Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about people we might see every day, yet we know little about. What makes them happy or sad? What do they worry about? What are their dreams?
Our news staffers talked to some of these people in the Northeast
Kingdom and in the North Country of New Hampshire.
By Kimberly Leonard
Local Bed and Breakfast owner Margaret Ryan is, among other things, a grandmother, mother, feminist, actress and writer.
But most importantly, she is an outrageous woman - by her own admission.
Ryan opens the lavender front door of the Albro Nichols House on Boynton
Avenue in St. Johnsbury with an articulate gesture and inviting smile.
She leads the way to a small, second-floor sitting room, where the
woodwork is real and hints of age and antiques.
Ryan, who will turn 70 in June, sits dramatically on a flamboyant orange
couch, much like an actress preparing for a difficult scene. She begins
telling about her life, a story as dramatic as any script, fraught with
heartache, laughter and intimate details.
Ryan grew up in Groton, Mass., during the Great Depression. Her first
job after college took her to St. Johnsbury Academy, where she taught
English and theater and where she met her husband, Frank, who was also a
The couple lost an infant in the mid-1960s. It's what brought Ryan to
publish her writing late in life. A short story, titled "A Place",
recently appeared in "From Eulogy To Joy", compiled and edited by
Cynthia Kuhn Beischel and Kristina Chase Strom. The work details a visit
back to Salem, Mass., where Ryan's middle child died. Ryan never
intended to write anything profound.
The story came out of a writing assignment from a class Ryan took not
long ago. The professor suggested she try to sell it. A while later,
Ryan saw an ad in "Writers' Digest" asking for pieces about grief.
Ryan is no stranger to grief. She was seven months pregnant when she
lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. She was left to learn how to
drive a car, pay the bills and learn about all the chores her husband
had taken care of. What kept her going, she said, was her children.
"There were always the children," she said.
Children, she explained with a smile, don't handle grief like adults.
While the parent shuts down, the children want to run and play.
Inevitably, she said, they take their anger and worry out on the
Ryan prides herself on successfully raising four boys by herself. All
four have successful careers and beautiful wives, she said.
"I always regretted not having a girl after every pregnancy," she said.
"But I don't regret that anymore because I have wonderful daughters-in-law."
Ryan does regret that her husband never got to their sons' graduations.
"If I had it to do over, I would find a way to make that happen," she said.
With her children grown and gone, Ryan now centers her life around
She runs a bed-and-breakfast establishment because it allows her to
travel and to meet interesting people. She also believes the most
interesting people choose to stay at bed-and-breakfasts.
The business of running a B&B fits with Ryan's lifelong love of drama.
Ryan has taught theater in high schools, including SJA, Danville and
Breakfast, she declares, is incredibly dramatic. Like a play, the scene
must be set just right.
"I always use my best china and silver," she said, adding it creates
conversation among the guests.
Right now Ryan is reading a book by Dr. Ruth Harriet Jacobs on how to be
an outrageous older woman.
Ryan's idea of an outrageous woman is someone who embodies flamboyance,
flaunts an inquisitive nature and never takes no for an answer.
She feels older women, like former secretary of state Madeline Albright,
actress Maggie Smith and dancer Martha Graham, are excellent examples of
outrageous women. Ryan also said her outrageousness comes from her
wardrobe. Ryan, who loves designers Oleg Cassini and Eve St. Laurent,
can often be found in exotic colors, textures and styles. She said it's
important for a person to pick a style and to know that style.
Ryan has limited advice for women wanting to grow old with flair, saying
only that they should work to keep their minds alive by talking
frequently with young people, and by keeping their bodies healthy.
She added, "I think I'm always open to new experiences."