Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Tribute To One of My Momma Heroes: My Friend Peggy

This afternoon I had a cell phone message from my mom. "Call me when you have a chance." Now, with my mom that could mean she wants to tell me that she saw my first grade teacher at the supermarket and she wanted to say hi, or that a friend of mine was in the local newspaper and did I want her to send me the clip. But there was something in the "call me" that seemed ominous. And while my grandmother is now approaching 101 years old, I spoke with her hearty sassy self just yesterday so I was not thinking the dread had to do with her. But indeed, there was dreadful news-- our very good family friend, Margaret "Peggy" Secor had passed away.

Now to gain some perspective on why I almost needed to pull over because stupid me was driving at the time, even though I was worried about a dreaded message--- but Peggy was not just a "family friend" she was FAMILY. My heart sank the way it did when I learned my Aunt Kitty had passed. That sense of a presence suddenly being ripped from your life, someone who just was supposed to "always be there" because they had always been there, providing strength and laughter and joy.

Peggy and her very large family were my parents' next door neighbors when they were living in Arkansas when my dad was in the Air Force. I don't know if I had been born yet when the Secors moved, because I do know they were replaced with equally awesome neighbors, The Beatty's with whom we still keep in contact-- but I do know my memories of Peggy and her brood start when I'm about in fifth grade or so and we went to visit her family in California. She had divorced her husband Gene at that point. And lived with four daughters and one son, and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever in Coronado, California, an island just off the coast of San Diego. What I remember that first encounter was playing Perfection and Boggle all night long. My mother is Peggy's youngest daughter, Andrea's godmother, and Peggy's son, Dan is my sister, Christie's, godfather, and I am Dan's son's godmother. So I guess we were always related in the Spirit.

Peggy's son, Dan, went to the USNavalAcademy (graduating in 1980) and adopted our family as his East Coast family, attending holidays with us, and essentially became the big brother I always wanted, for 4+ years-- shoot, I still kind of think of him as my older brother.  When I went to USC in 1984, it was only fitting that Peggy became my California Mom, then.

I visited Coronado every chance I could, not only to hang with Peggy who always made me feel so comfortable and at home, but also because that is clearly one of the most beautiful places on earth. One time she even let me bring 4 of my friends down with me, even though her little cottage couldn't really handle that many people. Peggy was just the right kind of "suck it up"-- "here give me hug" when my friend Janet stepped on a sting ray, receiving a bleeding sting that left her foot numb for hours. We all learned the "Coronado Shuffle" after that, that's for sure. I remember helping Peggy in her small backyard garden. Going to the carousel in San Diego. Looking admiringly at the painting she had by the artist who did the backgrounds for Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I bought my first pair of non-stud earrings with her in a street market in San Diego. She helped me pick them out. I loved them because the earring was all one fluid shape. Some artsy Swedish guy made them. I wore those earrings for 20+ years until they recently broke, and I still kept them. Because they reminded me of Peggy.
The first earrings I bought (aside from my studs). I was with Peggy at a street fair in San Diego. A Swedish craftsman made these and they were so unique. I wore them until they broke!! And then saved them, because I loved them and they reminded me of Peggy and all the fun times I had in Coronado.

I remember my senior year driving with my boyfriend at the time, John, in my friend Gail's car, and her brakes died. He wanted to turn around because we had some massive hills to go down to get into Coronado-- and I was like, No Way-- I have to see Peggy.  Even when I was a freshman in college, I called her "my friend Peggy"--- not "my parents' friend Peggy"--- she was my friend. Peggy had that amazing joi de vivre that allows a person to be ageless. She treated everyone as peers and if you were interesting enough and willing to walk long distances---she was fine by you. I've always tried to emulate that open age policy on my friends. Age does not determine intelligence, interest, curiosity-- so even though she was my mom's contemporary, she was "my friend Peggy."
In looking for some kind of photos of those California Mom days, I found an old notebook from my awful Philosophy of Time class. Clearly, indicated from the notes and doodles all over the notebook, I didn't pay much attention to the class. This was me and my friends planning a getaway weekend to Coronado at "my friend Peggy's"

When Peggy retired from working for the IRS (I always thought that was so funny that she worked for such a hated agency-- because she was one of the nicest people I ever knew) she decided to move to England!! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. She loved the country, loved its history, so she just moved there. I was so privileged to visit her twice in Holmfirth. The first time was in the summer of 1996 when I was studying at Oxford for a summer program. I hung out with Peggy for several days and grew to love, love, love her awesome border collie, Moss. We went on long walks in the woods and fields and from that day forward, I knew I could only have a border collie'esque dog with a one syllable name.  And my dogs Patch (1996-2010) and Jax (current) are testaments to the impact Mr. Moss had on me. Peggy loved museums and cathedrals and she knew a whole lot about architecture so much so that she even became a docent at the York cathedral not far from her home. On that trip I remember we both were tired from walking all day, so we thought we'd eat in, but then realized the pickings were slim. But we ate beets and cheddar cheese and discovered that was a delicious combo. I still eat that sometimes.

In the summer of 2000 I visited Peggy again with my 18-month old baby, Mari. We only saw each other for a day, but it was lovely and we sat in a park and watched Mari pick up cigarette butts and put them in the trash. It was hilarious.

I saw Peggy a couple of other times, on visits to my parents, but because of the distance to England, and the fact that all her kids lived in opposite directions from NJ, we really didn't have the chance to see too much of her. When I was separated from my husband in 2001, Peggy was a source of strength for me. I looked to her as one of the strongest, most amazingly alive people I had ever known, and the prospect of being husbandless, did not daunt me having her as a shining example of a strong independent woman.

Peggy recently returned from England after a bad fall and some problems with her legs. She went to live in Northern California, and that is where she suddenly passed. My mom got to talk to her last week and Peggy said that she was feeling down and depressed-- and my mom knew that was a bad sign. Because Peggy loved life and lived it every day.

A Print from Russia Peggy gave me, she knew I studied Russian and said she thought of me while she was travelling there.
A Kells Plate from Peggy, She knew I loved Ireland and Religion
Peggy, I am so sad I was not able to say good bye and thank you, and I love you. I know you knew that, but I really wish I had the opportunity to say it. I looked today for any kind of photos I might have of you and I and the adventures that meant so much to me. I'm sure there are some, somewhere, but they remained elusive today. So I leave the tribute of the artifacts that will keep you with me always. You were one heck of a lady, and I will miss you so very much. I hope that since we were always family in "spirit"-- that you visit in spirit when you can. Although, I think you may have already done that. In Spring cleaning my room, I came across a hummingbird pin I bought for you something like five or six years ago, but never sent. Hummingbirds always reminded me of you, so I would buy things on occasion and send them to you, but it seemed kind of a silly little pin to send all the way to England without something else. Now, I suppose I will keep that pin as a reminder of you and your free and energetic spirit.

I bought this hummingbird pin to send to Peggy. But I never did. Hummingbirds were her favorite-- next to Border Collies, though, They were definitely her favorite.

Peggy always sent Christmas cards from the Musician's Benevolent Fund, they were so gorgeous, I always saved them because they have pictures that span the full length of the card. I will miss getting these this year for sure.
Peggy, you will be forever a piece of who I am. I will always want to have a border collie to walk with. I will love beets and cheddar cheese. I will appreciate the art and history of many cultures. I will live life to the very fullest no matter my age. Rest in peace beautiful, strong lady.