Back: Peggy Legault (Nurse Peggy), the author, Terry Hardison.
Front: Diane Bridges, Claudia Redfern, Terry Hustwick
(Thanks to Terry Hardison for the picture!)
I met Nurse Peggy almost 30 years ago at Top of the World Elementary. I was calling about a job application, and she was answering the phones that day. She sensed my anxiety and was exceedingly kind. Within a few days, I became the newest second-grade teacher, and with time, Peggy and I became friends.
Students loved Nurse Peggy. They came at lunchtime with their injuries, and she dispensed her first aid, not just in bandages. She was a safe haven for their childhood angst or loneliness. A kind word or a joke from her, and they were back racing across the playground.
Peggy was on the frontlines of any lice infestation, quietly calling kids to her office, and making sure they did not feel singled out. She also alleviated plenty of teachers’ fears with their phantom head itching. “Peggy, I know I have them. Please check me!” Of course, the biggest concern of children, unable to control their bladders, was others knowing about it. Nurse Peggy discretely offered a change of clothing in such a way kids knew this was not a big deal. No one was ever the wiser.
In her office, she had a picture of Vampire Bill (Looking back, I’m not sure this is true. Peggy might have talked about him so much I figured she had a picture of him!) from True Blood and raved about how much she loved him. (Later, watching this very adults-only show, I saw her a little differently!) All sorts of purple and gold Lakers paraphernalia festooned a wall and over her work area was a picture of Barack Obama and her beautiful light-of-her-life granddaughter: Yum Yum.
Peggy had a funny, quirky way of managing people, concealing her profound empathy and sixth sense about what friends and colleagues needed. I think her heart broke a little every time she saw others in pain, although she never showed it. I believe Peggy saw herself as the one to fill in life’s painful cracks and, as a result, she created unique connections with kids, colleagues, and parents. When a young male teacher joined our very female teaching staff, Peggy loudly professed her mad crush on him, making him and everyone laugh, and smoothing his introduction to our school. When I was working on my book, she always asked about it and encouraged me with comparisons to famous out-of-my-league authors. Peggy brought deluxe pillows with crisp pillowcases to a sick colleague and a lovely arch for her garden. She built a special connection to a friend’s daughter and celebrated when she became a nurse, as well. And these are the Nurse Peggy stories I know. There are plenty more quietly swirling around the ether, I will never know. If I broach the topic with Peggy, she gently changes the subject. Her kindness does not need to be acknowledged by others.
Peggy Legault and her favorite nurse graduate: Stephanie Hardison
(Thanks to Terry Hardison for the picture!)
Teaching can be plenty stressful as parents are learning in this pandemic. Years ago, the strain manifested itself for me in breathing problems, leading to panic attacks. Unfortunately, one day in the middle of class, I could feel the growing unstoppable anxiety. I made it to the office, and my principal, not sure what to do with me, had Peggy drive me home. On the way, we stopped for a glass of wine at one of my favorite places overlooking Dana Point Harbor. I loved my job and was terrified these attacks would impact my career. Peggy listened quietly, we talked, and gradually my fears ebbed away, making me feel more whole than I had in a long time. She did that for me and many others as well.
Now, Peggy and I have both retired and no longer see each other every day. But during this pandemic, we have reconnected and are talking on the phone. We share books, our assessments of the world, and I continue to see her beautiful unchanging empathetic spirit.
Nurse Peggy or Peggy, as I call her now, is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Peggy!
I met Pam almost 50 years ago in eighth grade. I sat next to her on the bus to Joe Walker Junior High. She was petite, beautiful, and terrified. Her family had just moved to the area, and she did not know anyone.
We became fast friends, sharing favorite music, talking about our pasts, and laughing at the absurdities of life. We walked to the country store or sat on the swings at the elementary school, and our friendship bloomed. As I got to know her better, I learned one of life’s certainties: Boys loved Pam and went to ridiculous adolescent lengths to get her attention. Being an awkward, too tall tweener, I had never witnessed such a fuss and was confused, annoyed, and a little envious. But there was more to Pam than adoring teenage boys. She was smart. She aced her classes, took more challenging subjects, and earned special academic awards. She also had an incredible artistic sense. I still remember a beautifully rendered rose she drew, and this was over four decades ago.
