Tribute: Celebrating Madge’s first 93 years

Cake and candles are the marks of the day for the woman who started us on our road to Internet shenanigans

UPDATE 2016: Light the candles and uncork the champagne! Our birthday girl, #theMadge, celebrates her 94th year and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Let the merrymaking begin! 


Here at Screaming Back at the Screen, we are always on the hunt for any excuse to eat cake and so, on the 93rd birthday of our greatest patron and supporter, the Big M: Marguerite Farmer, we not only stuff our faces full of birthday cake, we salute her.

Much to her surprise and ours (and by ours, we mean SBATS and our groovy, wannabe psychedelic siblings), our mother Madge is here to celebrate her 93rd birthday. She has outlived her parents, her son, her ex-husband and a lot of her friends in pretty good health and with most of her memories intact.

Madge, our favorite birthday girl.

Madge, our favorite birthday girl.

First and foremost, it was Madge (as she was nicknamed by her father) who started us on our road to scribe-dom by handing us the one book of our childhood that started it all: Harriet the Spy.

Madge has had some fun, some disappointments, some tragic and some interesting times in her long life. She’s relocated herself a couple of times, reinvented herself when needed and saw some historic things in her day. She’s lived through the Great Depression, three wars, a couple of guys landing on the moon, feminism, civil rights – including a friendship with one of the greatest women ever, Mrs. Rosa Parks, the election of the first black president of these United States and other events that shaped her view of the world. And most impressive to SBATS, she saw Frank Sinatra live in New York City during her youth.

Madge at age 19 circa 1941.

Madge at age 19 circa 1941.

She has been many things in her life: a New Yorker, a teacher, a draftsman, an artist – painter, sculptor and photographer, a housewife, a librarian, a grandmother, a Girl and Boy Scout leader, a concerned parent, an Episcopalian, a seamstress, a first generation American, a caretaker to a few, a friend to many.

Madge married a doctor when that sort of thing was a badge of honor for any woman. She followed him through all his career moves and had the doctor’s children. Then, later on,  he divorced her and left her with four kids to support.  Being a children’s librarian was not her dream career; motherhood was. But she became one when she needed to support her children when her ex-husband, Bill, would not.

Feminists like to believe that they helped enlighten women to having it all, leaning in and all that bullshit that women (mostly upper income white women) buy into when they have the option of having a paying job instead of being full-time housewives while their husbands do their expected duty of supporting the families they spawned. They think that women making choices for their lives that exist outside of being housewives is a big deal.

But many women, like Madge and the millions of other black, brown, working class and poor women throughout time, “had it all” long before it became fashionable to “lean in.” For them, working outside of the home was a necessity to feed their children and themselves when their other choice was their children not eating.

And like many educated black women of her generation, she reinvented herself as a teacher (specifically, a children’s librarian) when her ex-husband insinuated that she couldn’t while preparing to leave his family and abandon his responsibility to them.

To simplify her chore of childcare while returning to graduate school, Madge simply took SBATS along and made us her personal book reviewer when she needed to know what lived within all the pages of all those children’s books.

Foreseeing the future, she made her smartest and most impressive move: she ensured her children’s college educations by including as a part of her  divorce settlement that Bill would pay for SBATS and our groovy, wannabe psychedelic siblings to attend college or face a judge. GENIUS.

Our Billy before his death in 1973.

Our Billy before his death in 1973.

In the worst episode of her life, she buried her only son and first child after sitting countless hours at his bedside as he lay dying from a tumor buried deep in his brain. We were stunned and devastated by this development for our beloved Billy. His leaving us left a void in our family that has never been filled.  But she never failed to be there with him — except at the moment of his passing which happened quite suddenly. Many years later, she said she felt bad about leaving SBATS at home while she sat with him. But we didn’t feel bad about it then and don’t feel bad about it now: it was sort of a low-level Sophie’s Choice and she did the right thing.

Much later on, she rebounded by becoming grammy and gramma (respectively) to Antonia and Jonathan. She was more than delighted to assist in their care when they came on the scene. Now almost 22 years later, they appreciate her and the close relationship with their very familiar grandmother.

Madge and Antonia.

Madge and Antonia.

Madge and Jonathan

Madge and Jonathan.

Through all this, she has conducted her life in an honorable, commendable and extremely stylish way without a lot of fanfare. We hope that Madge will be around for many more years despite her complaining about old age. “This getting old is a pain” is one of her frequent (and favorite) comments/complaints on aging but we are happy to have her around for more cocktails, even more fun and many more years. And as it says on that bumpersticker: The more you complain, the longer God lets you live.

So we send up a round of applause, a clink of the nearest martini (although she prefers Chardonnay these days) and plate full of birthday cake to #theMadge from the daughter who goes by the alias Screaming Back at the Screen and to whom she frequently asks, “When are you going to grow up?”

Birthday girl Madge and the author.

Birthday girl Madge and the author.



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