Page's Turn

Like a Good Neighbor, Margaret Woodward is There ... For a Century

April 17, 2012

In a city as transient as Washington, it’s hard to find true locals. Sure, people might boast of having been here since the Eisenhower administration, but try finding someone who has lived here since William Howard Taft was president. Now that’s a native Washingtonian. 

Margaret Rupli Woodward has been in Washington for more than a century. True, she’s not the only centenarian in town, but she just might be the only centenarian who has lived in the same house for 99 years. Woodward, who recently turned 102, moved into the house on Hall Place, in what is now Glover Park, when she was three years old. Back then, the road was dirt and chickens roamed her back yard. 

Margaret Woodward's Hall Place Home (Photo by: Page Evans) Margaret Woodward's Hall Place Home

Woodward’s mother and aunt bought the brick row house for just under $5000 in 1913, giving new meaning to a buy-and-hold investment strategy.  “I like to tell people, I was born into a five thousand dollar neighborhood and now I live in a million dollar neighborhood,” Woodward chuckles, her cloudy blue eyes crinkling up. “And I haven’t moved.” The family later purchased the house next door and used it as a rental property. Woodward still owns both. 

But while Woodward is entering her hundredth year on the block, her life on Hall Place has hardly been sedentary. After graduating from Goucher College (Phi Beta Kappa) and studying economics at University of Chicago, Woodward married a British newspaper reporter. They ended up in Amsterdam where she became one of the first female announcers for NBC radio. When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, Woodward and her husband, along with members of a ballet troupe, escaped on a coal barge. “That was the first time I ever got intentionally drunk,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be sober while crossing the North Sea in the middle of the night during a war.”

When she returned to the states, Woodward tried getting a job with NBC, but, as she recalls, “They weren’t hiring women. The only reason I got the job in Amsterdam was because I was well-educated, and I had a voice that projected well.”  For the record, her throaty voice still projects well. And while her hearing is not as sharp, her memory is still very much intact. She never returned to broadcasting, but she did retain some advice Edward R. Murrow gave her. “He told me, ‘Don’t ever make it dramatic. Use understatement. "That was good advice.”

Woodward wound up becoming a foreign service officer with the State Department, traveling extensively throughout Europe. All the while, the house on Hall Place remained her base. “I always kept my things there.”

Although Woodward never had children (she and her husband divorced in 1947), she’s seen her fair share grow up on Hall Place. She also tutored children through her church for years after retiring from the State Department in the 60s. But it wasn’t just children she helped. Woodward spent a lot of time volunteering at a local nursing home, often visiting friends who used to live on the block. “But I seem to outlive everybody,” Woodward laughs, nodding her head of thick silver hair.

“There used to be all kinds of different people. There was a lawyer, a milkman,” Woodward says of the residents on Hall Place. “Now it’s all young professionals. It used to be more mixed up. This house had a bricklayer in it. My aunt was a school teacher. And there were a lot of astronomers” who worked in the nearby Naval Observatory.

“When we moved here, basements were used for coal. Now they have tenants.”

If anyone knows how to be a good neighbor, it’s Woodward. Her advice? “Be friendly, but mind your own business.”

As for secrets to her longevity, Woodward, who could easily pass for 85, credits “good genes and a good care-taker.” Maria Teresa Madariaga, a nurse’s assistant, came here from Chile to care for Mrs. Woodward after she had eye surgery in her 90s. She thought the job would last about two weeks. “Look at me now, seven years later,” she laughs, walking over to Woodward to help her readjust her pink floral scarf. But Madariaga, 54, wouldn’t think of leaving Woodward now. “She’s like my grandmother, my mother, my daughter, my friend.”

Woodward may credit Madariaga for her staying power, but Madariaga credits Woodward’s attitude and personality. “She has a good sense of humor and she doesn’t keep anger,” Madariaga says. “Yes, she can get sad sometimes, but not angry. In the seven years I’ve been with her, I’ve never heard her talk bad about someone.”

Neighbors on Hall Place have a similar respect for Woodward, regarding her as a neighborhood treasure. “The thing she has given to all of us, something that is unique and irreplaceable, is a specific history of where we live, and how lucky we are to be part of that history,” says Hall Place resident Nancy Tartt. “That sense of place that is difficult to find in our fast-moving culture. I will always be grateful to her for that.”

Woodward, too, is grateful. Perhaps heeding Murrow’s advice about being understated, she takes her age in stride. “I just accept it,” she says matter-of-factly. “I never asked to be a hundred. It never occurred to me that I’d be a hundred. Now I’m even more surprised to be 102. No one else on Hall Place has lived that long.”

And she would know. 

 

 


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Parking Mad

March 1, 2012

Racing out the door at 7:35 this morning to get my 11-year-old to school, I see something pink fluttering on my windshield. 

“Don’t tell me that’s a ticket,” I growl, teeth clenched. “If that parking lady has given me another ticket...There’s no way.”

(Photo by: Page Evans)

I get out my iPhone to snap a few shots, proving I am in front of the sign, not behind it. I’m legally parked--in front of my house, no less. My daughter, hunched over with a 50-pound backpack, motions for me to unlock the door, but I’m clicking away, trying to show all angles of the sign in relation to my car.

