Near downtown, in an area of mostly gentrified houses, is an old two-story house with a cornucopia of concrete statutes on its lawn: a family of deer resting under a tree, a turtle-shaped bench with a reclining leopard nearby, a lighthouse towering above the fence, two birdbaths, a few pagodas, and much more.
Eighty-five-year-old Margaret “Peggy” Sindlinger has lived here since 1939, when she was two years old. Her parents, Harold and Marguerite Sindlinger, moved her and her brothers, Harold and Guy, from the S. Fifth Ave. residence where she was born.
Their neighbors were instantly besotted with blonde Peggy, the only little girl in the old German neighborhood. “My family would be unpacking, and they would look around and couldn’t find me,” she says. “They said, first of all, I would be on one neighbor’s lap, and they’d bring me back. Next thing you know, they’d have to hunt for me again, and I’d be on another neighbor’s lap.”
Her parents both worked—her father at the King-Seeley factory on First St., (now Liberty Lofts) and her mother at Argus Camera on Fourth St.—and her brothers weren’t interested in palling around with their little sister. So she spent her time with their grandparents, who lived with them. She says that her grandfather was known as “the sidewalk superintendent,” watching nearby workmen and sharing his opinions with them.
The family always had pets: dogs, cats, rabbits. While her love for animals has never diminished, her ability to care for pets has. For consolation, she keeps several oversized boxes of Milk Bones that she distributes to her neighbors’ dogs and bestows on the neighborhood’s chipmunks and squirrels, who wait patiently as she sets up a buffet for them on top of her mailbox.
After attending Bach, Slauson, and Ann Arbor High, Sindlinger went to work at the Stadium post office. Her brother Harold also worked there, as a letter carrier, for thirty-five years. After retiring, he became a school crossing guard. “He loved being a crossing guard! He loved all the kids, and the kids loved him.”
She and Harold shopped for concrete statues together at a store in Ohio. When she inquired about the turtle bench, the manager offered it to her at half price.
After she took him up on his offer, her brother began pointing out other sculptures she might prefer. “‘I said, ‘You want this, don’t you?’ He said he did, and I said, ‘Too bad, it’s mine.’” She says Harold, who’s since passed, had considerably more collectibles than her.
Another find, a three-foot alligator, sits inside her glassed-in porch—along with two grinning foxes dressed in fox-hunting togs, a wrought-iron garden set with a crèche on the table, Asian-style dragons, brass flamingos, a pelican, and white concrete statues of a cowboy and a cowgirl. Inside, a howling coyote statue sits on the floor next to a trio of turtles.
Shelves and glass cabinets line the walls, filled with dragons, Chinese fu dogs, Asian vases and figurines, owls, angels, dream weavers, and Native American art, artifacts, and dolls. Upstairs, an oversized plush leopard lounges on top of a cabinet, keeping a few stuffed bears company.
Sindlinger says she purchased most of her Native American art, and all of the artifacts, at the Ann Arbor Powwow. A lot of her other stuff, she says wistfully, came from Treasure Mart. Now, she shops at the Salvation Army.
She has a vast collection of movies and old radio show tapes, most of them purchased while volunteering at the Friends of the Library sale. She goes to sleep while listening to the radio shows.
Her pride and joy is a music box that plays the theme from Chariots of Fire. Chess pieces adorn its sides and there’s a chessboard on top. A dragon with an absurdly long tail and a gray-bearded wizard with spectacles ponder their moves.
The best treasure Sindlinger ever found at the Salvation Army is sixty-five-year-old Charles Freeman. “I collected him over five years ago,” she says wryly. They often ran into one another there, and one rainy day, Sindlinger saw Freeman waiting at the bus stop in the rain. He accepted her offer for a ride home.
“She scared me so bad!” says Freeman. “It was slippery out, and she was burning rubber, driving all over the place.” When her already poor eyesight began to worsen, she gave him her car. Now he takes her to appointments, shopping, and, naturally, thrifting.
The longer they’ve been friends, Freeman says, the more he has learned about Sindlinger’s vulnerability—a workman who stole her credit card, running up over $14,000 gambling; a onetime roommate who moved out with property not her own. He says she’s been hit in the head and robbed twice downtown in parking lots and robbed once at the Salvation Army.
She once offered to give him her house, but he declined, not wanting to cloud their relationship. He does, however, have medical power of attorney, and doctors have told him he’s saved his friend’s life on at least two occasions when he rushed her to the hospital; once after she’d had a small stroke, and another when she was in heart failure.
Sindlinger has been a regular shopper at Argus Farm Stop since it opened in 2014. When Covid hit, Travis Blume and other employees began delivering her groceries and her beloved Calder chocolate milk. Blume and his brother now park in her driveway and look out for her.
Freeman helps her with grocery shopping and household chores. Jerry Campbell, a former post office colleague, keeps up the yard and shovels snow. Marianne Nati, a senior support person from Dexter, helps with her medical care and housekeeping. (Despite her collections, Sindlinger’s home is remarkably tidy.) Nearby neighbors also frequently check in.
Sindlinger has had many offers for the prime real estate her home sits on, but has made legal arrangements for her estate to go to St. Jude’s Hospital. Her gravestone is already in place at Bethlehem Cemetery, close to her mother’s. Fittingly, it’s engraved with an image of one of her favorite dragons.