Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Age of Peggy

Peggy was born ninety-seven years ago yesterday. Warren Harding was president but she can’t be blamed for him. In fact she probably cried when she got the news. Harding’s cronyism scandal and sexual peccadilloes ranked him among the worst presidents ever. All things being relative he deserves a reassessment. We’ve had three or four since then who make Harding look not all that bad, in fact he may have set the standard for the present occupant.

Peggy lost her father when she was three and her mother five years after that. A week after she was orphaned the stock market collapsed. History has shadowed her. Her aunt who raised her saw the family fortune disappear. Not that her cereal bowl turned to a dust bowl but she did attend eleven schools before high school.

As a teenager she interviewed Orson Welles for her school newspaper. He was the Broadway wunderkind and radio star of the Mercury Theater. There were only six years difference in age but fortunately he didn’t marry her. She also would second-act plays and go back stage and meet Maurice Evans, Joseph Schildkraut, Katharine Cornell and Gertrude Lawrence…household names at the time. Gutsy kid.

She cast her first ballot for FDR in 1944. The war had depleted the city of men; I was only eleven and of no use to her. She was living in Greenwich Village…presumably waiting for me to grow up or for the war to end, whichever came first. In fact we didn’t connect for another thirty-six years.

In the meantime bombs dropped and Peggy's fission yielded Christie, without benefit of clergy, demonstrating she was far ahead of her time. Her daughter was among the early baby-boomers and Peggy was a single Mom in the vanguard of non-conformists beginning the post-war age of conformity. 

She was rescued by an uncle who sent a ticket for a one-way flight to Los Angeles, a sleepy little town in 1946. Peggy got a job in Hollywood where she car-pooled with the Andrew Sisters, dated Jerry Grey (arranger for Glen Miller’s orchestra) and also got to know the Modernaires who recorded a children’s album Peggy wrote called, The Glooby Game.

She married Sam and Ron was born in 1951. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. Joe McCarthy was ranting. Sinatra was crooning. The Beatles weren’t yet but she heard other voices, like the Beat poet’s howl and songs of social protest. She met Adlai Stevenson but he lost to Eisenhower anyway.  

Peggy has a hungry aesthetic ranging from the unseen ordinary to the never before. She brings news from elsewhere. Fronds and bark and pods are brought into her house. She’s a finder and she was a founder of the Valley Center of Arts filling a cultural vacuum in the San Fernando Valley. The organization sponsored programs in the visual arts, literature, music and dance.

She got involved in the Civil Rights struggles, read James Baldwin and joined anti-nuke demonstrations. She read voraciously… Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield and Emily Dickinson. Her poet of choice was and still is Wallace Stevens. Poetry, it has been said, changes nothing but every day thousands die for lack of it. And they did in Korea and Southeast Asia. All this time Peggy was writing thousands of poems and three novels. In addition she was smitten by the collages of Joseph Cornell and proceeded to create well over a hundred constructions herself.

The country took a turn in 1980 when a B movie actor was given the role to impersonate a president. He had to drop breadcrumbs to find his way out of a sentence….but that was good enough for an ill-informed electorate. Peggy got her license that year and began her practice as a Jungian psychotherapist to help and see what ails this country.

In 1984 Ronald Reagan was reelected. The very least Peggy and I could do was to live together. We had been seeing each other, naughtily, for a few years. I called up and told her there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that Reagan was supporting the Contras in Nicaragua. The good news was I was moving in on Sunday.

The world goes on like a spiral with dips, but upward, ultimately. At least she believes that paradigm and I concur, Trump to the contrary notwithstanding. There is a substance in us, said Stevens, that prevails.

She believes that Barack Obama is the most conscious of all our Presidents. If he failed as a politician he did with grace, a quality our country aches for. 
                                                                                                   Peggy is a force of nature. She has made history by her example. Few people whose path she has crossed come away unchanged. Without saying a word, the purple streak in her hair gives permission for others to do something daring, to risk an act of vulnerability.

The narrative of History seems to make little sense in its trajectory. But it’s fun to try to align it to our own. We sculpt our myth selectively. Peggy is not Penelope staying home waiting for the knock at the door. She’s out there encountering the gods and grappling with them but mostly finding some nugget right at her feet.      

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman -- and so much I didn't know. You have inspired and launched my day. Love to you both!