Today’s exercise in my writing of memoir says to remember my mother, aunt, or grandmother. The problem (for me) is that I don’t have many fuzzy memories of my mother or either of my grandmothers. I’m more than willing to write about the unfuzzy moments (and there were many), just not certain I want to share them at this time. That leaves aunts, of which I had several, but there’s only one I want to write about. That’s my Aunt Peg.
Her name wasn’t really Peg, it was Norma, but when she was a baby her father used to hold her and sing some old song about a girl named “Pegeen,” and the nickname stuck. She was Peg from that moment on and I don’t think I ever heard anyone call her anything else.
Aunt Peg was an extraordinary woman. From a child’s perspective, she was tall, but I think it was her slender body that made her look that way. She had a dancer’s form, willow-thin and supple, and she was tough as beef jerky. She had to be — she married my Uncle Bill.
I’m not going to get sidetracked into talking about Bill. Suffice to say he had serious issues and most often the fall-out of those issues fell on the heads of Aunt Peg and their children. Aunt Peg shielded her kids as best she could and took Bill’s abuse like a stolid dray horse (something I never knew until recently). She just kept plodding forward, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. She couldn’t leave him; she had seven children to feed. How the hell was a woman alone supposed to feed seven children and herself? Of course she stayed with him. She endured abuse and neglect and never once (so far as I know) took out on anyone what must have been enormous frustration and sorrow for the path her life had taken.
I was a particularly shy kid, but Aunt Peg could draw me out when no one else could. She was sensitive and caring, warm and welcoming. She looked straight into my eyes when she spoke to me (something no adult in my life ever did) and actually listened when I answered her questions. I was utterly devoted to her.
Unfortunately, I only got to see Aunt Peg one or two days out of the year. She lived in Oakfield, ME, “way the hell” up in Aroostook County. My parents and I lived in Clifton Park, NY — 12 hours and 500 miles away. If Aunt Peg ever left Maine to go anywhere, I’m not aware of it. Certainly, I don’t recall her ever coming to New York to visit. Then again, how could she? That would have involved permission from Bill or at least a willingness on his part to let her go and take over her duties for a few days. Fat chance of that happening.
So Aunt Peg and I wrote. Not often and not long letters (and, I’m sad to say, none of her letters to me remain), but we both enjoyed that bit of contact. More than one person has told me how much Aunt Peg looked forward to my letters and how sorry she was that she wasn’t better at responding. She needn’t have worried. I knew she loved me.
I’ve often wondered what dreams Aunt Peg had as a girl, what hopes she had for her life. Did she want to travel? Did she yearn for college and a career? There’s a folk song that talks about adjusting your dreams when it becomes clear your dreams won’t come true. How often did Aunt Peg have to adjust her dreams, making them smaller and smaller and smaller to fit into the corner of the world that was hers?
Aunt Peg managed to out-live Bill, a blessing for everyone. She moved from their ramshackle home into a place of her own and, I think, perhaps knew real peace for the first time in her life. There was no one she had to answer to, no one to order her about. She could have things as she liked them without argument. Before, during, and after Bill, she remained the same kind, loving, wonderful person. I’ve never met anyone EVER who didn’t have some terrific little story about my Aunt Peg.
She died in 2004, reuniting with her infant son William who died in 1944. (Yes, she endured that burden as well.) In 2008, her son Richard joined her in the Oakfield cemetery at the age of 60, far too young to die. My remaining cousins remember her with love and respect, as do her many grand-children, as well as nieces and nephews, and everyone who knew her.
In the end, that is how we never die.
I love you, Aunt Peg.