For the good guys

Peggy (right) her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996 (Yes, people really did go barefoot at school sometimes, or at least used to!)

Peggy (at right), her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996
(Yes, people really did go barefoot at school there sometimes, or at least used to!)

“Unfortunately, it is often the bad guys who play the leading roles in our memory…Let’s write a script for the good guys…It will be a musical, full of drama, laughter and tears, sorrows and triumphs, and it will end with a joyful song of praise and thanks.”
Barbara Gill, in Changed by a Child, a book for parents of children with disabilities

Today’s post honors someone who likely will never see it, because she is that rare creature (rare in my world, anyway) who spends absolutely no time online.  Despite being active in professional and community endeavors at home and abroad, and maintaining homes in Mississippi and Hawaii, she has no email or online accounts.  She’s unusual in at least one more way; read on to find out why.

We met Peggy at church while we lived in Hawaii.  We clicked instantly.  As a special education preschool teacher with decades of experience, Peggy understood a great many things about our life that others don’t get close enough to see or know.  I have watched her in her classroom, where she approached teaching with a tireless diligence that is essential when the teacher is also, in many senses, a caregiver whose curriculum includes goals such as toilet training and hygiene skills alongside reading and other academic lessons.

Peggy loves life, travels frequently, lives reverently and serves anyone who crosses her path, along with some who do not.  I love it that she is as frugal and adventurous as I am, and has been able to see the world on a teacher’s salary. She became a faithful friend and favorite traveling companion, and though we had to cancel our planned trip to go ride the mules together in Molokai, we did manage to squeeze in some fun day trips.

After we left Hawaii, she came to see us in California and Virginia, staying in touch between visits via the good old-fashioned method of handwritten cards and letters (and occasional phone calls, though this has been trickier since both of us divide our time between two homes with a potential six-hour time difference, and it’s hard to keep up with who is where, when).

When I first called Peggy to tell her of Jeff’s diagnosis, it was an emotional call for both of us, and we did not stay on the phone very long.  But just a few days later I got a pages-long, handwritten letter from her, offering heartfelt words of sorrow, comfort and support.  She then asked us to allow her to plan a time when she could come up and stay with Matt, so that Jeff and I could have something we have had very little of over the years: time alone together.  She gave specific details of when she would be available and asked for (and later called to get) a response so we would know she meant business.

In nearly 30 years since Matt came into our lives, very few people other than Drew have ever done this for us.  Specifically, two people. (Thanks, Ashley B., for being the other one – and we may yet take you up on it!)  Interestingly, both of them are people we met at church in Hawaii.  Ashley is a busy wife and mother of young children whose whole family is now living in a distant mainland state.  We have not seen them since we left Hawaii in 1996.  Yet here she was, as soon as she learned of Jeff’s diagnosis, offering (via Facebook messages) a very generous form of practical help.  There must be something about that aloha spirit that stays in the heart.

Anyway, as Raynard says, I digress…when Peggy made it clear that she did not intend to take “no” for an answer, we arranged everything.  Though we offered to buy her a plane ticket, her wonderful husband Sam (a real sweetheart) drove her up from the gulf coast of Mississippi all the way to Virginia.  She stayed with Matt here in Alexandria for ten days, while Jeff and I got some much-needed flooring work done on our York home, the high-dust, high-inconvenience sort of stuff that can’t really be done when people have to use the kitchen.  And we did enjoy our time together.

When we got back, it was clear that Peggy had done far more than park Matt in front of the television when he got home from work each day.  She left behind a lot of impressively improvised instructional materials and skill-building games, along with a happy, healthy Matt who had clearly relished the attention she showered on him.  Wow.  Just, Wow.

As I write this, Peggy is in Kenya, volunteering in preschools and children’s homes there.  I admire and love her for this, but to be honest, we know many wonderful people who do such work.  We know of only one other who was willing to do for us what Peggy did.  Now, I realize many will say “Yes, but she’s a special education teacher, of course she is able to do that.” To which I say: if you had just retired from nearly four decades teaching special ed preschool, would ten days of 24-hour caregiving be on your “to-do” list at all?

Besides, as Eleni, Darla, Mari and my sister Carla could all tell us, it doesn’t require any special expertise to connect with people with disabilities.  What it takes is the will to do it, and the kind of love that is more than a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Thank you, Peggy!  Thank you, Ashley!  Thank you, Eleni, Darla, Mari and Carla!  And thanks to all of you out there who fill such gaps in the lives of people you love.  You probably will never know quite how much it means, but I pray you will be eternally rewarded for your love.

 One year ago today:

A friend who cares

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Susan

    Julia, this story took my breath away. What an incredible woman. How sweet of you to take the time to share the story so she would be a little less of an unsung heroine.

    • Yes, I just had a nice conversation with Peggy today. She and her husband sold the Hawaii home (which was their second home) and now have a new “second home” condo on the Gulf Coast. I heard on the news briefing this morning that the weather had turned rough down there, so I felt I had to call her and make sure all was well in her world. She’s retired now but busier than ever. We hope to do some traveling together in the next year or two.

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