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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Sad (07/26/07)

TITLE: What I Did At Peggy's Funeral
By Jan Ackerson
08/01/07
~2nd Place


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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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Member Comments
Member Date
Helen Paynter08/02/07
You really do have bittersweet nailed. Can I have lessons? I laughed aloud several times in this piece, but in the end it's the words about faith bridging the gap between sadness and joy whcih I shall remember. Oh, and youth in Asia...
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/02/07
I was with the MC through every happy, funny, sad, and funny moment. That's good writing.
Joanne Sher 08/03/07
I love this! You really showed us Peggy in some very unique ways - and her wonderful Savior too. Perfect ending.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/03/07
You've captured how your character retained her uniqueness throughout her life perfectly. The song she requested for her funeral said it all.
Lynda Schultz 08/03/07
I making notes for my funeral — it might as well reflect ME, just like Peggy's did. Great writing, super story and wonderful twist.
Dianne Janak08/03/07
I loved this... How wonderful that her funeral was so full of joy to celebrate her life.. and if you really knew Peggy? Now we feel like we do... great writing...
Dee Yoder 08/04/07
I may have to borrow this idea at my own funeral someday! It's perfect. Even though we say we shouldn't cry because the Christian has gone to Heaven, we always do. I can't imagine anyone crying through this song! Great story. :)
Marita Vandertogt08/04/07
I really enjoyed this piece. Your characterization is excellent, right from the beginning - drew me in right away. You have a real gift for writing!!
valerie chambers08/05/07
What a wonderful gift it is to toss the stereotypes and throw yourself a party when you die. Peggy chose just the right song for her going home celebration. Wonderfully done PRECIOUS.Thnk God for the Peggy-s of our lives
Rita Garcia08/05/07
Your golden gift for writing never ceases to amaze me. I would love to see a book published, with a collection of your short stories.
william price08/05/07
I liked the memories interchanging with the present. Great job as always. God bless.
Kristen Hester08/05/07
I now have something to add to my "in event of death" file: Do Hokey Pokey at Funeral. I love it. I also would have loved Peggy. Great job.
Betty Castleberry08/05/07
Peggy is my kind of girl. I have already request that my parrots be in attendance at my funeral, and I want people to laugh and dance and have fun. Thank you for making Peggy real to me.
This was a really enjoyable read. Well done.
Linda Watson Owen08/05/07
You are amazing, dear friend! What a beautifully written story...again! Wow...sure wish I could write prose like you do! Just perfect.
George Parler 08/06/07
I loved this! Now that's the way to go. Wonderful piece.
Dara Sorensen08/06/07
It's often sad how we lose touch with friends we once held dear. You relayed emotion well in this piece--I especially liked the bit of humor at the end with the hokey pokey ^_^
Benjamin Graber08/06/07
Wow, what a wonderful entry! You brought tears to my eyes, but also made me smile... Great job!
Catrina Bradley 08/06/07
Loved this happy sad funny article. The flashbacks were well done, flowing nicely into the story.
TJ Nickel08/06/07
another wonderful story with superb characters, woven together with traits that bring them to life (or back to life in this case). Congrats on building that bridge.
dub W08/07/07
This is great, came back into this level to leave a comment here as this is beyond the scope of the competitors. Bravo, I loved the humor, the POV, and the mood incorporated into the theme. Thanks.
Janice Fitzpatrick08/07/07
Wonderfull created. Sadness mixed with humor and some poingant memories. Well written. Love it!
Marty Wellington 08/07/07
Enjoyed the flashbacks that brought out the friendship and characterizations of the two women in their younger days. Nicely done.
Caitlynn Lowe08/08/07
It was very sad to think about such a great friendship drifting apart...But I enjoyed the little twist at the end, and it definitely seemed to fit the character of her friend.
Sara Harricharan 08/08/07
"Youth in Asia" heehee, I just love that bit. It was so fun. Peggy reminds me of a dear friend I know, right down to her fearless desposition. ^_^ nice touch with the lyrics at the end. Made it more real.
Loren T. Lowery08/08/07
This reminds me a great deal of the play Thorton Wilder's "Our Town" when those that have passed on sit in chairs in the graveyard, and Emily states that if those living only knew how precious each moment is - even the most mundane. You've echoed those sentiments wonderfully!
LaNaye Perkins08/08/07
You did an awesome job of bringing these charactors alive. What a wonderful story!
Mishael Witty08/08/07
This was a really well-written story.

I love the image of everyone doing the hokey-pokey at the funeral, although it might have worked a little better if you'd mentioned that one of Peggy's favorite songs was the "Hokey Pokey" ... or if you'd had her doing the hokey-pokey in life as part of the her fun-loving nature. As it is, the hokey pokey almost seemed to come from nowhere, although it wasn't completely implausible.

This was a fun read. Thanks for sharing it!
Julie Arduini08/08/07
So well crafted! You wove the memories beautifully, and the end was a great twist.
Gabrielle Morgan08/08/07
Very well written story. I loved the contrast of the two personalities in the reminiscence paragraphs. Well done!
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/09/07
Winning again! This is well deserved, and I'm so happy for you.
Jacquelyn Horne08/09/07
What a wonderful memory piece. Congrats on the win.
Seema Bagai 08/09/07
Sad and funny at the same time. Congratulations!
Gina Woods08/09/07
I can clearly see why you are a Master...love it! What a surprise twist to the ending. Congratulations! ~Gina
Sara Harricharan 08/09/07
***Congrats!***
Pat Guy 08/09/07
Okay - you did it. And you did it good.

I was tempted to try and turn sad into humorous ... but you pulled it off perfect.

I can't believe it - chuckling to 'Put Your Right Hand Out.'

Perfect.
Dawn Thomason08/10/07
Your story was an absolute delight! Thank you for making me both cry and laugh within the same piece. I have to admit, I laughed OUT LOUD at the "Youth In Asia" portion of your story. The flashbacks are so real. I am left asking, "Is Peggy real or make believe". You are more than deserving of first place. Congratulations!

Dawn Thomason
Patty Wysong08/13/07
You made me laugh while I cried! This is wonderful!! :-)
Mariane Holbrook08/14/07
Kudos. Nice job!
Sueanne Dolentz09/26/07
Bah! This is a wonderfully fun piece. Your flashbacks really offer insight into who Peggy is...and the ending ties it all together so fantastically!