After two years, my family moved away. Pam and I wrote letters and talked on the phone. I saw her through marriage and her children. She saw me through marriage, a daughter, and divorce. With young families, our phone calls became fewer and farther between, but when the busyness lifted, we reconnected as if we’d never been apart. She visited me in South Orange County, and we caught up over the crashing waves of the San Clemente Pier. I went to her home in Las Vegas for the Fourth of July. (Her husband, Tony, kindly turned up the air conditioning knowing the 110 plus temperatures would probably kill me!) We sat in her pool, fully clothed drinking champagne. Her family joined us, and we stayed up until 4 in the morning, not wanting to sleep but finally collapsing into our beds. They took a trip to Cambria, and I visited them. We went wine tasting, me sitting in the back seat with her 25-year-old boys yelling, like little kids, “He’s looking at me!” Her son Jessie joked about crushing on me with hilarious flirty comments. “Hey, Maaarrrryyyy….” For Mother’s Day, her son Jason got us special tickets on the High Roller. We danced, marveled at the city below, and felt so lucky to be alive. When I had my book launch at Laguna Beach Books, Pam used her gambling winnings to make a surprise appearance along with Jason, her sister, Carolyn, and niece, Katie. I was so honored.
Through children, husbands, highs, and lows, we usually talk at least once a week knowing each other’s stories. She knew me when I was the gawky junior high kid, and I knew her when she was never that.
Being friends with Pam is definitely part of a life well-lived.
Happy Birthday, Pam!
I first met Peggy in the lunchroom of Top of the World Elementary. She had moved to the West Coast to be with her new husband and was substituting at our school. Being an excellent educator, she became part of our permanent staff. Peggy had a habit of getting to the core of what was important and not wasting time on the other stuff. Her class loved her, feeling nurtured and wanting to please her. I saw her make inroads with children when breakthroughs did not seem possible.
As time passed, we became friends walking the harbor, munching scones, and sharing our life stories. She told me she and her East Coast friends had been part of a study regarding women and happiness. Researchers learned it was not about wealth, marital status, or motherhood. The quality of a woman’s friendships with other women determined her happiness. And Peggy was and is a very good friend. She accompanied me to the doctor, supporting me silently through a nail-biting appointment. After surgery, when I was terrified, Peggy dropped everything to stay with me, so I would not be afraid. I remember her quietly brewing a cup of tea, and us talking until I could finally sleep.
When Peggy retired from teaching, she and her Love escaped the craziness of Southern California and returned to the East Coast buying property on a country lane from Farmer Jones. A trip of goats and a dog named Shredder completed their menagerie.
A couple of years ago, I went to visit. Peggy drove me to Fort Ticonderoga with its panoramic views of Lake Champlain, a place I had only read about in school. We shopped at the Vermont Store, reliving our childhoods in Raggedy Ann dolls and munching old fashioned candy. She showed me Hildene, where Lincoln’s son had once lived, and we explored the sweeping grounds, gazed at panoramic views of the colorful fall countryside, and soaked in the fascinating history. In the evening, I shared candlelight meals with Peggy and her husband, Mark. My slow eating became an on-going joke, but I just did not want those meals to end. Thought-provoking conversations, delicious food, and a very generous pour made for a day well-celebrated.
Peggy living a continent away is difficult. Our long harbor walks are far and few between, but she has reassured me she is very happy in her new life. Seeing her on Rootspring Farm, I know it is true. And honestly, how can anyone be upset about that?
Peggy is and will always be part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Peggy!
When I first met Halle, she was busy transforming her classroom into a castle, turrets and all. Her students were thrilled, and she’s been creating magic at Top of the World Elementary ever since.
Hallie is a unicorn. Underpinning her creativity is clear-minded, pragmatic thinking, and the results are stunning. In her classroom, she created storable stadium seating, and when the rest of us were scrambling to organize backpacks, she had already built, painted, and installed a beautifully designed backpack storage system. She extends this creativity to her students. Last week, knowing hands-on learning is critical to their education, her class enthusiastically planned, designed, and created a mud-brick wall. Afterward, she happily shared the pictures of her messy but gleeful second graders with me.
At staff meetings, she is the voice-of-reason seeing past the complexities of school schedules, curriculum, and the latest, greatest thing, arriving at child-centered solutions. In another life, she could have been an inventor or the top troubleshooter at some big company with a corner office and all the accompanying accruements. Top of the World Elementary is very lucky to have her.
Halle is also a great friend. I saw her assist a parent in her classroom through the throes of cancer and a former classmate suffering from eating disorders. She took me to the hospital for my surgery, and afterward, knowing I would be scared, she insisted on spending the night even though she had a busy household with three kids and a husband.
When our schedules allow, we love to hike and catch up. Halle enthusiastically shares new projects in her classroom and updates me on her family. We talk about life challenges, and she generously provides some of those much-needed solutions.
Halle’s friendship is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Halle!
When I was a second-grade teacher at Top of the World Elementary, Sharon was the school principal. She was a kind, empathetic, and talented administrator, somehow finding the delicate balance between teacher expectations and parent concerns. Sharon brought innovative ideas to staff meetings and introduced "collaboration" before it was fashionable, creating time in the week for teachers to share ideas and develop their craft. Children were always central in her choices and decision-making.
