Into the Mystic



Standing: Dorothy, Margaret, Frank, John, Agnes, Wynell, Faye. Seated: Joann, Bonnie Rae (Mom), Carol


The Peacocks are almost gone.  With my Aunt Wynell’s death on Friday night,  just Frank and Carol are left now.  Hearing the news, I am caught off guard by the returning ache of loss.  It feels like losing more of Mom , and I have been made melancholy by the memories flooding back to haunt me.

When my Dad  married my mother the year before I was born, he immediately moved her from her desert home in Arizona to live in the shadow of the everlasting hills (and the snow) of rural Utah.  He may not have anticipated how homesick she would always be.  Isn’t it ironic? We leave home like escapees from prison, only to discover from a new perspective all that we have left behind.  The realization that in some ways we can NEVER go home again makes it even more bittersweet and beautiful as we grow.
In magical summers long gone by, Mom, my younger sister Katy Jo and I would ride the Greyhound bus nearly 700 miles to the Peacock Family Reunion.  We rode all night, stopping in every cow town along the way, only to arrive tired and wilted in the Phoenix heat.  The Peacock gatherings were big in every way.  Big personalities, big laughter and big talking sessions… often into the wee hours of the morning.  Mom’s delight at being home again among her family was palpable and I knew there would be lots of tears when it came time to leave. 
Here is how I will remember each of Mom’s siblings:
Dorothy:  Friendly, welcoming and hospitable…everyone congregated at her home.  Smoked like a train.  Had a laugh that made me laugh.  Came with cute cousins; a bonus.
Margaret:  Elegant and pretty…great clothes.  She wore the most fantastic turquoise jewelry, and was crazy in love with her handsome husband, Johnny.  Smart, reserved and clever.
Frank:  Handsome with a voice that boomed.   He took over the energy of any room he was in.  Severely burned when he crashed his plane while crop-dusting.  Even without ears, he was charming and had an unforgettable swagger.

John:  The quiet, serious brother.  Chose to see himself as an outcast…strong opinions and really thick glasses.
Agnes:  Old-fashioned beautiful; extremely proper.  Spoke slowly with a melodic Alabama drawl.  The quintessential kind, genteel southern woman.  
Wynell:  Outspoken and blunt.  Smoked in public and later in private; lied about it. Way ahead of Madonna with her large pointy bras….we called them “torpedoes”.  Talking to Wynell was similar to the Spanish Inquisition.  She was going to ask the questions and you were going to answer. 
Faye:  Sweet, beautiful Faye suffered from some sort of mental illness that was never spoken about; at least not to us kids.  She would wander, sedated from room to room, and we were kept mostly away.  Her husband, Ernest always wore a coat, even in 100-plus degree heat and was a rock hound.  I met him once and his gentle kindness still lingers.
 
Joann:  The fashion-model with a smart-ass attitude to match her looks. Charismatic and funny. She came to pick us up from the bus station once in a multicolored pantsuit with horizontal stripes.  She turned heads and  jaws dropped.  She was scandalous and outspoken and loved every minute of it!

Carol:  The quiet, rich sister.  Married to a Montana oil man, she was shy and always seemed to be running from the poverty she had come from.  We saw her the most; but I knew the least about her. She and Mom were kindred spirits, far from home and family.  She is also the last remaining daughter of John and Katie Mae Peacock.

Knowing them all changed me.  These unique, flawed, wonderfully interesting people shaped my attitudes about family and togetherness.  I watched and learned as my mother loved and forgave them.  They were her touchstones for growth and her way to measure how far from the house by the train tracks she had come.  
Today I miss Mom with a renewed, but familiar pain.  I understand more than ever her longing for family and reunions; in this life and in our hope for what comes after.  
These are the spirits who welcomed Mom when she left us.

I like to think of them together now; returned again to their prime, just the way they were those summers so long ago. 

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9/11: A Survivor’s Request

When my husband Ron came home Tuesday night from his Beer Crawl, his eyes were red.  Moved by a simple request, he wrote an e-mail and sent it to everyone he could think of. With his permission, I have included it here:  
 I recently befriended a New York City ex-pat who now calls Utah home.  Eddie O’ is a mountain of a man standing about 6 foot 4 inches tall with not an ounce of fat on his chiseled body.  Eddie fills a room both with his mere physical presence and his Irish-New York brogue.
 
