The Dirt on Peggy (there being none on me)

Peggy (age 11) 1962

When we met at Mississippi College in 1971, Peggy had just turned twenty and was shy, honorable, intelligent, soft-spoken, and had no bad habits. She was 5’3,” and had clear skin, brown-eyes, a medium complexion, weighed 115 pounds, had straight auburnish hair, wore light eye makeup, dressed quietly but appealingly, and laughed easily but never immodestly. Sherry, a girl I had gone steady with for four years, had recently broken up with me because I wouldn’t commit to marrying her, yet here I was wanting to marry a woman I had never spoken to and had only seen from across the school cafeteria. When my best friend said he was dating her, I asked him if I could ask her out. He said yes but then told her to turn me down. That alone gave her an incentive to go out with me. 

We had three dates before summer school ended and she took a Greyhound to San Antonio where her father was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base. A day later, I left with a friend for his home in Alberta, Canada, my plan being to hitchhike back to Mississippi. As we drove, I missed Peggy so much that I couldn’t bear the thought of getting another mile away from her, so I got out of his lime-green Gremlin in Trinidad, Colorado, and hitchhiked to San Antonio where I awakened her father at 11:55 p.m. He flatly refused her request to pick me up alone, and when the two of them arrived at the truck stop where I was waiting, the man with whom I had my last ride was trying to sell me a set of encyclopedias off the hood of his car. The San Antonio River Walk was a romantic place to date, and three days after my August arrival, Peggy agreed to marry me during Christmas break. Our entire courtship lasted four months.

At age 72, Peggy’s hair is still mostly brown; she weighs 138; wears no makeup; and gave up shaving her legs years ago (not that anyone would notice). She is a good judge of character; thinks clearly under duress; is soft-spoken but strong in her convictions; and speaks intelligently when dealing with doctors, mechanics, furnace repairmen, etc (she is currently atop the house getting an estimate for a new roof). She’s no longer shy; can’t be pushed into doing things she doesn’t want to do; and has never made a fool of herself—which is a lot more than I can say.

Lowell (age 7) 1956
Bad habits. Despite being a mild procrastinator, Peggy’s behavior is ruled by moderation and discipline. She has never used drugs or alcohol, while I’ve used quantities of both. She has a fondness for cookies, but bakes them with one-third the sugar.

Education. Peggy has a BS in science and a BS in nursing. I have a BS in elementary education, an AD in computers, and have completed several graduate-level courses in education. I’m also a certified nursing assistant and a private pilot. We are both licensed as emergency medical technicians.

Careers. Peggy has worked as a waitress, lab technician, high school science and math teacher, and registered nurse. I’ve worked as a writer, salesman, stock clerk, carpenter, handyman, phlebotomist, ambulance driver, funeral director, elementary school teacher, respiratory therapy technician, office furniture assembler, newspaper delivery man with a 110 mile route, and liaison between the University of Oregon and a building contractor. My extensive job experience was due to a lack of direction and a resentment of authority.

Morality. I consider Peggy rigid at times, whereas she regards my situational ethics as unethical. We are both outraged by criminals but Peggy
’s loathing is such that I worry about her getting killed while attacking a mugger or  burglar. We are mostly vegetarian (I eat fish), and we view nonhuman life as having the same value as human life. However, we have carnivores for pets, and we eat dairy and eggs, foods that result in the killing of young males and creatures who are past their peak productiveness.
Lowell and Peggy, 1971

Politics. We favor strict gun control laws, are environmentally conscious, vote Democratic, and support assisted suicide, abortion rights, and the death penalty. I’ve always voted, but Peggy first voted at age 36 in support of a ballot measure to legalize marijuana, a drug she never used. After Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2016, she began voting regularly and staying abreast of the news.

Personal Lives. We are frugal, orderly, live quietly, love our home, have few friends, spend most of our waking hours together, are intensely devoted to our five cats, and keep our house clean and our yard groomed. Our TV preferences lean toward the news of the day; biographies; nature documentaries; history documentaries; movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; and TV shows from the 50s and 60s. Peggy is a huge fan of the game show Jeopardy. The deed to our home and our investment accounts are so structured that either of us could clean the other out. When she goes traveling, I have humorous fantasies about her returning home to find her house sold, her bank account empty, and the cats and me gone. Surely, trust and intimacy are better represented by financial vulnerability than by hot sex, especially when the savings of a lifetime are on the line.

Consideration. I am by nature more aware than she of other people’s needs, and I count it a privilege to attend to her comfort and welfare without being asked. Peggy is less attune to the needs of others, and so I have to ask for what I want. Like most men, I feel diminished by asking for things. A month ago, I had a full shoulder replacement, and she has since excelled as an
attentive helpmate.

Peggy (age 21) 1972

I would give my life for Peggy, but I wouldn’t want her to do the same for me because I don’t consider it a woman’s place to die for her husband. However, my willingness to die for Peggy doesn’t mean that I would die with her. For example, if she were to fall into a fast moving river or be washed out to sea, I wouldn’t go in after her because I can barely swim. Fifteen years ago, our blue heeler, Bonnie, jumped into the Willamette, and as she was being carried downstream, Peggy yelled for me to go in after her. I would have died had I done so and because Bonnie was a strong swimmer I believed she would make it out on her own, which she did. Shortly afterwards, a woman drowned in the same river while trying to rescue two dogs. As did Bonnie, her dogs survived but, unlike Bonnie, their Mom was dead and they were homeless. I’ll be forever haunted by the knowledge that she gave her life for less than nothing.