Missing the kids, her true passion, she returned to the classroom as a creative, inspiring, and gifted educator. One year, we shared a contract, and I got to see her in action. She created a fantastical dragon named Dudley, who made the children's imaginations soar. For Halloween, we dressed as M and M candies (her idea) because both our last names started with M. And report cards, the bane of every teacher's existence, were fun! We sat at our computers laughing until a neighboring teacher complained about the noise, thinking we were students goofing around in the classroom. The stress of the task gave us the giggles, but we found two points of view were very helpful in creating a full picture of student progress, and were both proud of the results.
When I got sick, she volunteered to take me to the doctor. Upon hearing the diagnosis, she burst into tears, and the poor doctor gave us instructions to the nearest bar because I said we needed a drink. When she asked if she could accompany me again, I told her, "You can come, but you can't cry." It became a joke, but I appreciated her tears. They validated my own fears, and I did not feel so alone. Honestly, everyone should have someone to cry with them in the doctor's office.
Sharon is not only a gifted educator and a true friend; she is also an exceptionally talented artist. She works in a variety of media and is always trying new techniques. She jokes about her struggles to get her ideas on canvas, but don't be fooled. I have seen her work. She created a painting that so beautifully captured the sky, I became emotional with tears welling up in my eyes.
Now, when we start missing each other, we meet at the harbor for a scone. She's that friend you can tell your deepest darkest secrets and know, you will not be judged, and they will never go any further. She's vulnerable and shares her own struggles, so one does not feel alone. Her thoughtful input is spot-on, and I always come away from our get-togethers energized and ready to get back out there.
Having a friend like Sharon is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived!
Happy Belated Birthday, Sharon! (Your birthday always sneaks up on me!)
In the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey has big plans for his future: he's going to see the world and build skyscrapers. As he is saying his final goodbyes and leaving town, his father suffers a fatal heart attack. Knowing the family business, Bailey Building and Loan, will close without his presence, George decides to stay until circumstances improve.
As time passes, he attempts to leave again and again but is always thwarted by obligations beyond his control. Eventually, he marries, has a family, and becomes a prominent member of the community. When his bumbling uncle misplaces business funds, George is in danger of bankruptcy and prison. Frustrated with missed opportunities and believing he is better off dead, George decides he wants to die.
On the verge of ending it all, George is given a glimpse of what the world would have been without him: his brother, whom he saved from drowning as a child, would have died. Everyone on a military transport, saved by his brother, would have perished because his brother was not there to prevent it. The pharmacist's drunken medication confusion, righted by George, would have killed the patient, and George's wife, never marrying, would have become a frightened old maid. (I know...just go with it!)
He learns, although he did not pursue his dreams, he made a massive difference to the people around him, and maybe that was more important. George returns home to find the entire town, whom he has helped through the years, at his home, donating money to keep the Bailey Building and Loan doors open. His brother raises a glass to the crowd: "A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town."
There are a couple themes in this classic movie which remain relevant today:
George puts people first. He never achieves his dream of seeing the world because his family and friends needed him. Still, he builds a rich life with deep connections to the people around him, and perhaps that was more important.
Life does not go according to plans. George's life did not work out the way he had hoped in his younger years, but he realizes he still has lived a "wonderful life" full of love and meaning.
Perhaps we can take away these lessons and apply them to our own Lives Well-Lived!
Happy Belated Christmas, dear Reader! "It's a Wonderful Life!"
P.S. Sorry for the late posting. I pulled a George Bailey and put my family and friends first! ;-)
Patti and I taught in neighboring classrooms for years. We shared ideas, asked each other for advice, and loved being teachers. Sometimes, after a particularly exhausting day, I would pop my head in her classroom, give her a look, and we would both burst into laughter. Often times we'd be the last ones at school, losing track of time in our continual pursuit of being good teachers. Together we'd walk to the darkened parking lot, wave goodbye, and meet back the next morning, ready to do it all over again.
Our friendship was not confined to the elementary school campus. Patti drove terrified me to UCLA for surgery. In solidarity, she did not eat or drink anything before noon because I could not consume anything before the procedure. She also filmed my Author Event at Laguna Beach Books, making funny faces and gestures so I would not be so nervous.
Now, we are retired teachers and don't see each other often. However, we both have "too close to Christmas" birthdays and every year get together to celebrate. We share our adventures, cheerlead the other's successes, and send each other back into the world nourished and filled up.
Traditions and a caring, loving, supportive, great friend are definitely a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Patti!
Photo Credit: Patti Rabun
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."