Previously, Matt left his job to find new work as a lawyer, and then promptly messed up his knee, playing basketball, and then he had knee surgery…
A string of fifty-degree days hit Chicago last week, finally melting the snow and ice that had made it difficult for me (and my surgically repaired left knee) to hobble around the block.
With spring in the air late Friday afternoon, I decided to go for a walk while the sun was still shining. Before heading outside, I opened my first-floor closet door to grab a light jacket. In the back of that closet, I spotted an old cane that was sandwiched between some winter coats.
Looking for any excuse to ditch my crutches, I pulled out the gun-metal gray cane, which looked to be a standard-issue medical supply store device, and quickly adjusted its length to fit my frame.
It was when I made that adjustment that I noticed the identification sticker on the cane:
Margaret M. Cunningham–7422 N. Oakley Ave.Chicago, IL 60645-1910
I first met Peg Cunningham about thirteen years ago, shortly after my family moved into our house in West Rogers Park. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and Peg had just parked her silver Toyota in front of the house two doors west of ours. She got out of the car and began unloading some groceries that were in her trunk.
I was sitting on my front steps strumming an acoustic guitar. I’d not yet met all my neighbors, so I walked over to Peg and introduced myself. Since she looked to be in her early eighties, I also asked if I could help carry her groceries.
So began a wonderful friendship.
Peg & Samantha…
As we carried her bags into the house, Peg told me she didn’t live there. Her younger sister did. Peg, however, grew up in that house before World War II and had lived there until she got married.
She told me she still lived in the neighborhood, five or six blocks from me, and regularly visited her sister, who was battling dementia and was able to remain in the house only because she had full-time nursing care.
Peg and I talked for almost an hour. She told me she was a retired CPS teacher. Her kids were grown and she now lived by herself, having been widowed some twenty years earlier.
She was a charming woman. I fell for her immediately. She was smart, funny and kind. I gave her my phone number and told her she could count on my wife and me if she or her sister ever needed help.
From that point on, we saw Peg on our block once or twice a week until late 2006, when her sister passed away. By then, my wife and I had grown quite close to Peg, who had also taken a serious liking to my youngest daughter, Samantha, who was four years old.
Over the next five years, Peg became a fixture in our lives – a frequent dining companion, a regular at my music gigs, and (for all practical purposes) another grandmother to my youngest daughter. Peg knew she could call our house at all hours if she ever needed anything.
As Samantha got older, she and Peg became thick as thieves. Peg and Samantha would regularly urge my wife and me to go out on Friday or Saturday night just to provide an excuse for Samantha to stay overnight at Peg’s house.
I never figured out whether Peg or Samantha had more fun on those overnight visits. Peg taught Samantha how to play poker. Samantha taught Peg how to use the internet. The two of them played the piano, watched old movies, and always had a ball together.
In January 2012, Peg phoned me on a frigid Saturday morning because she wanted to go to the hospital. My family and I raced over to her house. When we got there, Peg was dressed and ready to go. She looked weak and was hardly able to stand, even with the aid of a cane.
I tried to get her from the front door of her house to my car, but she was too frail to walk, and the ground was too icy for me to carry her. I called the fire department and an ambulance brought Peg to the hospital. My wife and my daughter took her cane and her purse and headed home. I took her keys and her wallet, called her son (who lived in the far north suburbs), and followed the ambulance to the hospital.
Peg passed away in that hospital a few days later. I was honored to be a pallbearer at her funeral. Samantha still has a handwritten note from Peg on her desk. The woman was one-of-a-kind, and my family and I talk about her often.
And until last Friday afternoon, I had no idea Peg’s cane was in my house. It made my slow-motion walk around the block extra special.
Editor’s Note: Matt‘s last post for The Third City was The Unemployment Diaries–Part Five.
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