Gratitude, First and Always

Marguerite Butler is happy to talk – about herself, about her friends, about her hometown – but her gratitude is the first thing a stranger notices.

Marguerite “Peachie” Butler remains grateful through her struggles. Sonny Starks photo.

She’s grateful for SPiN Cafe, for the meals, for the companionship, for the times when she could get out of the cold at SPiN’s old location. She’s grateful for the Haven shelter, where she sleeps most nights. So grateful, in fact, that she’s the last to leave because she cleans the restroom every morning.

Most of all, she’s grateful for Compass Health in Coupeville, where she gets treatment for her struggles with bipolar disorder.

Butler grew up right here on North Whidbey Island. On a June day, she finishes a SPiN Cafe sack meal and saves a few bites in a ziplock bag – “for the squirrels.” With a smile, Butler relaxes on the grass by the restroom in Flintstone Park with her friend Jeanie. Jeanie grew up on Whidbey too, and at age 48 finds herself without a home. She spends nights at the Haven and days searching for a place to stay safe. She feels safe with her good friend Marguerite.

Butler glances at her buddy, and says they were two of the 24 guests at the Haven the night before.

“At least ten were women,” she says. “That’s important. It’s important that homeless women have a place to go.”

Marguerite has been living homeless since last fall, after retiring on disability from a career with the Postal Service. “I worked hard all my life. I started working for my dad’s business in Oak Harbor when I was eleven. I worked ever since. You think homeless people just need to get a job? I’ve had jobs and worked all that time, and here I am. Homeless.”

COVID has added tons of pressure. Asked if she’s on a list for housing, she says “they’re not even taking names! I can’t reach anybody, I don’t get called back. I spend so much time on the phone trying to get a place to live, my battery dies. And the pay phones around town are either gone or broken. And the library’s closed, so I can’t get on line to find resources that will get me off the street.”

Two Oak Harbor PD officers pull up to chat. One has known Marguerite for years.

“I’ve always wondered,” he asks her, grinning, “where’d you get that nickname?”

“What nickname?”

“Peachie. Why do people call you Peachie?”

Marguerite’s smile lights up her face. “Well, my daddy called me that when I was a little baby. I had peach fuzz all over my head.” The memory of a happy childhood on Whidbey Island has pulled her away from today’s struggles, just for a minute… thanks to a little friendly banter with a police officer.  

Peachie wants to find housing in Everett. It’s close to Seattle, where she has friends. The bus service is more regular. She stands a better chance of getting a place to live there. But Compass Health is keeping her here for now. “They’re such good people over there. They make sure I’m staying healthy, and they’re good advocates for me.”

“I’ll always call Whidbey Island home,” she says. “This is where I’m from. And for the people who say homeless folks just show up from out of town, looking for a handout…” Peachie glances at Jeanie again, a defiant catch rising in her voice. “…this is our home. And we are so grateful to our neighbors for standing up for us and keeping us alive.”