aaron, and I was in USY. And I went to Herzl and worked there as a counselor in the summer. So I was pretty active. I went to a lot of the USY conclaves, their conventions. It was fun.
So I think we are Facebook friends, because I remember seeing some pictures of you on there with …
That was it. What is that all about?
I met him once. He was so nice. I have a friend, Lynn Goldfinger. And back when I was living in San Francisco, she had become friends with (blues musician) John Lee Hooker. She worked at a bank and John Lee was a client of the bank. And she was this darling, cute, bubbly thing. So they became really good friends.
John Lee even took Lynn to the Grammys one year. And he would take us with him to play gigs around the city. At least I was impressed. I guess we were groupies. One afternoon Lynn called me and said “Margie you have to go over to John Lee’s – Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are going to be there”.
And I said “get out of here!”
So I called over to their house and John Lee’s nephew lived with them, and I said “Archie, is it OK if I come over? I understand you are going to have some company.” And he said “yeah, I guess so.” So I went over and Mick wasn’t there – but Keith was. And everybody else was like ‘this is no big deal’, but I was thinking “Oh my god! This is Keith Richards!” And we all had dinner, and I kept taking pictures until finally one of his staff members leaned over and said “quit taking so many pictures!”
But I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him, until finally John Lee came over and said “Marge, have you met Keith?” So I did, and he was wonderful! It was like being transported back to when you are 15 years old, and that’s how I felt every time I saw him. It evokes that teenage craziness. But this was in the early 90s, so I was in my 30s. I was old enough that I tried to be like … poised.
But it was awesome!
What brought you to the Bay area?
I had moved to San Mateo. Elka had just had Amir, and he was 3 months old when I moved there to help take care of him. I called myself ‘the governess.’ I pretty much took care of the two kids while she was the Assistant Rabbi at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. And then came Yael, and they said “we’re having the fourth one because of you.” And I said, “I fit in here … how?” But it was because I was there, and I was so willing to take care of these kids. And I adored every second.
And my brother also has two kids. Two girls. And just this weekend Sarah actually wanted to do something with me – we decided to go to Paint Your Plate. And you know she’s 14, and her sister is 17, and they were so happy to do this! It was so wonderful … we had such a great time. They said “Marge that was really fun!” Who would think that kids this age would find it so much fun?
Let’s go back to high school for a second, and beyond.
Waaay back. A lot of it’s a blur. I was a bit of a wild kid. But after high school I went to college for a couple years, to the U of M, and then I went to beauty school.
What was going to be your major at the U?
Something in art, something in design, textile, clothing. But I had no concentration, zero concentration. I think I was ADD before they knew what that was.
A lot of us were like that. Probably still are.
Yes, I know! Then I went to Minneapolis Beauty College, and I worked in that industry for about ten years. So I’m a licensed cosmetologist!
Does that involve cosmetics, or hair, or what?
Hair. I can cut your hair. I still cut my mom’s hair. And color my own, in case you were interested. People tell me “your hair is so beautiful!” And I say well you too could have Clairol if you wanted it. It’s no secret. I’m pretty candid. I have very few secrets.
It’s that Mussar! It’s helped everything.
So I lived in California two times, including as a cosmetologist there, and I lived back here for six years in between. I came back here the second time in the 90s and had a job at Nordstrom’s. Then I got the job at the Bibelot and it’s been almost 16 years. They had a ‘help wanted’ sign on the Grand Avenue store, and I walked in and said “I’m applying.”
What do you do for fun now?
Now? I’m hanging out with family, my parents are a big responsibility. Making sure they are still both upright.
And Elka just turned 60 so I flew to Ohio to surprise her. It was great. She had no idea. Misha was the only one who knew about it, and all four of her kids were there too. When I got to the airport, I texted him and I said “I’m here.” And he said “don’t text again, it’s still a surprise. Just meet me at the top level.” And Elka was in the car and asked “why are you taking this turn?” And he said “sorry, it was just automatic.” Then he drove by the spot where he could turn around, and she said “what are you doing?” And finally he pulled up to the curb, but she still doesn’t see me standing there, though Amir was in the back seat, and he saw me. Finally she got out of the car, and there I was!
It was really fun. We had a great time.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it all over?
I would have finished school.
Absolutely! I would have liked to have worked in the clothing industry. Maybe costuming. I volunteered at the Guthrie one summer, and we would get comped tickets to all the shows doing that. Sewing tiny little beads on costumes. Pretty intricate.
And you have been active at temple?
I’ve done daily services, Mussar, Hadassah, and I am now heading up membership for the Sisterhood. But it’s hard to ask people to take part. I think you have to find your own niche. Where do you fit in? There are lots of opportunities.
What traits did you get from your parents?
Oh my gosh! I think I got my mom’s great sense of humor. Our family just laughs – all the time!
And as for my dad’s traits, the things I’ve gotten from him are being impatient– and that definitely led to a good Mussar discussion.
But both of them have really high ethical values, and I hope I share that trait as well.
What would be your most prized possession?
Zasu! My dog. Definitely. Pictures are a close second though.
I’m actually trying to purge my possessions. My nieces and nephews don’t have the same connection to things that I do. I mean I knew my great grandmother. They will probably want their parents’ things someday – but are your kids going to want all this stuff?
I have my great grandmother’s dishes, and I’m wondering – do they care? Maybe they’ll take just one piece someday. When I moved from Mendota to Highland years ago, boy did I purge! And there are a few things that I think maybe I should not have, like I had my grandmother’s sewing machine. My grandmother Betty taught me to sew, and I had her sewing machine. But I gave it away. It was an old cast iron machine, but I would look at it and think of my grandma. But I still have it all here (in her head) and here (in her heart). I was like four or five years old, and she sat me sat me down at that machine to sew – and I can still remember her saying “don’t sew over your fingers!”
And it was a good machine, she converted it from a foot pedal to an electric. It was beautiful actually. But I gave it away. (insert verklempt)
Don’t go there. It’s just a thing.
Well this has been great. Thanks for doing this, and good luck with your folks.
(verklempt again) Yeah, you know. I got this.