Lowell (age 23) 1972
Hobbies. I was happy when Peggy started collecting clothing buttons in 1988 because I thought it would be an inexpensive and space-saving hobby. Now that she has entire legal-size file cabinets filled with thousands of buttons mounted on display cards, I see the situation differently. Likewise, every cabinet in our living room is stuffed with buttons, plus she has numerous wood and glass display cases that she designed and the two of us made. She belongs to five button-related organizations and is prominent at the local, state, and national levels of her hobby. As for me, I’m an avid reader of hundred-year-old novels and books about cats, rocks, and houseplants, most of which I buy for $3.29 at charity-run thrift stores.

Exercise. Peggy works out with dumbbells three days a week and takes long uphill walks on other days. My exercise consists of yardwork, housework, and an occasional two-hour walk on the slopes of nearby Mt. Pisgah.
Lowell and Peggy, 1973
Family. Peggy is close to her sisters who live in Mississippi and North Carolina, but finds it impossible to be close to her 93-year-old father who is respected in his church and community but incapable of intimacy. I have a sister in Mississippi and a half-sister in Florida with whom I exchange an occasional email but never see, and I have a half-brother in Texas with whom I never lived and have no relationship.

Travel. I have no interest in traveling more than fifty miles from home. Peggy takes three trips a year: one to visit family in Mississippi and North Carolina; one to the National Button Society Convention; and one to the Oregon State Button Society Convention. She’s afraid to fly but feels she must given how far she usually goes.

Phobias. Peggy is so scared of spiders that I worry about her wrecking the car if one should drop into her lap while driving. Upon seeing a spider at home, she screams for me to get it, and keeps screaming while I capture it with a Kleenex (damp Kleenexes work better) and carry it outdoors. What follows are her words in the order given: LOWELL! ...A spider! ...Come quick! ...Hurry! ...Get it! ...Don’t let it get away! and finally, Are you sure you got it?! Upon my assurance that she is finally safe from the multi-eyed betrayer of beautiful women, she shivers with dread at the thought of seeing the next one. I also take insects outside for her, not because she’s afraid, but because she might vacuum them up if I didn’t. Unlike Peggy, I have no phobias, although I worry a good bit about floods, earthquakes, and her safety every time she walks out the door.
Lowell (age 66) 2015

Religion. We were raised by religious parents in fundamentalist churches. Peggy was taken to church three times a week, and I attended four times—which was three times more than my parents. When I realized that I knew more about Peggy’s childhood religion than she did, I asked her how she spent all those thousands of hours in church, and she said she daydreamed. After leaving for college, she would have stopped attending church altogether had I not I encouraged her to join me in becoming an Episcopalian. Now that religion in America has become violent, xenophobic, pro-Trump, anti-democratic, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-science, pro-prosperity gospel, and anti-environment, we have become intensely hostile to any system of belief that elevates wishful thinking above objective evidence. However, Peggy and I differ in that the subject of religion bores her and fascinates me.
Profanity. Peggy seldom cursed before we
started playing 500-game backgammon tournaments, and her profanity increased when Trump became president. She now curses regularly, especially when she loses at backgammon (she also marks my arms with the red pen with which she keeps score, and on one occasion, rapped me on the head with her clipboard).

Health. Peggy is a diabetic, an insomniac, and a migraine sufferer. I take narcotics to alleviate chronic pain caused by injuries, arthritis, and a compressed vertebra.

Peggy (age 62) 2013
Sex. We haven’t had sex for years, and we sleep separaely; she in her green bedroom where she is surrounded by knick-knacks and button displays; and I in my pink bedroom which is decorated with rocks, potted plants, images of cats, and books about cats. My bedroom is my favorite place on earth, but because Peggy has a double bed, we cuddle in her bedroom for an hour and a half each morning before playing four games of backgammon and having breakfast at 2:30 p.m.

In conclusion. For most of our marriage, Peggy was the primary wage-earner (my disapproving mother called me “Peggy’s kept man”) while I did the cooking, cleaning, yard work, bill paying, investment management, occasional work for wages, and home improvement projects. Now that Peggy is retired, we share the workload according to what each prefers to do. We have never found it necessary to discuss who does what, and we seldom complain about how things are done. Our worst conflicts arise when we take on projects together, the reason being that Peggy is happiest when she
’s in charge, yet some of the things she wants to be in charge of are things that I know more about than she does, having done them professionally.

Our 52-year marriage has had many rough patches, but we remain strong in terms of trust, loyalty, commitment, and shared values regarding diet, cleanliness, orderliness, flexibility, money management, commitment to pets, and a mutual willingness to do our fair share of the work. Although Peggy is arguably more stable than I, she sometimes benefits from my steadying hand. It
’s a very good thing when one spouse can remain calm while the other is falling apart.