Margaret Weatherford: 1966-2012

Margaret Weatherford (photo by Mary Weatherford)

When I met her at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1989, Margaret Weatherford was the California girl the Beach Boys never imagined: a black-haired, amber-eyed bombshell with her own professional pool cue and a dude’s tolerance for rail whiskey. I was her fan before I was her friend, because – if the first rule of writing school is to write what you know – it was obvious that Margaret knew things no one else could have possibly dreamed up. Her stories were populated by melancholy children, oracular father figures, animal grotesques and obsolete muscle cars. Like me, she had just graduated from college, but to read her you’d have thought she’d been circling the canyons and freeways of Los Angeles for centuries, honing a hawk’s omniscient view of its dive bars and roadside alliances, its secretive, peripherally glanced creatures and its inexorable undergrowth, which always seems poised for imminent, impersonal takeover.

As it turned out, Margaret was the rare guys’ girl who was also a steadfast friend to a certain kind of woman, and over the years I was lucky to be around to watch her become a bride, a mother, a published author, an artist’s muse, a first-time novelist: a self-deprecating success at everything she put her mind to. Less than two weeks ago I sat beside her in her canyon-top home as she named me her “literary executrix,” a title she’d scarcely pronounced before she dissolved in laughter, dropping her usual unflappable monotone to shout, “I feel like such an idiot!”

It was a job I was reluctant to accept, because even then — in the presence of the oxygen machine she jokingly offered to share when I got choked up, after the diagnosis of end-stage cancer and the transition to hospice care, despite everything I rationally knew about what happens when oncologists abruptly decide to stop treatment — I still envisioned a scenario in which Margaret, in her measured, unblinking way, would outlast the disease that was destroying her physically. I could not – and still cannot, if I’m totally honest – accept or endorse the idea of a world without Margaret in it, in which I (a fallible narrator at best, a chronically blocked writer with a blinkered East Coast sensibility) was somehow responsible for ensuring that her incomparable voice would be heard beyond the confines of my head and the wrecked hearts of everyone else that was losing her.

With her signature combination of grit and grace, Margaret went ahead and died anyway last Friday, March 30, 2012, her athlete’s body lasting long enough to give even holdouts like me a chance to accept that her triumph over cancer would take a subtler, more realist form than miraculous recovery. She is survived by her husband, Paul, her son, Ford, her siblings, parents, in-laws, extended family, her diaspora of friends and admirers and her brilliant, thrilling, singularly Weatherfordian unfinished novel, which it is now my privilege to keep company with until it completes the vision that Margaret spent an improbably rich, regrettably brief lifetime perfecting.

Through the pieces currently in print and still to be published, Margaret remains present for all of us who miss her and awaits discovery for unfortunates who’ve yet to visit the twisting, deathtrap roads and shadeless breakdown lanes of a Los Angeles only she could see. To read her is to encounter something utterly unique and transportingly strange: a neo-noir heroine, master of the meaningful pause and sustained poker face — the unforgettable Margaret Weatherford, 1966-2012.

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32 Responses to Margaret Weatherford: 1966-2012

  1. Nancy says:

    Oh my goodness. This is a wonderful tribute and such and honor for you. I would have loved to have met her. RIP.

  2. Meredith Jacobson says:

    Julia, thank you for writing this; it can’t have been easy. It’s hard to fathom, that she’s gone. Cowboy boots and pool cue and stunning writing and all.

  3. Bruce Holbert says:

    I knew both Julia and Margaret at Iowa. Both are beautiful, generous writers. RIP Margaret.

  4. Siobhan O'Riordan says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

  5. Brian Feltovich says:

    Terrible awful stupid news, Julia. I’m so sorry.

  6. Regina Kunzel says:

    Breathtaking, heartbreaking tribute to my beautiful, talented, singular cousin Margaret. I saw her right after you did, Julia. She was so confident in you as her literary executrix. I see why. Thank you.

    • Julia Clinger says:

      Cousin Gigi: we meet at last. Thank you, so much, for sharing that with me. I’m profoundly grateful for the trust Margaret has placed in me, and humbled by the help I’ve received from you and other members of her warm, diversely fascinating family. I look forward to meeting you in person down the road.

  7. Raymond Ravaglia says:

    My four year daughter shares Margaret’s name–given to her in part in the hope that the name might have been a partial source of some of her strong independence and that through association would carry over to my daughter. Margaret – you will be sorely missed.

