Born in Titusville,PA, in 1924, Marguerite Ann Helen Madden Feigert claims that she was spoiled because she had a great childhood in the midst of an extended family and a community who treated her very well. According to the Oxford American Dictionary, to spoil means “to damage, to make useless or unsatisfactory.”
We might concede that she was put at risk by a loving father who couldn’t bring himself to discipline her.
“My mother was the only one who corrected me,” she said. “My father wouldn’t. He’d say, ‘Pretend I was yelling at you. Cry or something.’”
And maybe her uncles could be considered co-conspirators with this spoiling business. Uncle John Dunn owned Dunn’s Stationery and Supply Company. “There were shelves in the store,” she said, “filled with all the books any little girl would want to read, including all the Nancy Drew mysteries. He spoiled me.”
Uncle Edgar Inglehart owned some furniture stores, including one in Titusville.
“He and my Aunt Rose lived in a beautiful home. They were childless and had me visit often. They spoiled me, too.”
In fact, the whole community of Titusville could be accused of trying to spoil Marguerite.
“Titusville was a great place for children. The wealthy people from the oil industry donated money to the Y and other civic organizations so the swimming lessons, dancing lessons, etc., were all free for the children. My girl friends and I used to take hikes, sometimes to Drake’s Well on a Saturday morning. We’d take a lunch. Behind our house there was this beautiful woods. We’d take a walk and sit down in the middle of it. I’d make up stories to myself. I’m glad I was raised in a small town.”
Even the Depression didn’t cause her family to deprive her or her brother Howard John Patrick Madden, who was three years younger than Marguerite. Their father was an accountant for the New York Central Railroad.
“My dad was lucky. He worked every day.”
However, the Depression did eventually have an impact on their lives. Jobs on the railroad were determined by seniority. When Marguerite was 11, her father got bumped from his job in Titusville to another job in Warren, PA. Then he bid on a much better paying job in Sharon.
Marguerite was not happy about it.
I was an eleven or twelve year old girl who was used to Titusville and how pretty it was. Compared with that, Sharon was ugly. I said, ‘I’m not staying in this dirty old place. I’m going to go live with my grandma.’”
Of course, that wasn’t about to happen. She went to Sacred Heart School for seventh and eighth grade, then to Sharon High School. She always knew she was going to college, so she completed the four-year academic curriculum in three years by taking seven courses a year. She took a creative writing class all four years of high school, and worked on the school’s magazine, The Mirror.
Unfortunately, her father had a heart attack when she was a junior, and he was confined to bed for a year.
“That took care of college. In those days you had to save for college. Nobody was going to hand it to you. My father felt so bad about it. I said I didn’t want to go anyway, but I really did.”
She decided to take advantage of a brand new alternative
“My senior year was the first year that they had a retailing course, where you studied in the morning and worked in the afternoon. I worked in the office of the Sharon Store all through my senior year. When I graduated in 1942, they offered me my choice of three jobs. I graduated on Friday and went to work on Monday as a full-time regular employee.”
Before the end of World War II, she had fallen in love – not with one guy, but with three, all serving in the armed forces. Her friends used to tease her and ask which one she was going to marry. She said she would marry the first one to come home.
That turned out to be Earl Feigert.
“He came home on furlough and asked me to marry him. I said ‘no’ on Saturday, ‘maybe’ on Sunday, and ‘yes’ on Monday. I wanted to get married right away while he was on furlough, which was only ten days. We went to see the priest who had known me from childhood. He had a fit. ‘Why don’t you wait until the war is over? You’re both too young. I doubt this marriage will last. However, if you’re determined, we’ll have to have the marriage on Monday. Next Saturday is full.’
That left one week to prepare for the wedding. It was complicated by the fact that Earl wasn’t Catholic, and that Marguerite weighed only 92 pounds, so there were no wedding dresses here that would fit her. And Marguerite’s mother was against her getting married right away. Both Earl and Marguerite were just 19 years old.
“I was such a brat. My poor mother. I wanted everything: the bridesmaids, a flower girl, a reception. And I always got what I wanted.”
Earl who fought with Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army through North Africa, Sicily, the Italian peninsula, all the way to Germany. Earl was awarded several Bronze Star medals for bravery.
When Earl came home for good, he worked for Armstrong’s Groceries as a receiving clerk.
“He made pretty good money. We rented the downstairs of a house on North Oakland Avenue. Then we thought, why should we pay rent? So we bought the house we were living in. One of my closest friends lived upstairs with her husband. That made it real nice. We lived there probably about three years. Then we bought three acres of ground on Lamor Road in Hermitage and built a house there.”
During those years, they had five children: John Earl “Skip” (born in 1947), Don (1948), Beverly Jean (1951), Bill (1953), and Mary Lou (1955).
“Dad was a wonderful grandfather, and he just enjoyed Skip,” Marguerite said. “I’d drop him at my parents’ house to run downtown for a little while. “I’d say to my mother, ‘Now don’t let Daddy pick him up and carry him around and spoil him.’ But my mother would tell me later I was barely around the corner when he picked him up. But Dad died in 1947, not long after Skip was born. What my kids missed in a grandfather!”
Earl continued to work for Armstrong’s until Mr. Armstrong died.
“His son sold everything and went to Europe and had a good time with all of the money,” Marguerite said. “It was during a time when jobs were very scarce. Earl got a job that only worked a couple of days a week. So I went back to work at the Sharon Store office. It was rough with the kids. I had someone come in, and I would work as much as possible in the evenings when Earl was home. We got through it, but sometimes I wondered if we would. One time when Earl got laid off, I really didn’t know how I was going to feed the kids for the next week.”
Marguerite wouldn’t ask anybody in the family for help.
“Then one of the kids let something slip because they were little. My mother said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’”
Their five children were into everything at school.
“I was glad that they were, but they’d have stuff after school that they had to go to, practice for a play or something. It was constant.”
Then Earl developed heart trouble.
“He was in Clepper’s [nursing home] for a while because he needed 24 hour care. The children and I went to visit every day. They treated him wonderfully. They were very, very good to him.”
The marriage of Earl and Marguerite, which some didn’t expect to succeed, lasted until Earl’s death in 1999.
Throughout her life, Marguerite loved to paint.
“Ever since I was about four years old I drew pictures. When we would go on the train, my mother would get a big tablet and crayons and pencils for me. She knew there would be no fussing from me.”
As Marguerite grew older, she learned to paint in oils, and took it very seriously.
“Painting was work,” she said. “If it didn’t look exactly like I thought it should, I’d stay up all night long with that painting, and go to work the next day. I did portraits of some family members. But if you do a portrait for one member of the family, everyone wants one done. I have one more to do, my granddaughter Brandy, then I told them I’m done.”
Her son, Don, used one of her paintings for the cover of the latest of his four books, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, a Life in the Pennsylvania Outdoors.
Of course, doing things like that for her family was never a burden. She appreciates her five children, ten grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, and they appreciate her. At Marguerite’s 80th birthday party, her granddaughter Brandy Keck described her as “witty, charming, intelligent, crazy, fun, interesting, artistic, amazing, humorous, fascinating, loving, caring, passionate, full of life.”
Does that sound like someone who is spoiled? In other words: damaged, useless, or unsatisfactory?
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010