I am sitting in the towers that are A Word with You Press in sunny downtown Moscow, eating mint moose tracks and looking at all the stories that are still to be posted. I am in awe of our joint shared creation. We have over fifty entrants, each one who in some way interacted with Peggy Dobbs, for whom this contest is named. I did not shed a tear when my mother died, for reasons unknown, but like many of you, could not hold them back to hear that Peggy left us. AND NONE OF US EVER MET HER! Does that not speak to the power of the internet? Our relationship to her and to each other is as palpable as if we were neighbors with a handful of sugar knocking on the door to borrow a cup. I for one am so grateful to live in this age. The sting of separation with my son is diminished by skype, though he is half the world away in Berlin. And who among us does not somehow expect Peggy Dobbs to persuade St. Peter to grant her internet access for an hour or two to enter her own contest?
Here is a note I got from Mike Stang accompanying his third and final entry into our contest:
“This contest, these stories. One by one after another, the Titan’s enter bringing the hammer down and still there is so much time to go. Peg soars. Her spark, when she was alive and so much a part of all this is ten-fold. She blesses us like the Holy Ghost. I swear I have felt her loving hands on my shoulders.
I look a year from now as the writers remember her in a different way. Seasoned, less personal, patina. And the years thereafter when we all realize how much Peg is still with us all.
I think of her as a national treasure. Can you imagine being one of her grandchildren and
sleeping over for the weekend, waking up on Saturday morning? Lord almighty knows.
Thank you, Thorn for making this possible. The playground will never be the same.
I submit my third and last entry into the hat. May our dear girl rest in peace.
And here is
For Miss (it’s just) Peg
by Michael Stang
I stared through the autumn’s cornstalks as they crisscrossed my vision of the bulk of a man I had so dearly loved in life. I was on my knees in his garden, though it had been eighteen years since my grandfather bent his back for the glory of his prized tomatoes, I felt injurious to his memory, pithless, unable to hide my shame trying to hide a useless vine broken in the mudof a recent rain.
“Is that really you?”
“Make sure to pinch all the suckers off, Mikey.” Pop said as if he had never left my side, still the gentle teacher. “They’ll steal juice from the stem and yellow the fruit. You know how Ma likes her tomatoes red and sweet.”
When Pop said something, time disappeared. I remembered that voice as the inherited management of my young life. Sighs, the depth of which addled the cruelest edge, confessed to me that there was no need to worry. Pop collected words from the pages of his worlds. He spoke carefully, selecting stories of adventures past and present, promised thrilling hours night after night to come.
Ma said he was the silver tongue devil in disguise. I never pushed her to explain anything more.
“You’re not dead?”
The worn straw hat sat high on his head very much alive. I could see the feather white hair we kids took turns combing while he relaxed in an armchair, home for the weekend from the railroad. Was that a hundred years ago? I don’t know. The man saved the love in his heart for his grandchildren. With his arms around me, we were ageless.
“They hide here under the leaves. Check the squash too, it’s the same”
“Remember when the zucchini ran wild in the driveway that year, Pop and crazy Marysquashed them hidden in the grass with her tires?
“Mikey there is little time; it is you who must remember. I am everything now, all at once—what once was is only for the living.”
Pop, no, I need your help. What about the rhubarb patch so thick I turned an ankle, the carrots, and potatoes you told me to dig for when I told you no way was there anything left in the ground. I need your—you. I’m not right Pop…there’s something wrong. Tell me there is time for us.
“Tell me of my Concord grapes.” Fathomed crystal blue eyes looked at me patiently from a domain of peace.
We both looked over to the dark blue stains that gave shape to the arbor he built between the apple trees. Massive clusters of black grapes, thick as thieves, struck out between rusted leaves.
“They’re your grapes, Pop. I never touch them they just grow like that.”
“And the apples?”
“The sheds are full of them rotting the floors.”
I sank from my knees to my hands. I could smell the old canned tobacco on his breath.
Smoking killed him. Before the cancer ate through his throat, he dripped blood through his nose into an old kitchen pan for a day. Pop died in my arms on the bathroom floor, drowning. Before his life gave out, he kept going for pockets in his pants with his hands. I kept trying to keep him still. Later, the hospital called to let Ma know there was eighty-five dollars on him when they stripped off the clothes.
Pop’s time with me was drawing close. His spirit embarked on heaven’s realm not as a god-struck pilgrim, but as a soul welcomed home. I sensed the open thresholds and saw the light around him thin from this oxygen-bound garden. Still he waited for me, as he always did, to understand the lesson.
“These cultivated rows show only your hands now, Mikey, I have others to tend.”
“Wait, you gave us so much…gave me. I know there were others and the days were short. You sacrificed your retirement, traded it in to extend the family so that I could have something, anything to look back on as a safe environment, a child’s world…a decent start. And I was safe with you. Please. Please, Pop. Show me how to live without you; I swear it’s not too late; help me tell my tales.
Pop expanded in front of me. Up and down the rows, his energy turned the soil red. The earth boiled with the message he came to deliver. In a flash, I watched as the garden spoiled and then vibrated to grow again. The skies followed seasons of death and birth, death and birth, until the worms caressed my soul, and I, reaching out to a sucker with my hand intertwined in my grandfather’s own, set the stage one more time.
And here is what it’s all about. The last line of the song, and our prompt.