  8. Stephen Weatherford says:

    Julia,
    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for this. I was barely into the third paragraph, when I had another fit of crying. I read the rest through blurry wet eyes, and continued sobbing for at least another 40 minutes. When I finally was able to see and breath normally again, I felt better – I feel better.
    I miss my big sister terribly. And, I too, just as many have already said, cannot imagine a life without her in it.
    Thank you again Julia, for the beautiful words.
    - Stephen Weatherford

    • Julia Clinger says:

      Oh Stephen: I know. Memories aren’t enough. Crying is the only logical response. I’m still on West Coast time, so when you’re crying I’m probably up, crying. Call if you want to cry together.

  9. Irene Connelly says:

    When I think of Margaret she is usually arriving at the door of the smoky EPB lounge in a pink button-down, offhanded but intense, all dark hair and eyes, and then quickly disappearing. (She is also at Mo’s Halloween party with you, the two of you dressed as Agnetha and Anni-Frid.) I didn’t know her well enough to call her a friend, but I have thought of her in the years since Iowa, recalled her as “beautiful and generous,” to quote someone who posted above, and wondered what was happening with her. I’m so sorry about the loss of your beloved friend, Julia. You honor her with this piece.

  10. Mary K. Weatherford says:

    Margaret was queen of understated joke, then silence. Or, slow delivery speeding up suddenly, speeding up, voice squeezing out words, then laughing, laughing.

    Casting for the movie version of East of the 5 cracked us up. After two years of throwing out names, I said that only Dave Duchovny could play Zues because of his talent for a perfectly perfectly flat delivery. Seriously. That really cracked Margaret up. She pretended to make the call: “Hello Dave, you might not remember me…”

    • Julia Clinger says:

      Monotone a monotone!

    • Shari Weintraub says:

      Mary – I don’t know if you remember me – from PHHS. My sister, Dana – who was a classmate of your sister’s, and who also works for Hospice, told me this morning of your loss. I was so sorry to hear about Margaret. My sister means so much more to me than just a sister – undefine-able and yet so necessary in my life – and I just feel your loss. I can’t imagine it for you, your family and close friends. I just felt the need to reach out to you to express my sympathy and sorrow. I hope you all find some comfort in the memories of her and her joy and zest for life. Best Alway, Shari

  11. John says:

    simply beautiful~

    love, light, peace….

    Much love,

    jdub

    • Julia Clinger says:

      Thank you John. Love to you. Sending scanned pictures soon: Margaret was the world’s most fetching bridesmaid.

  12. Elizabeth McCracken says:

    I last saw Margaret 22 years ago, when I was giving away my belongings before moving from a particularly horrible Iowa City apartment. She took a 1950s panther lamp I’d always called “The Panther of Love” and it seemed like a good match. What a bright light she was, and what a beautiful piece, Julia.

  13. Chris Offutt says:

    Thank you, Julia. I can’t read it without crying.
    We were all lucky to know her.

  14. Stephen Lovely says:

    Julia, this is such a beautiful remembrance, and what sad news. I’ve wondered so many times where Margaret was and what she was up to and it’s truly paralyzing to think she’s gone. Such a marvelous writer (“East of the 5, South of the 10″ — Holy Zeus!) and a sweet, tender, darkly funny woman. She was so hospitable to all of us newbies when we arrived in Iowa–she went out of her way to hang with us and support our work–and we couldn’t believe our luck. We really did revere her. I remember driving out to Stone City one afternoon with Margaret and Erik Huber and some other friends and sitting on the terrace of that little tavern by the river. It was one of the best days of that first year. Margaret was such a great companion. I can hear that incredible laugh. I always thought she was glamorous and charming and openly, unabashedly vulnerable. Clearly she left adoring family and friends, and a stunning novel (in good hands).

  15. A sublime and powerful tribute by Julia Clinger.
    Only a person of wisdom and beauty, who is also a creator of wisdom and beauty, could inspire such wisdom and beauty.

  16. Julia Clinger says:

    Dear friends: thank you all for adding your memories of Margaret to this page, and for your assurance that my first effort as executrix brought her back to you in some way. If I don’t respond personally to each note, it’s not I’m not appreciating them. It’s really just that I have 3 kids under 8 who have really high expectations of the Easter bunny, and I’ve been away for 2 weeks. Reading your anecdotes is reminding me of parts of our shared history I’d forgotten, like our Abba Halloween and that panther lamp, which we lugged with us on our doomed trip to Vermont and which served — along with an illuminated lawn ornament of a Canada goose we salvaged somewhere en route — as one of 2 light fixtures in the house that shall forever be remembered as “the place where Foghat recorded ‘Fool for the City.’ ” So thank you for honoring Margaret — and helping to furnish my Margaret memory palace. And thanks to those who have sent pictures: except for the ones at my wedding I have all too few of us together.

