My mother’s usual breezy e-mail closed with a somber note. “Do you remember Peggy Simpson? She died yesterday, it was announced in church. You used to be such good friends…anyway, the funeral’s Tuesday, I just thought you’d like to know.”
I sat back in my computer chair, remembering Peggy…
We’re eight years old, and it’s summer vacation. Our exasperated mothers have sent us outside after a two-hour July thunderstorm. We meet in the empty lot between our houses, then stroll down the block, taking little hops to avoid the smattering of half-drowned worms on the sidewalk. “Look!” says Peggy, “I’m a wormotologist!” She bravely picks up a fat worm between her finger and thumb and pantomimes a scientific examination. I’m both grossed out and impressed.
I smiled sadly at the irony; it was I who went off to college to become a scientist (though I studied plant diseases, not worms), while Peggy’s career path never took her further than a receptionist’s desk.
Another memory gently pressed itself behind my eyeballs. I closed my eyes and saw Peggy in seventh grade…
We’re twelve now, and junior high frightens me as much as it excites Peggy. I’m self-conscious about my blotchy skin, my wiry hair, my inability to dress like the shining girls who find “cool” so effortless. Peggy is blithely uncool, and she’s my hero: on “Spirit Day” when students wear school colors, I tie bashful black-and-orange ribbons around my ponytail, while Peggy makes a grand entrance into homeroom dressed as a giant pumpkin.
I reached for a tissue and dabbed at my leaking eyes. Despite the fact that Peggy and I had drifted apart, it seemed unbearably sad to think of her vibrancy extinguished so young—she was not yet fifty.
One more memory…
It’s our junior year, and I miss a day of school with a sore throat. Peggy bursts into my bedroom that afternoon, plopping my homework on the bed. “We’re partners for a Sociology project,” she says, and we spend the next week researching and creating a monstrous, colorful poster. I feel certain that our collaboration will earn an “A”—Peggy’s fanciful artwork is perfect, and I’ve checked and double-checked the facts. But Mrs. Grayson’s eyes widen at the finished poster before she gulps down a laugh, informing us that the topic was “euthanasia,” not “youth in Asia.”
I decided to attend Peggy’s funeral—my microscopes and tissue samples could wait for a day. My throat was tight and my heart sick for the entire three-hour drive to my hometown: why had I let our friendship lapse? It was certainly no fault of Peggy’s—she had been good and loyal all her life, and her Christmas cards always contained cheery news of her family and her church, and an invitation to visit any time.
I sat in the back pew of Peggy’s country church and listened to the electric organ music, my cheeks glistening. The church smelled of furniture polish and flowers, and the air was filled with murmured greetings. When all the mourners had taken their seats, a woman in a flowery dress with a lace collar stood and spoke.
“Peggy’s family would like me to start her service with a song that meant a great deal to her,” she said, then turned to nod at the organist.
I rummaged for a tissue, expecting to hear “In the Garden” or “The Old Rugged Cross,” hymns I’d not thought of in years but that seemed elemental to this little church that Peggy so loved. The woman listened to a few measures from the organ, then began to sing in a warbling soprano—
“You put your left hand in,
You put your left hand out,
You put your left hand in,
And then you shake it all about--”
I choked, and looked around, stunned. Everyone was nodding, smiling, wiping their eyes. Many were actually shaking their left hands about.
She sang several verses of the absurd song, and more and more people were participating, hands and feet jostling in the crowded pews. Despite my astonishment, I thought for a moment about jolly Peggy sharing a laugh with her Savior, and how faith can bridge the gap between sadnesss and joy. I joined in on the last lines:
“You put your backside in,
You put your backside out,
You put your backside in,
And then you shake in all about!
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn yourself around,
That’s what it’s all about!”
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