Maggie Puertas Wray, 1920-2020

Monica MarquezBy Monica Marquez      October 30, 2020

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Maggie Puertas Wray, 1920-2020
Maggie and Bob Circa 1950's. Photos courtesy of the wray family
Margaret (Aunt Maggie) Puertas grew up in the midst of the Great Depression. She was born in 1920, ninth in a family of ten children. Life in the Puertas home was difficult. They were a poor Spanish-speaking Mexican family and endured the prejudice so common during that time. Her mother took in laundry to survive. Although times were extremely difficult, the family never wanted for food. This was a time before cars were common for the economically challenged. She remembered her grandparents used to come over and visit in a horse and buggy. Next to their modest home was a carpet cleaning business. Maggie and her sisters made some extra money answering the phones. Bob Wray worked there. Bob was the son of an itinerant artist, who made his small living travelling across Canada in a camper. Bob didn’t care for that lifestyle and wanted to have a permanent home. Bob took a liking to Maggie soon after they met. When Maggie was 18 and a senior in high school, Bob asked for her hand. Her family vehemently objected because Bob was not Catholic, all even though some of her older brothers and sisters had married outside the faith without incident. Maggie and Bob went ahead with their marriage. Maggie was disowned. In the late 1930s, the area known as Topanga was opened for development. Bob purchased one of the first lots available. It was up in the hills of Topanga, over a mile from the main road. There were no essential services back then. Their water came from a well up the hill, on a lot owned by a woman who turned it on at her leisure. Bob soon built a water tank. He built their house with his own two hands. He didn’t believe in owing money, so the young couple saved up and purchased materials as they were able. They lived in the house as it was being built. World War II brought catastrophic changes to the young couple. Bob joined the war effort in a Construction Battalion (troops were known as “CBs”). They were the ones who went in before the Marines to build landing strips and barracks with little protection from the enemy. He was stationed in the South Pacific. The house hadn’t been finished yet, so Maggie lived alone in a half-built house where the outside walls were still covered in tar paper. Their separation lasted four years. After the war, Bob used the skills he gained as a CB to work as a set designer at Fox Studios. He won an Emmy for his work on a movie about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. By then, Maggie had a job at the Rand Corporation, a well-respected think tank located in Santa Monica where she worked as a secretary in the math department. Bob and Maggie were famous for their parties. In the years before there was trash pickup, the revelers used to throw their empty liquor bottles over the bank to the lower part of the property. The area became covered with brush and a few years ago Maggie and her helper found them when they were doing their brush clearing. She had to explain to him that they really weren’t “those kind” of people.
Wray house, early 1940s, built before Encina was a road. Photos courtesy of the wray family
Bob retired in the 1990s when his health began to wane. Although they had proudly cared for their property themselves, it became evident that they needed some help. Their nextdoor neighbor had recently hired a new handyman, Artemio Lopez. One day he was cutting away vines on one side of the fence as Maggie was cutting them on the other. Maggie asked him if he spoke Spanish. He said yes. “Good,” Maggie said. “My Spanish is rusty and you can help me practice.” Thus, began a close and enduring friendship that lasted the rest of Maggie’s life.

Artemio turned out to be much more than a gardener. He could fix anything—plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning. No matter what the problem, Artemio was the answer. When Maggie’s sewing machine broke, Artemio fashioned a new part out of materials he found in Bob’s workshop. The sewing machine never gave Maggie any trouble after that.

Near the end of Bob’s life, he told Artemio that he felt comfortable dying because he knew Artemio would be there to take care of Maggie. After Bob’s death, Artemio became Maggie’s closest friend and confidant. He looked after Maggie and the property. Maggie often said that she never had to tell him what to do because he already knew and just took care of it. In Maggie’s later years when she could no longer drive, he took her to the hairdresser every Saturday. He did the grocery shopping and always made sure Maggie was well supplied with her favorite food—iceberg lettuce.

Maggie loved her garden. Visitors were always treated to the grand tour, walking down the winding path to the lower part of her three-quarter-acre property. She was particularly proud of her prized rose bushes.

Bob and Maggie never had children of their own, but they loved their large extended family. Whenever Maggie reconciled the checkbook, Bob would always tell her to “leave some for the kids.” Maggie was stubborn as a mule and she would not consider that an insult. She wanted to care for herself and her property way beyond her physical ability to do so. She never, ever gave up.

She was always impeccably dressed. She had her hair done weekly at a salon in Brentwood. She made many of her own clothes and was once voted Best Dressed at Rand. She was tiny, but mighty. Her weight came in at 72 lbs. on a good day.

Aunt Maggie would be horrified at this memorial. She was adamant that she didn’t want a funeral, because, according to her, she didn’t matter, and no one would miss her. Her niece, Monica, who would do anything for Maggie, refused to honor this wish. She told her that it was not Maggie’s call. Maggie grumbled about it, but finally relented. Monica is stubborn, too.

So, let us honor a strong and courageous woman. She was devoted to her husband, family and friends. Maggie, you did matter, and we will miss you forever.
Monica Marquez
      October 30, 2020

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