Eddie, Ray, Ken and I get together every other Wednesday to share a few drinks, laugh at each others old jokes, and regale one another with tales from our past. 

 

Ray is a local businessman from here in Salt Lake City. Ken works with me at Sportsman’s Warehouse but he has previously worked around the world as a member of the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic corp.  Angie claims he was in the CIA; a fact Ken has never denied. 
 
But it was Eddie who dominated the discussion at this week’s gathering as none of us could top the tales he unveiled.   Oh I forgot to mention;  Eddie O’ is a retired New York City fireman. He was in the lobby of the twin towers as first one then the other tower crumbled around him ten years ago this Sunday. 

 

As a member of Fire Company 22, Eddie was enjoying the clear fall New York morning on the upper end of Manhattan when he decided to turn on the television.  That was when he first heard about the events taking place 5 miles away at the World Trade Center.  Moments later the All-Call came in summoning his battalion and all other fire companies in the city to what would soon be termed Ground Zero.  Upon his arrival Eddie said there was no other way to describe what he saw other than “Hell on Earth”!
 
 

 

Entering the lobby area between the two towers Eddie described the chaos and din of emergency personnel doing whatever they could to help whoever they could.  The one overriding sound he heard was the thud of bodies hitting the canopy covering the lobby.  As a veteran firefighter he knew the choice these people were making.  Knowing they were going to die anyway, they opted to jump, rather than suffer the torture of the flames.  Eddie was told to report to the 75th floor staging area in tower 2 and help with the evacuation process. 
 
A devout Irish Catholic, Eddie turned to see the Fire Department Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge who was also in the lobby offering last rites to victims as they were being hauled out of the fiery towers. 
 
It was then Eddie made a decision that probably saved his life.  Seeing a rolling food cart which had probably been set up for an early morning business meeting somewhere in the Trade Center towers, he chose to drop his secondary air tank figuring if he was going to climb 75 stories he would rather not carry the tank and instead he began filling his pockets with bottles of water he found on the cart.  

 

As he stood out of the main passageway filling his pockets with the water, a low rumbling sound was heard, and then it was felt.  He looked across the lobby just as a huge chunk of debris struck Father Judge in the head.  The Chaplain was later certified as the first fatality of the 9/11 attacks. 
 
Eddie didn’t have but a few seconds to realize what he had just witnessed before the lobby filled with 110 stories worth of debris.  The forceful rush of the onslaught ripped through Eddie stripping him of his gear knocking him every which way and leaving him no longer a rescuer, but a victim.  
 
As he told us this story he said he does not know how he survived or who pulled him to safety but with his Irish accent becoming a little more pronounced he said “Fellas, for the past ten years I have been living on borrowed time.”   
 
 It wasn’t until March of 2002 that Eddie’s helmet was found in the rubble of the twin towers… it’s shield a twisted piece of metal. That shield now resides as the centerpiece of a plaque featuring all the shields from Eddie’s different company assignments while with the FDNY.  
 

 

Eddie never returned to the fire department.  He accepted a healthy settlement from the city of New York and quietly retired.  But quiet does not describe Eddie O’s life.  For the past decade, after coming so close to death, Eddie lives like he was dying.  He hikes, he skis, and travels the world.  He does not just exist, he lives!

 

Eddie won’t be in New York on Sunday.  He made that pilgrimage last week.  He went to the reflecting pools which now sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers.  He visited his old station and saw the jerseys of his fallen comrades hanging on the walls.  It was too much for him.  He quickly excused himself and fled the building…stumbling onto the steps of the nearby Lincoln Center where he broke down and cried.   Eddie will be in Seattle on Sunday marking the day with an old friend who lost her firefighter fiancé in the attack. 
 
But Eddie asked us all to do one thing for him. 

 

With trembling hands, this man giant fought to hold back the tears as he reached into his fanny pack and pulled out several small pieces of paper. He handed one to each of us and asked that at sometime on Sunday we read the prayer found on the paper.  It was written by his good friend and fellow victim, Father Mychal F. Judge. 
 
I am asking that each of you also take a few seconds on Sunday to read the Chaplain’s words and remember those who perished in the 9/11 attacks on America.