My father, Bob was a lawyer. He took care of the people in our small town and he gave us a good home to grow up in. My mother was our mom. She saw each of us into adulthood with her own brand of Irish-Catholic mothering that was in turns hilarious, firey, and loving. Peggy was the oldest. I was next; four years younger. Tracy was last; ten years between she and Peggy. All girls. Lots of girls.
Now our family is two. Our mother died twenty years ago. Our father died ten years ago. Last week our sister, Peggy died. On the deaths of our parents we sisters and our families, pulled together to mourn and celebrate and share the memories that we had. We did a lot of that and, oddly, those are wonderful memories that I keep close. But it seems unfair and surreal that we now pull together – only two – to say goodbye to a sister who is gone too soon.
When I think of our growing up, it seems like it was eternal. When you grow up in a small town, and you are a kid, and it was the 1960s and 1970s and parents did not think that it was their duty to schedule every minute of your day, there was a lot of down time. We played outside a lot. There was a hard to explain fascination with the little creek that ran through our town. We would walk “uptown” and get some penny candy and comic books – and sometimes we would have a note from my mom allowing us to buy her a pack of cigarettes. We played with friends. We rode our bikes. It was childhood in a small town. These are my memories of my sister.
Maybe it was radio or Ed Sullivan, but sometime during our childhood days we discovered music, and that became the bond that I had with my sister that means the most to me. The hours that we would spend with Judy Collins and Joan Baez and James Taylor -sitting with notebooks and writing down lyrics, memorizing songs, pretending we were the singers we loved(I do believe that in one iteration of our play, she got to be Joan Baez and I was Bob Dylan – benefit she had by being the older sister). New albums were rituals of long listening affairs. Those songs; that music is the soundtrack of my life with my sister.
I think Tracy and I both remember the realization during our own growing up and adolescence, that our sister Peggy was a golden girl. She was beautiful and talented and popular. While I could carry a tune when I sang along to those songs, Peggy’s voice grew and prospered. She starred in our high school musicals. She won talent shows. She even was in our local Junior Miss contest. That was something, and she was so good!
The eternal days of our growing up and childhood turned into the much faster days of trying to figure out how to be an adult and then inevitably being an adult. These days go by so rapidly and the time that we have with each other is dictated by the choices that we make. Tracy and I both got to see Peggy fall in love with Keith, get married, and have her happiest accomplishment – her beautiful blond haired baby, Joshua.
We got to see how Peggy adored Josh, and pour her energy into being a wonderful mother to him and wife to Keith.
By then we began to scatter, and our times together got scarcer. Holidays where we could all be together even became more difficult as geography and circumstances played parts. But I know that Tracy and I, through these years, still have so much of our sister in our heads and hearts. I won’t forget she and Keith playing at my wedding – giving Dan some Chuck Berry to duckwalk to – and lending us their house for our first night of being newly married. Tracy won’t forget Peggy gushing over her two sons and loving them so sweetly. We will remember how she cared for our dad after our mom died. We remember delicious food she would cook and share for us, and I particularly remember her Yorkshire Pudding and how much it meant to her. We saw how happy she was when Emily and Josh married and started their life together. We followed as she got over the shock of Keith’s cancer and fought day and night to make him healthy again and send me a picture at Christmas labelled “5 years and cancer free.” We know how she loved her animals.
Like our mom, Peggy died when she was 57. That is too soon to leave us, but Tracy told me a story the other day that kind of made that hurt lessen a little bit. Tracy had been at her gym and seen a guy who she knew was a friend of Peggy and who also knew my mom and dad. She told him about losing Peggy and he offered his own shock and condolences. Later, when he was about to leave the gym, he came up to Tracy and said, “Tracy, you know, I was thinking, I can just hear your mom up in heaven saying, “Bob! Peggy’s here.” Both Tracy and I can hear my mom’s voice and inflection saying that, and whatever our beliefs are, that sure is a sweet thought.