  17. Amy Margolis says:

    I still have the song of her laugh in my head and the picture of you two beautiful friends. You were a jump!–Julia up, Margaret down. How lucky she was to have you. If you need any help with the work ahead–anything at all, no job too menial–you will have an army of foot soldiers at your command. Sending love and love to you, dear Julia.

  18. susan kjellberg says:

    Margaret’s footprints will forever remain illuminated across the fields and tavern patios of Iowa, deep in and far above the canyons of East LA, and on the back dirt roads of Tamworth, New Hampshire. Thank you dear Julia, for putting the words to Margaret’s melody.

  19. Will Palmer says:

    Julia— It’s been years and years since I knew Margaret, and I didn’t know about any of this … I do know this: She was a love. And I’m terribly saddened along with you. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I wish I could get back in touch with her now; but I’ll have to settle for getting back in touch with her work, and I look forward to doing that.

  20. Anne McColl says:

    Julia: What a lovely tribute. I had the joy of having Margaret in my classes in junior and high school and she was one of the most brilliant people I ever met. Thank you so much, you captured her so beautifully.

  21. Dave Adams says:

    Reposting my comment from the Patrick Henry High School Facebook page on the news about Margaret:

    Margaret Wethorford was a brilliant, inspirational person even in high-school; I never forgot Margaret and I had always hoped that we would cross paths again someday. This is heartbreaking for so many reasons, including the fact that until now I hadn’t known she was ill. This is a reminder to me of how powerful friendship can be, that even over the span of years her impact remained potent. She will be missed.

    Dave Adams,
    Seattle, Wa

  22. What an incredibly beautiful and moving tribute you have written of our dearly departed Margaret; you so captured her spirit for me in your words and sentiment and I’m really left clearly with my experience of Margaret, an undoubtedly wonderful person, and possibly one of the most brilliant women I will ever know. I had not seen Margaret in many years, as our relationship began as classmates here in San Diego and spanned through junior and highschool but not much beyond then less reunions or chance meetings etc. Yet, it doesn’t take but a second to envision and remember her kind and caring style, her strength of character, her brilliance, her larger than life smile and her warmth. I still remember as a classmate, that Margaret, in a very unassuming manner, always ‘raised the academic bar’ and would probably be modest to even know how highly we all regarded her/looked up to her. Thank you, for even a few moments, bringing her back to me so vividly with such realism and dignity. I’m grateful I’d the opportunity to know Margaret; her life was indeed a blessing. Jennifer

  23. Dana Weintraub Vandersip says:

    What a truly beautiful tribute to my high school friend, Margaret. It has been years since Margaret and I have talked — I haven’t seen or heard tale of her since high school. But I always knew she would do great things and wondered about her. She was such a brilliant, creative person; I aspired to be like her. I admired her. What’s interesting to me is that Julia’s words of the Margaret she knows completely capture the girl I knew almost 30 years ago. And of course, seeing Mary’s photograph — wow, she looks exactly the same. Thank you, Julia. I’ll miss you, Margaret.

  24. J.C. Hallman says:

    I’m very, very late to the game — but this, as many have already said, is a lovely tribute. I only knew Margaret a little in those two years, but it was enough to enable me to recognize the truth of your portrait, and to feel once again, as I have ever since, the regret that I’d not come to know her better.

  25. George D. says:

    Wow. I met Margaret during my senior year at the Naval Academy. My roommate was dating her then. Well, literally anyway. Perhaps, it is better said they had gone on several dates. He was totally gaga over her at the time. Made for some entertaining conversations. The cute story about how they met at a Rowing Regatta even inspired me to write a Creative Writing story about them which got me one of my few “A’s” while at the Boat School (picky bunch, them). From my roomie’s stories and reading Julia’s elegy here, it sounded like they were a better match for each other than I knew at the time, but roomie was more than intimidated by most females in that day, let alone by one over which he was truly enamored. Although, he is happily married now and a successful businessman, he took the time to hunt this down and send it to me. Brought back fond memories of that magical time in our lives, and I greatly appreciate reading Julia’s memories. My own wife passed from breast cancer two years before Margaret did and was the same age when it took her life. So, I can more than relate to what Margaret went through. Thank you, Julia!

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