Margaret “Maggie” Harris

Maggie P Harris was born to a very young, sixteen year old mother, whom herself had married young to escape an abusive home. She was born in June 30, 1961 in the town of Danbury, Connecticut, where she spent the first part of her childhood. However, by the age of one she contracted polio, an illness that she survived, but it tragically left her with little use of right leg. As a result she required a brace to walk for the rest of her life. In spite of this she enjoyed playing various sports growing up, and was known for being a tom-boy. When she learned to drive she refused to park in handicap spaces, and would often shoot a little side-eye at anyone who was not overtly disabled that she spotted parking in one.

Maggie grew up believing that her sister was “the pretty one”, as this had been, somehow, inauspiciously impressed upon her from an early age. It was unfortunate, but also, as it turned out, completely untrue. While she believed herself to be plain on her best day, she had a certain kind of girl-next-door beauty that made you think of apple pie cooling on a window sill, or ice cream cones at the beach on a summer day. She could light up any room with her smile; even under those sad, hazel eyes that always looked as if she was seeing something the rest of us couldn’t quite catch.

But her greatest asset was her intelligence, as she was used to being the smartest person in a room. She was also used to being underestimated, and Maggie learned from an early age how to use that to her advantage. Living by her wits, the precocious and discerning young woman could dance intellectual circles around most of the men in her life, most people really, without their ever even realising it. She was uniquely gifted at getting people to do what she wanted them to, while somehow managing to convince them that it was their own idea. This was an aspect of her personality that was, at times, infuriating, but all together impressive. The truth was, she was good with people, and people tended to like her. It was a power she genuinely tried to use for good and not evil.

Though Maggie loved her mother very much, and maintained a close relationship with her throughout her life, she would later describe her mother as distant and disconnected. As the young Maggie was growing up she found it impossible to reach her mother on an emotional level. She had witnessed her father’s extreme physical abuse towards her mother on multiple occasions, and lamented that she neither felt safe nor protected by either of her parents. This culminated in the eventual abandonment of the family by Maggie’s father when she was still very young. He had chosen to escape the monotony of his family life and flee with his mistress, his employer’s wife, to Texas. This had many consequences that would burden the family for generations to come. Possibly the most direct of these was that the young Maggie developed severe abandonment issues which haunted her and her relationships for the rest of her life. To make matters worse, Maggie’s mother decided to quit her job and follow the man down to Texas as well, in an attempt to convince him to return to the family.

It was during these early days in Texas that Maggie would learn the true face of poverty, as the family was homeless and living out of a car. Even when they did eventually manage to get into a home, Maggie and her sister were often starving, and would become so desperate for any kind of sustenance that they would make what the girls called ‘Ketchup Soup”. This was very much what it sounded like: ketchup, water, and a little bit of salt, boiled over a stove. It offered little in the way of nutrition, but made the girls feel as if their tummies were full, if only for a short while. These traumatic memories prompted the young Maggie to promise quietly to herself that her children would never have to endure that kind of hunger.

It was a promise she kept. She had two children. The first, Jamie, was a girl, and the second, Justin, a boy; both adorned with a crown of ferocious red hair upon their entrance into this world. Maggie fell in love with both of them instantly. She found true and lasting happiness in her children, whom she loved with every fiber of her being. Unlike her, Maggie’s children grew up feeling safe and protected, and while they were very poor, she ensured that they never knew it. They never skipped a meal, even when Maggie herself had to in order to ensure that they could eat. And while she had grown up neglected in terms of sanitation, ie: having her hair and clothes washed regularly, her children were always well kept and cared for.

But as she grew older it became clearer and clearer that she had not learned to process her emotional trauma in a healthy way. She increasingly sought to dull the physical pain that she suffered as a result of contracting polio at such a young age, as well as the emotional pain she carried. Maggie turned more and more to alcohol to do this for her, eventually losing control altogether. She became more and more self destructive, emboldened by the liquid courage that numbed her pain for a short while. There was nothing anyone around her could do or say to get her to stop. The damage had been done. The dye had been cast. The train was in motion.

She met her husband, Tony, later in her life, after her children had moved away to pursue their own dreams. The two fell in love and she eventually moved to Wisonconsin to be with him. She would try and fail to quit drinking countless times, often having months of sobriety before binging. Her health continued to decline as well until she was eventually diagnosed with COPD, the cause of a lifetime of chain-smoking. She was placed on oxygen, which she required to sleep. Later she would fall during one of her drinking binges and break her femur; an injury that left her unable to walk without the use of a walker, and often had her confined to a wheelchair. She never fully recovered from this injury. In addition to her drinking, she was prescribed powerful opioids. Her family tried countless times to get her to go to rehab, but she always refused.

In spite of all this she did find happiness in her final days. She enjoyed frequent and long visits from her 18 month old granddaughter, Anu. She loved and adored her granddaughter so much that she could go on for hours about her to any poor soul who was unlucky enough to be caught by her. In spite of her alcoholism she had managed to maintain a very close bond with her daughter, who also frequently visited. And, though her son lived out of state, she spoke to him over the phone frequently, and with her mother as well, who she had long since learned to manage with patience. During her periods of sobriety she also had a happy marriage to her husband, whom Maggie loved dearly, and who loved her very much in return. However, due to her traumatic childhood she was emotionally vulnerable to any minute form of perceived abandonment, imagined or real. She was unable to cope with this anxiety, and much of her drinking was a direct result of it. Unfortunately it also caused more anxiety around abandonment in return, as it caused her loved ones to not want to be around her when she was drinking; the ubiquitous ‘vicious cycle’.

In spite of everything Maggie always had a sense of humor, and no matter how bad things got she could always find a way to laugh. She is survived by her husband, Tony Nelson, her two children Jamie DarMargaret Sharma and Thomas Justin Shepperd, her beautiful granddaughter Anu DarMargaret Sharma, her sister, Peg Picone, and her mother, Peg Picone, who loved her daughter as much as an mother ever could. A Memorial Service will be held on Friday, August 27, 2021 at 6:00PM at Bakken-Young Funeral & Cremation Services (728 S. Knowles Ave) in New Richmond, WI. Arrangements are with Bakken-Young Funeral & Cremation Services.

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