Once in a blue moon a unique spirit chooses to transfer to this planet and from that moment all bets are off. (Note that it is her choice, always and only.)
Doctors at Mercy Hospital in Chicago predicted that the little girl bearing the names of two brave grandmothers would never go beyond her six pound birth weight unless she had surgery to correct pyloric stenosis. Mary McCullough asked her friend Sara if she might pin a relic on the baby of a newly canonized young Saint (Therese Martin of Lisieux, France) who had promised to spend her Heaven casting roses upon the earth. And at that moment an alliance was forged between two strong-willed young women committed to settling for nothing less than miracles. Their first joint venture was announced by the doctors who told her parents that something seemed to have caused the stenosis to disappear.
By the time the baby was just a little more than two she stood in her namesake Grandmother’s Carrickone, in Northern Ireland, eye to eye with a ferocious guardian gander and commanded, “Don’t quack.” Always the big sister, she put her faith in the God she had come to refer to with her recently minted soft Irish accent as “Poor auld Goddy Jesus,” and morphed from allegedly timid grade-schooler to blue-ribboned child of the Sacred Heart at Woodlands Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois, belle of the ball, and toast of the Chicago Mayoral residences in Chicago and Eagle River, Wisconsin with her classmate Pat Kelly.
When the trailblazer headed East she beguiled audiences as “Peg o’ My Heart,” the title character in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, a sparkling performer of Puccini, and student council president of Marymount College in Tarrytown. It is not recorded whether she said “Don’t Quack,” but history will show that shortly after graduation and back in Illinois, she firmly but politely refused to participate in the swimsuit competition, and was still named Miss Sylvania.
Fierce loyalty to her friend who was dating Jim at the time Peggy first met him, she decreed that she would be his friend. And that in turn deepened the conviction she expressed to her own children when years later, she urged them to be sure to “fall in like before you fall in love.” That’s what she had done until one fateful day her own “Jamie” came to meet WOPA Radio Personality “Cousin Peggy” bearing the white rose she had asked her friend Saint Therese to use as the signal that this was the man she would marry.
Thus began a 62-year duet featuring the talented soprano and her beloved “James the Great” that ended (but only temporarily) three years and two days ago on January 10, 2015.
Their song became the sound track for a love story with scenes in Culver Academy in Indiana and “Along the Rocky Road to Dublin” in a stage performance in Joliet, where she also joined the Frankie Carle Orchestra as glamorous soloist for the song “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk.” Off stage and at a shrine at old St. Mary’s where Jamie proposed to his “Maeve,” and afterward at St. Raymond’s where they were married one day in late May, the ensemble grew to include five remarkable children, 13 grandchildren and legions of friends. Her commitment to the love of her life left behind a trail of “also-rans” that included a Prince of Persia and an Alpine skiing instructor. Never losing her devotion to the little girl so like her strong willed self, she still takes it for granted that it is not asking too much to demand color coded signs from heaven. And she remains faithful to the bargains she strikes, even the one to let her Jamie precede her. She does of course require that he do so without ever ceasing to keep his hand in hers.
Her father said that his firstborn arrived with the bills on the first of the month. But it is certain that he and her mother and siblings and all who love her are quite sure that her arrival has always been in the assets side of the ledger; proving that “God is never outdone in generosity,” as she loved to quote her father.
And, of course to all ganders who try in vain to shake her faith she will, I feel sure, offer them a warning to the last moment of her life that dare not be disobeyed. “Don’t Quack.”
Written August 1,2015
By no coincidence, this tribute to my beloved big sister was written on the day when her birthday coincided with a “Blue Moon.” I offer it to all of you who share our Sunday morning voyages of discovery in the urban village we share. Today I wait at the end of the telephone line as her children update me on her transition to the life of unconditional love and reunion with her “James the Great.” She said so often in the just days more than three years since he went to prepare the way, that she was determined that he would be proud of her and her courage. And so all of us who love her get in in line behind him to tell her how very proud we are of how she has invested these three years of life as we pray that her transition is gentle. No gander to annoy her and no need to say “Don’t Quack” as she sings her way from Life to Life. Her rendition of Vissi D’Arte in her rich dramatic soprano re-echoes in my ears. Read the lyrics as we say “Thank You” to the God who loves beauty and art and Peggy, a gift to the world that comes only in a Blue Moon, as she takes her bow and we rush to the stage to offer her armloads of white roses.