See more of the story

Many of the neighbors in Marge Ostroushko's Minneapolis apartment building are fellow baby boomers who decided to downsize. Ostroushko's arrival was hasty — and so was her decision to let go of a lifetime of possessions.

"People downsize for a lot of reasons. My reason was made for me," she said. "It wasn't my choice, but it was my time."

In 2018, Ostroushko moved into a one-bedroom, handicapped-accessible unit that could accommodate the needs of her husband, Peter, who at age 64 suffered a stroke as sudden as it was devastating.

Peter Ostroushko's paralysis brought his celebrated musical career to a halt. A world-renowned mandolin player, fiddler and vocalist, Ostroushko had entertained radio audiences as a regular on "A Prairie Home Companion" for four decades. The self-taught virtuoso composed, toured, recorded albums and soundtracks and collaborated with dozens of music legends.

"I remember the day his doctor told us he wouldn't get the use of his hands back and would never play mandolin again," Marge said. "We sat outside the 'U' medical center and cried and cried together."

When it became clear that Peter wouldn't be able to return to the two-story house where they'd raised their daughter, Marge was forced to make many hard, unsentimental decisions.

"When a person is in a wheelchair, space is important so they can move around. There's no room for bookcases or a china cabinet or my grandmother's table," she said. "I didn't have the luxury of sitting with our things and ruminating. If it didn't work, out it went."

For three years, the couple lived in their apartment, while Peter worked to rebuild strength and produced a podcast based on his music with his daughter Anna.

And then, last February, Peter's heart failed. He died at age 67.

In the face of her deepest grief, Marge Ostroushko learned that not all of her losses are irretrievable.

Around the table

Now on her own, Marge realized that one of the things she had discarded might bring her a small measure of comfort.

"A month after Peter died, I woke up and thought, 'I want my table.' Of all the thousands of things I let go of, that was what I landed on," she said. "It was the physical embodiment of so much that was good in my life."

Though the table had been in her family for generations, she had sold it because Peter's wheelchair couldn't fit under it.

"When I got rid of everything, my vision was shortsighted, and I understand why," she said. "When I was sorting, I didn't ever think, 'Someday I might want this.' I didn't imagine him dying. I didn't imagine a life without him."

Marge believed the table, a nearly 100-year-old piece of fine furniture, had been a splurge for her paternal grandparents, who immigrated from Vienna and settled in New York. Three generations of her family celebrated holidays and Sunday dinners around the table. When Marge inherited it early in her married life, she had it shipped to Minnesota.

"Peter loved making Ukrainian food — pierogies, borscht, sausages with beet horseradish. So many musicians sat around the table before and after shows, eating and talking and laughing," she said.

Peter Ostroushko was a world-renowned mandolin player, fiddler and vocalist.
Peter Ostroushko was a world-renowned mandolin player, fiddler and vocalist.

Provided by the family

Getting rid of the table had been easy. Getting it back seemed to be impossible.

Soon after Peter had had his stroke, Marge was overwhelmed with caretaking and trying to sell their house. She accepted her friend Jane Kohnen's offer to help. Kohnen advertised and sold some of the Ostroushkos' furniture online. The table went for $150.

When Marge changed her mind, Kohnen tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to reach the buyer. Eventually, Marge accepted the loss.

"I told myself, 'Well, it is her table; that's the way it is. Some things are not within the realm of possibility and I have to let go of it.' "

Chance encounters

While her husband had a very public persona, Marge had a distinguished, behind-the-scenes career as a producer of radio programs and live events. She also co-founded Giving Voice Chorus, which creates chorale groups for people living with Alzheimer's disease and their care partners.

After graduating from college in Ohio, Marge followed friends to the Twin Cities, where she worked as a temp. A chance encounter with Garrison Keillor and some of the "Prairie Home Companion" crew led her to volunteer in the ticket office, which turned into a part-time gig with the popular radio show. Promoted to associate producer, she was on staff when the show went national in 1980.

"It was amazing to be part of something so creative that evolved over the years," she said. "We knew even at the time that it was something special."

She had crossed paths with the musician who would become her husband, but they didn't talk until they attended a company holiday party. At the time, Peter was touring with a folk duo. As their relationship turned serious, Marge delivered an ultimatum.

"I told him I wouldn't live with someone who was gone more than he's home and he made the decision to quit," she said. "When he told Garrison, he offered Peter the job of music director and then we were both working for the show."

They married in 1981. Peter, she said, was often vocal with his affections.

"He would yell at the top of his voice, 'I love my wife. My 100% wife. My USDA, U.S. Department of Amour, wife,' " she said.

So many touch points

This October would have been the couple's 40th wedding anniversary. Marge marked the date with their traditional steak dinner, which she shared with her daughter.

Mother and daughter are facing their first holiday season without Peter. But they have one thing to look forward to: eating their Thanksgiving meal together at Marge's table, which surfaced in an "almost miraculous" way.

Long after Marge had given up hope of recovering the table, the woman who bought it suddenly replied to the months-old online queries, which had gone to an e-mail account she no longer used.

"Turns out she was moving the next day and wasn't going to have room for the table. A day later, it might have been on the curb," said Marge. "When she told me I could come get it, I started laughing and crying at the same time.

"When Anna saw the table, she flung herself on top and said, 'I'm so glad you're back!' " Marge said. "It makes such a difference to have that part of my past and my family with me. It's a happy ending."

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and broadcaster.