Sunday, November 8, 2015

Holy Cross High School, Class of 1965, 50th Reunion

My high school classmates convened this weekend to celebrate our fiftieth reunion.  We were asked to write about our most memorable moments in the last fifty years.  Here is what I wrote.

After graduation from Holy Cross several events stand out in my life over the last fifty years. The first is the day the acceptance letter arrived from Stanford University. I remember that it came earlier than I had expected and that I held it in my hand for some time afraid to open it. Stanford was the defining experience in my life, I think, more so than High School, although without the foundation that I was given by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, I could never have gone there. As a transfer student (from Foothill), I never lived on campus, but I made life-long friends through the St. Ann Choir, a Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphonic Choir that still sings in Palo Alto. A degree with honors in Medieval History still decorates the inside of one of my drawers somewhere. The picture was taken around the time that I began studying at Stanford.

The second is the day that the acceptance letter arrived from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Again, an early letter which I held in my hand and then finally opened. As I pondered whether to go or stay, one of the people who had written a recommendation letter, Fr. Robert Giguere, said, “Peggy it is a very great honor and very prestigious, but you don't have to go.” I went.

In the first quarter there I attended a lecture by a visiting theologian given at the OI (Oriental Institute) because our school, the Divinity School located in Swift Hall, did not have a room large enough to accommodate the crowd. I remember entering the huge foyer of the OI and looking up to the carving above the doors. James Henry Breasted Memorial Hall the letters read. The hair prickled on the nape of my neck. I had come full circle from Sister Peter Damian's Religion History class to the place where the foremost Egyptologist of his time and author of the book we had used had, to paraphrase the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer “lived and moved and had his being.” As a further note, when I told Papa about this while I was home at Christmas, my father recognized the name of the theologian. Turns out he had known the man before he became a priest—when they were both graduate students in Mathematics at Ohio State. It is always a small world!

Sometimes I wish I had stayed here. At the time I believed that I was truly called to active ministry but not to be a member of a religious order. I thought that I would most likely become an Episcopalian, but in the end could not. Sometimes, especially when I am reading Jan Karon's wonderful novels about Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh, I wish I had become an Episcopalian.

Instead, I returned home after passing doctoral qualifying exams. That day and the whole process of preparation for those exams are two more outstanding memories in my life. Graduation from Chicago with my father and younger sister (Patricia Manor Pierce, HCHS 1969) attending was another outstanding moment. I remember at Convocation holding my degree in my hands at the end of the ceremony as the president proclaimed, “Welcome to the community of scholars.” The event was marred by sadness though, for even as we celebrated and we went on to Toledo for a visit where I got to meet my niece for the first time (I had met her older brother in previous visits) we missed Mama who had died a few months earlier after a courageous and cheerful battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The picture at the left shows me at the pulpit at Bond Chapel. The closest I ever came to preaching!

I came back to California expecting to work and carve out a career after spending so much time enjoying school. Unfortunately, post-polio syndrome, also known as post-polio sequalae was already catching up to me. By the late eighties I was also developing serious arthritis in my hips and spine so that the doctor who diagnosed post-polio advised me that I should begin using a wheelchair alternating with my crutches.

Coming home from Chicago after not driving for the better part of six years also found me without the ability for independent mobility. I could no longer drive. I needed hand-controls, which should have been a simple solution, but no amount of research or number of phone calls yielded the information that I needed—where to buy them. I was stranded in the island that would soon become Silicon Valley. Today, of course, the internet would solve the problem in a few simple searches. What I needed was a good occupational therapist.

It wasn't until 2010, when an emergency hospitalization brought me to Valley Medical Center's Spinal Cord Injury Unit (also known as Rehab One) that I was to meet a truly great Occupational Therapist and a whole team of caregivers who taught me how to use the equipment that paraplegics use. I spent almost three weeks there and it was the closest that I have ever come to a real vacation. Today I live my life on wheels—a power wheel chair that allows me to get around in my neighborhood—Hobee's, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, a lovely Chinese restaurant and most important a lovely new grocery store, Fresh and Easy. After decades of being house bound I can go outside and enjoy the flowers and trees and a walk with a friend, and even her dog—never mind that I am still sitting as we proceed. The picture to the left was taken in the Spring of 2011.

In the interval I had tried everything that I could think of to maintain some independence. For several years in the 1980's I grew what seemed like a zillion seedlings—it was really only several thousand—primarily tomatoes and peppers for Common Ground in Palo Alto. I was trying to have a very small business, what today I call, and I think I have seen the term used by others—a micro business. I researched flowers and herbs, their meanings in the language of flowers and their uses. A few years ago I resurrected this business and am enjoying selling on Etsy, potpourri and sachets that are natural, symbolic and very pretty. There are several natural moth and ant repellent mixtures for fiber stashes and kitchen cupboards. I also make custom labels for fiber artists, to their specifications.  (In reality I never made it past the "I'm having so much fun I don't know how much money I am losing" stage of turning  a hobby into a business.  The draconian constraints of the institutionalized poverty of disability benefits, have not helped any of this, of course. That would be another blog post, or maybe several.)

In High School, I taught myself to sew, a few years later I took a wonderful knitting class at the Mountain View Sears store with my mother who wanted to learn to knit, but didn't want to go out after dark alone. The teacher taught us how to knit a sweater and that project pretty much gave us all the basics of the craft. I still have the sweater—wish I could still fit into it! I can no longer embroider as the fine hand movements are gone, but knitting and sewing, cooking and reading occupy my time.

This year I also put in a garden again so that interest has come full circle. All in containers so that I can tend it, it has rewarded me immeasurably not only with delicious food, but the peace and joy of being in it. Making a meal based on what I find in my own garden has given me a profound sense of connection to my ancestors, especially all those who were farmers.

Please come find me on Facebook, on my Etsy shop and on my blog I look forward to reading your stories of the last fifty years.

1 comment:

Linda Woods taylor said...

Beautiful, Marguerite!