Remembering Big Peggy
The gardens of Athens will never be the same after losing one of its most vibrant flowers
Life is a garden…and she could really dig it. Her recent death leaves a void in the landscapes of the lives she touched. Margaret Banner Allen was a remarkable Southern lady whose spirit was as vibrant and pervasive as the wisteria in bloom all over Athens. She had a style all her own. A personal style envied by some, emulated by others, inspiring to all, but never duplicated.
As I welcome spring this year, my yard is my favorite place to mingle with the souls of Peggy and my mother. They were the dearest of friends. They both loved gardens, and passed their talents on to my generation. Both were transplants to post-World War II Athens. Mama from Missouri. Peggy from Texas. And through the years they both came to embrace Athens as home. They raised children together, survived many sad times, reveled in joyful events, contributed to the community unselfishly and left legacies that are comparable to none.
Peggy lived a long, productive life. She spread beauty as lavishly as Paula Deen spreads butter. As a child, I loved it when Mama would put me in the car and say, “We’re going to see Peggy, Meggie.” To be in her company was simply the most uplifting experience one can imagine.
One of my last memories of her happened only a short time before her death. I was given the privilege of presenting the eulogy at the funeral of our mutual friend, Baba DuPree. Having had trouble hearing the oration, she called me a few weeks later and invited me to lunch with a small group of friends. And her special request, delivered by Chad Erwin, was for a print out of my presentation. Happy to oblige, I was so glad I had saved it on my computer. And took it with me to The National. Never did I dream that she would request a command performance –but she did. The encore took place, and we all were embraced with our love and friendship of Baba and each other.
The day before her memorial service at Emmanuel Episcopal, my friend Ann Cabaniss stopped by to see me. As we chatted in my driveway about how much we would miss Peggy, a huge butterfly – one I had never seen before – similar to a Monarch, but ten times more striking in color and wing-pattern – flew out of the sky and lit on a pot of pansies at our feet. It lingered way longer than we could believe. Our teary eyes connected and we both smiled, knowing it was truly a sign that Peggy would never leave us entirely. Her spirit inhabits my own yard.
Now, Peggy was a real dirt-digging, pine tag-toting, weed-pulling gardener. Her yards were abundant with eye-popping beauty. And she always wore a wonderful little straw chapeau – to work in the yard, to church, to garden club…it was her “signature” accessory. So, in her honor I found a little topper at Target and tarted it up, Peggy style, to wear to the memorial service. It now officially serves as my garden lid, and I love it. But not as much as I loved her.
Hats off to Peggy, I know my Mama is glad to see her once more.