“Mommy, please. We’re going to be late.”

I harrumph and get in the car. “I can’t believe this has happened again! Grrrrr. I was parked in front of the sign. Can you believe it!”

Yesterday afternoon when I parked my car on P Street, I made sure to be at least a few inches in front of the EMERGENCY NO PARKING sign. The sign has been there for months, the result of a construction job on the block. Basically there’s a space between two signs where you can’t park between 7am and 7pm. While that’s been inconvenient for neighbors, I don’t begrudge the construction. People need to park somewhere when working on a renovation. And the workers are nice. The few times I have been in their space, they’ve politely knocked on my door and I’ve moved my car immediately.

Last month the same parking enforcer gave me a ticket in the same place. That time my car jutted past the sign by about four inches.  I’d meant to contest the $50 ticket, but before I knew it, it had doubled. Now I owe $100. I’m planning on paying that. But then today happened.

Ugh.

“Mommy, calm down. You’re not doing any good talking about it. Can you put on 99.5?”

I clear my throat, “Please?”

She lets out a sigh, like she’s dealing with someone who’s just escaped from a rubber room. And let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind being in one right about now.

Please could you turn on 99.5, Mommy.”

Sometimes tickets are the price we pay for living here. And I’m no rose when it comes to parking. I’ve racked up my fair share of fairly issued tickets. I also know these government workers are doing their jobs. But couldn’t there be a little more common sense or just plain empathy involved in the process? Seriously, two inches over a line? What about the price we pay when we’ve been unfairly ticketed? Just before Christmas, the same officer (whose name is at the bottom of the citation) ticketed me for not having my Zone 2 sticker adhered to the windshield. I had not scraped off the previous sticker, and adding a new one would have been in my line of vision. Still, the sticker was clearly visible, resting peacefully on my dash board. I tried telling the enforcer that when I saw her pulled over in the the tell-tale white compact DC Parking vehicle.

“Excuse me, are you Officer G_____?” I asked with all the politeness I could muster.

“Yes.”

“Well, you just gave me a ticket for not having my parking sticker attached to the windshield.”

She nods as I babble on. “I’m trying to get to a gas station where they have one of those scraper-thingies, but in the meantime, could you please not ticket me? I live right here and I’m legal. I promise.”

 A few days later, I got another ticket for the same offense. And in the comment section, she’d typed, “Vehicle unoccupied.”  Vehicle not occupied? Of course I wasn’t in the vehicle. I don’t live in my car. That’s what I wrote in a letter sent on December 26, 2011 to the Department of Adjudication when I contested the tickets. I just checked online and see that two $50 tickets have not been dismissed. Which brings me to a grand total of $250 owed to the DC Government. I would contest again, but am now afraid I’ll get booted in the meantime. 

Perhaps I’m paranoid, but it seems this particular enforcer is out to get me. 

What are the rates for a rubber room these days? I’m sure they are less than all the money I’m forking over to the DC Department of Treasury.

 

 

 


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The inherited traits of tree trimming

December 20, 2011

“Okay, you need to move the horse to where the bird is,” Katherine directs from the side of the room. She has stepped back from our tree-trimming session to assess ornament symmetry.

A new use for Katherine's lacrosse stick (Photo by: Page Evans) A new use for Katherine's lacrosse stick

“Do you not see that, Mommy? What were you thinking, putting all  those pears on one side?” She walks up closer, pointing her finger at three glittery pears hung next to each other like Orion’s Belt.

“Really?” I say, stepping back for perspective. “Huh, you’re right. We need to spread them out a bit.”

I stare at her, thinking, What have I created? My 11-year-old is turning into a mini-me. She is taking the art of tree-trimming to new heights. Just as my own mother did. Just as I do.  I’m not a Mommy Dearest mom, and neither was my mother, but we are both  aesthetically obsessed when it comes to the tree. 

I wish I could let things be. I wish I could let go and allow the mayhem of the holidays to flow over me. Breathe. Accept. Chill.

But I’m not hardwired that way. I’m hardly a perfectionist.  Ask anyone who knows me. A friend calls me a catastrophile. (There are the piles of paper in various corners of my house, which I’ll discreetly shove under chairs or in closets when tidying up. Which is why some bills go unpaid--a result of being hidden in places I can’t remember.) But I do want things to look a certain way. Some might call my devotion to dim lights and votives a borderline psychological disorder. I’ve been known to dim the lights in friends’ homes when they’re not looking. After all, who wants their living room to have the ambience of an operating room? 

I have standards. And at Christmas, it starts with the tree. As I learned from my mother, place the biggest, shiniest items on the inside branches. That way, the tree glows from within, particularly when you place the lights just so. Then make sure to have a nice mix of old and new: children’s hand-made treasures, flea market finds, found objects from nature, like dried hydrangea, or store-bought ones from Target. I have a few red ornaments, but I gravitate toward shades of green and silver. All of these things combined create not just the tree’s look, but it’s soul. The key is in the mix--and placement. 

With A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the background, our decorating session is winding down. We are at the tweaking stage and Katherine looks pleased. Until she catches a glimpse of our angel tilting precariously. Climbing on a chair, she uses her lacrosse stick to adjust the angel’s 

Clearly, the ornament does not fall far from the tree.


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