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The Marys enjoy life

Call them nonagenarians if you must. But if you’re seeking role models for graceful aging, look no further than these two remarkable women from Twisp. 

    The Marys
    Mary Bean, left, 96, and Mary Mattison, 94, have been neighbors and friends in Twisp for nearly four decades.
That would be Mary Wall Bean, 96, and her friend and neighbors of nearly 40 years, Mary Drumheller Mattison, 94. You may have seen Mary M rolling around Twisp in her Toyota Land Cruiser, or spotted Mary B in her Buick. “I can’t imagine what it would be like not to get into your car and go someplace,” says Mary B.

They like to do for themselves, thank you, though Mary M confesses to using that handy self-propelled chair/cart thing thoughtfully provided by Hank when she’s shopping at his grocery store. That’s because she’s been a little stiff since she was hit, and sent flying, by a car in a Twisp crosswalk a few years back, so she leans on a cane now and then. Besides, she had a hip replacement two years ago, and she has two new knees. “I think I must have strong bones,” she says.

Mary B finally stopped chopping her own wood last year when her children insisted she change to gas heat, and she gave up cross-country skiing “three or four years ago.” She’s never had an operation; “I’ve still got my tonsils,” she says. “I’ve been blessed.” She gardens and volunteers once a week at The Cove and at the rummage room at the Senior Center.

Mary M likes to garden, too, but it got her into an awkward fix last year. She was outside and, she explains, “I leaned over too far.” She toppled over but wasn’t hurt. But she could not get up. “I could not for the life of me see anything to use to pull myself up.” She carries an emergency call button around her neck, and the service - a company in Texas – has a list of people to call in emergencies. She decided this was a good time to use it. “I waited, not too long, and here to the rescue came Mary Bean, who was a 95-year-old rescuing a 93-year-old,” she laughs.

How do they explain their long life and good health?

“Just lucky. Lucky genes,” Mary B smiles.

“I certainly didn’t get it from inheritance,” says Mary M. “It might be my drink of whiskey in the evening,” she adds, chuckling.

They claim to be slowing down some. “I don’t have a planned nap,” says Mary B. But, she admits, sometimes when she’s reading, “first thing I know, I’m nodding off.”

“I used to belong to a book club,” adds Mary M, “but they stay up way too late for me.”

The two friends are from markedly dissimilar backgrounds but share a sense of humor and quick wit. For decades, they’ve enjoyed one another’s company, and pursuits like bridge, which they hope will help keep them mentally sharp. They’ve toured New England together and are regulars at local musical and cultural events, plus Friday lunch at the Senior Center and Tuesday night dinner at the Eagles. As many as 20 of their contemporaries may show up for the Eagles dinner, says Mary B. “It’s really fun because we get to see each other.”  

Mary M was a city girl from Seattle with a private school education whose father, previously a wheat farmer in Walla Walla, was appointed collector of customs in Seattle by President Woodrow Wilson. She graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, Ca., where she studied design, and she has done architectural drafting.

She met her husband Robert when he was visiting her neighbors in Seattle. Robert’s mother, Katie Nickells Mattison, was of old valley homesteading stock. His father, A.C. Mattison, owned a garage and later the Methow Valley Inn, where Mary and Robert lived for awhile in the 1940s. Robert was a bomber pilot who flew 25 missions in Europe during World War II. After his war duties were completed, the couple moved to Twisp.

“I learned how to be a farmer’s wife. I’d never grown a vegetable or anything else in my life,” Mary M says.  The couple settled on 16 acres three miles up the Twisp River, where they grew hay and potatoes and had an orchard. They were living there during the 1948 flood.

“We were a long way from the Twisp River but we could hear the rocks rolling in it,” Mary M says. Even though all the bridges in the valley were gone, Mary and Robert wanted to attend a 50th anniversary celebration for her aunt and uncle in Walla Walla. She recalls being carried over the Methow River in Twisp, perhaps on some jury-rigged cable contraption. On the other side her husband’s cousin Tom, a pilot with his own plane, was waiting to fly them to Walla Walla.

Later, Robert worked for Boeing, which took them on assignments to Florida, Germany, Israel, India and France, where they lived for six months. They moved back to Twisp and into her present home in 1968. They had two sons, Tom, who lives in Montana, and Newt, who lives in Lynden and flies his own plane over to visit his mother. Grandmother of five, Mary M is custodian of a prized family heritage recipe for home made tomato juice that annually brings the Mattison clan to Twisp for an assembly-line juice-making party.

Mary B came to the valley in 1958 from Okanogan as the bride of a logger transplanted from the coast, Russell Bean; it was a second marriage for both. Though her parents, John and Lilian Wall, ran a dairy and had Okanogan County’s first milking machine, they struggled when the Depression hit. She and her parents were forced to spend time on the fruit-picking circuit, and her time in California was spent not at a prestigious women’s college but as a fruit picker in the orchards. “We were what they called fruit tramps,” she says. She never finished high school; she married when she was a senior at Omak High.

Though not as well traveled as Mary M, she fondly recalls two trips through the Panama Canal with a nephew who was ferrying new commercial fishing boats from Mobile to Alaska.

She has two daughters by her first husband: Carol, who lives in Cle Elum, and Jo, who lives in Chehalis, plus 10 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren. “Isn’t it crazy?” she grins. She has a computer and keeps in touch with them by e-mail. She celebrates Christmas with her family, which means riding seven miles on a snowmobile to spend a week at an isolated cabin near Cle Elum. “It’s kind of bumpy,” she says of the ride. “But it’s fun.”

She and her husband Russell owned the Idle-a-While Motel in Twisp between 1960 and 1973 and added eight kitchenette units to it. “It was hard work,” she says.

One of their full-time residents was Kay Wagner, then in her 80s, whose husband, Otto, owner of the Wagner mill, was strangled in 1967 by his reportedly deranged nephew in the Wagner’s Twisp home, just down the block from where the two Marys now live. Kay, an acquaintance who once came along on a backcountry pack trip with Mary M, is credited with spearheading the Winthrop westernization project that greeted tourists when the North Cascades Highway opened in 1972.

When the mill closed, Twisp suffered an economic slump. “I suppose a lot of it is for the good but not everything,” Mary B says of the changes that have come to the valley since then. She longs for the day when you could buy a washing machine at the old Merc, or purchase shoes and clothing without having to leave the valley or use mail order.

But she’s enthusiastic about all the things there are to do here and the services offered by the army of volunteers who make thing happen in the community. “It’s just amazing to me,” she says of the culture of volunteerism that permeates the valley. “When I go to the coast, I can hardly wait to get back here. It’s a great place to live.”

“The place agrees with me,” adds Mary M. “It’s the only place I want to live. It’s just the right size. I don’t know everyone, but I know a lot of people.”