A few years back I received a box of orphan heirlooms. Not orphans exactly. They belonged to my mom’s cousin, Peggy. Peggy died in 2002 without any children to pass the cards onto. I can’t recall the circumstances exactly. I believe her husband contacted me hoping that I would take the cards because he didn’t want to throw them out. The genealogist in me couldn’t bear that thought so I took them. I knew only too well that the time would come for me to find another home for them.
I’ve decided to post these cards on my blog in hopes that descendants of the senders will discover the posts. Then perhaps they will contact me so that I can send them the originals. Or perhaps an organization will request the collection as a whole. From my brief first look I can tell this is going to be a fascinating journey.
Cousin Peggy was born Margaret Ann Peterson on June 3, 1940 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was born to renowned University of Pittsburgh English Professor, Edwin Lewis Peterson. Professor Peterson, author of Penns Woods West (1959), had a reputation as a writer’s writer. He inspired a generation of American authors who came up through the ranks of his classroom. His classroom was in the Early American Room at Pitt. My mother told me years later after his death the Early American Room was no longer open to the pubic. But my mom was a determined woman and as the niece of Professor Peterson she would not be kept out. She said the holes were still in the walls or floors were she and Peggy as children peaked through while the professor was lecturing. While I don’t have a living memory of “Uncle Petie”, his legacy impacted me growing up and I was always awed and inspired by the man who corresponded with Ernest Hemingway.
Peggy’s mother was Helen Naomi Silver. One of the three Silver sisters. My great aunt Helen was refined and well traveled. She spoiled me when I came to visit. She would give me secret gifts that only the two of us were to know about. They were always exotic gifts such as pencils with Chinamen and tassels on top. Little treasures only a child could adore. One year she gave me her passport travel case. She had no idea what she was setting into motion with that gift. Little did she know that someday I would follow much too closely in her footsteps.
Peggy was an only child. She was a magical, mystical cousin. We didn’t see her very often. As an artist she seemed to me, a child, to be very Bohemian. One year in Philadelphia she took all the kids of my generation to the Museum of Art. She wore a t-shirt that showed all the bones and muscles and tendons of the torso. It was quirky moments like these that left me with brief but fanciful memories of Peggy. My mother took the traditional path in life – getting married, having children and becoming a housewife. Despite their lifestyle differences, Mom and Peggy remained close throughout their lives. Long phone calls helped shave the distance between Connecticut and Spain, San Francisco, Missouri or where ever Peggy happened to be.
When Peggy died in 2002, much too young at 62, she left behind her art and a cousin who mourned to see her go. How do we honor the lives of those who don’t leave behind flesh and blood to carry on their genes? We remember them and in those memories we continue to celebrate their lives. Though my memories of Peggy are few, I am excited about the journey of rediscovering her. And discovering the people who celebrated the birth of her life many years ago.