outer space

Peggy, Among the Stars

The following is an excerpt from the new book by Bev Walker, “Profiles…” Bev is a long-time member of Writers in the Grove.

She may be the smartest person I’ve ever met, certainly one of them, and certainly a shining star in my life. And a prime example of how deceptive appearance and manner can be.

The plain house dress and sagging cardigan sweater were always a little rumpled. Some stray pieces of her long thin black hair never seemed to find a home in all the years I new her. The rest hung precariously in a knot at the back of her neck. There was no sign of grey. She was in her nineties, how far, she wouldn’t say. When asked, she’d reply curtly, “Age is irrelevant.”

She was four-foot ten, round, and quiet. Her large sleepy eyes and calm demeanor reminded me of Yoda, the wise old elf of the Star Wars movies. That suited her more than most people realized. She’d been a closet Science Fiction writer as long as she can remember. Not with any thought of getting published, but just because she loved doing it.

When her husband died, she and her four young children moved to Forest Grove, Oregon. She took classes at Pacific University where her guest instructor was famed fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin. LeGuin’s husband was a professor there at the time. LeGuin became a profound influence on Peggy’s blossoming style, a turning point.

“She is a woman of extreme integrity,” said Peggy, “and I learned more from her than I ever had from any other teacher.”

That is tribute indeed as Peggy was a straight A student all her life, an honor graduate of the prestigious Reed College, as well as the Episcopal Church’s Education For Ministry Course (FFM), which is the equivalent to a four-year seminary course in religion.

She and I had been friends for some time when she asked me to help her organize and sort her file of writings. She couldn’t do it herself because she was totally blind from Macular Degeneration. She could type, but she couldn’t see to edit what she’d written, so was in the habit of just starting over, again and again, resulting in many versions, pieces all mixed, some on computer, some in a paper file.

We got into a routine. I’d sit at her computer and read aloud what she’d written. She told me changes as we went along.

She wanted to focus on one novel in particular. It was the romance of an astronaut, born in another galaxy, who discovers a lost world, and the strange girl he falls in love with. It came alive for me in Peggy’s words. Her amazing images sometimes had my head spinning with colorful pictures of a whole new universe unfolding before me. I was mesmerized by her breathtaking adventures among the stars.

Then suddenly there’d be a section where she started typing with her fingers on the wrong row of keys and there were pages of funny paper cuss words! The journey halted in peels of laughter when I told her what she’d done.

Once a week after church, four or five of us went to brunch in the next town. On the way to the restaurant it became a game to ask our personal guru trivia questions. “Stumping Peggy” was always fun, and a challenge. It never mattered the subject, our Peggy had a story, or at least an answer, to engage us. We all came to firmly believe that our Peg knew everything there was to know about everything.

One day, I discovered another side to our friend. It seems that when we thought we were playing games with our brain trust, she was quietly, and with a straight face, happily playing a different game with us. I innocently asked, “Peggy, how did you ever become so knowledgeable about so very many different subjects.”

With those big sleepy eyes and pixie smile, she looked at me sideways and blithely replied, “Oh, sometimes I lie.”

She knew darn well we’d never know the difference.

When Peggy died in 2009, I imagined her out there exploring her beloved universe, going where she’d always imagined going, and smiling as she discovers reality is even more fantastic than she ever dreamed.

Footnote: Today, as I write this, it is the 24th of April 2017, and I’ve been watching the news. By remote satellite hookup, a woman astronaut, age fifty-seven, is being interviewed. Among the records she’s set is one for the longest time living in space. She’s been orbiting the ear in a US spacecraft for almost two years. The newscaster notes, “There’s a Velcro strip on the outside of her pants, probably to stick her to the wall while she’s sleeping.” Her name is Peggy. Peggy Whitson. And I whisper, “Go, Peg, go.”