Digging in the Dirt

Margie Duke has always loved living in the country. “My roots and upbringing are here,” she reminisced. “I used to ride a tractor and pick cotton with my dad.” Is it any wonder then that several years after she and her late husband, Joe, married, they would make their home in the country? And at age 81, it is no surprise that Margie still enjoys digging in the dirt. “My favorite thing to do is work in my potting shed,” she admitted, “and tend to all my flowers.”

In 1961, Margie and Joe relocated from Dallas County to the outskirts of Ennis. “We moved here to help farm with my dad,” she stated. “Joe loved farming as much as I loved the country way of life.” Her parents had 525 acres of farm land; of which they gifted 128 acres to Margie and Joe. “I currently have three-and-a-half acres left,” she explained. “The rest has remained in the family.”

The farm house Margie lovingly still calls home used to boast of only two bedrooms. “My parents gave it to Joe and me while they built a new home right next door,” she said. The structural changes the couple made were few.

Closing in the garage allowed for two additional bedrooms. “One of my aunts moved in with us when the kids were younger,” she said. “We closed the garage in so she [the aunt] could take the boys’ room. Joe and I and the boys moved to the new rooms.”

Today, one bedroom serves as the home office and the other is vacant throughout the summer, until it is time for Margie to bring outdoor plants in for the winter.
“It’s lined with windows, so it makes a great hothouse,” she smiled. When the colder weather comes, the room is filled to capacity with flowers, philodendra and ferns. She and Joe also remodeled the kitchen, bringing it up-to-date.

Before retiring, Margie was the “Home Interior” lady of Ellis County. For 30 consecutive years, she helped others decorate their homes with beauty, so it is no wonder her home is just as quaint, comfortable and welcoming as the homes she has helped decorate over the years. The formal living room displays splashes of purple, Margie’s favorite color. The buffet/dining table, which came from her mother’s side of the family, is over 100 years old. “At one time, I also had a pie safe that matched the dining table that I used to display dolls in,” she said. “I let another family member have it. I still can’t believe I did that.”

When forced to remain indoors, Margie’s favorite rooms are the den and the kitchen because they are side-by-side. She is able to close off the rest of the house, thus keeping her cooling and heating bills to a minimum. “So many things in the home are from the past,” Margie said, as she began pointing at memorabilia, which evoked past memories of family. “That picture over the kitchen table is a watercolor of my mom in the garden. Above that is a panoramic view of her garden from years ago. We’ve always had family living with us; I’m rich in family.”

Waking up in the master bedroom, also decorated in shades of purple, affords Margie a wonderful view of the beauty she has been able to create and maintain outdoors. “I love to see the world when the sun comes up,” she said. An old Singer sewing machine displays several family photographs. “The mantle above the sewing machine once belonged to my aunts,” she said. “They never married, so we called them the ‘Old Maids.’ That’s the Old Maid’s mantle,” she laughed. An antique piano also displays more family photos, spanning the generations from Margie’s great-grandfather to her five children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. “Everything I have is nostalgic,” she confessed. “It’s all been passed down over the years.”

Margie’s greatest love is spending time outdoors. In fact, she made a deal with her children several years ago. “The kids told me that if I stayed home, they would build me a potting shed,” she said. Larry Pechal, Cindy’s husband, laid the foundation and the sidewalk. Mitzi and her husband, Richard Cook, drew up the plans. “It was Mitzi’s idea,” Margie explained, “but everyone worked on it.” The rest of the children — Paul and Cozette Duke, Bart and Jerri Snell, and Robert and Nynke Duke — helped financially, as well as providing the manual labor necessary to raise the building where Margie has found endless hours of contentment. “I don’t spend lots of time indoors,” she reiterated. “We all have a passion for something. Mine just happens to be flowers.”

The potting shed was built on memories, too. The front door, the windows, the kitchen sink and the countertop, where all the planting takes place, were all pieces that came from the homes of the “Old Maids.”

“When they passed, I was told to come and get whatever I wanted,” Margie remembered. “The three crepe myrtles I got must be over 60 years old. They bloomed the same summer they were replanted.”

She smiles and begins to laugh as she recalls the many trips she has made to and from town over the past 50 years. “Every time I go to town,” she said, “I bring another flower or plant home. Still today, I’ll bring flowers and plants home.” Looking around, one would only guess where the new purchases from her most recent trip are planted. No doubt, somewhere within one of the many vignettes Margie has masterfully created. Vignettes include perennials that bloom throughout the year; knockout roses by her daddy’s old, antique wagon; the live oak planted by her grandchildren in memory of their grandfather; and potted plants in many varieties and colors that complement one another, while adding natural beauty to Margie’s country surroundings.

A couple times each year, Margie hires someone to help her in the yard, but she does the majority of the gardening, planting and pruning herself. In the past, she maintained a large garden, but she no longer has the desire to can vegetables. “It’s almost comical,” she said. “I only have two tomato plants now. I love vegetables, but I’d rather buy them at the store.”

Margie’s passion for flowers came from her mom and her maternal aunt. “There’s just something special about being outdoors and digging in the dirt,” Margie said. “I just love having dirt under my nails, and gardening makes me feel closer to the Lord.”

Written by Sandra Strong.