Photo by Marty Kittrell
Miss Peg Ogletree has a little place just outside of town, on the old homeplace owned by her family for generations. She’s the last of the lot now, with her only brother lost in Vietnam at nineteen---just three months between the time he stepped off that plane into the smothering heat, and the time his metal box was slid into the cargo hold of another for the trip home.
Chunks of the farm have been sold off bit by bit when times got hard in years past, slowly eroding the borders down to the twenty acres surrounding the house and creek like edges of a melting floe, until only her small island of green and flowers was left. She owns the place, free and clear, along with four dogs, a windmill pump, two tractors, a ten-year-old red GMC pickup and a little waterfall brimming the creek.
She is a wiry, wire-haired Sixtyish woman, in loose-butted jeans and a checked shirt smelling of Ivory Snow and clothesline drying; she scrapes her flyaway hair back in a severe ponytail every morning, pinning the ends under into a neat bun, but by day’s end, after seeing to the chores all day, running the little tractor with the bush-hog for cutting the several-acre lawn, chasing two escaped chickens out of the melon-patch, and hoeing out the pole beans and the squash hills, the springy tendrils have escaped and sprung into a sunlit silver halo around her head. Her skin is sun-browned, with an astonishing lack of wrinkles for her age and her outdoor activities; her eyes are a backlit icy blue, with a glint of interest and easy amusement.
She plays the old gap-toothed piano which sits in the end of her dining room---the old foot-patting Baptist Hymns, smooth waltzes from times ago, like Let me Call you Sweetheart and The Band Played On and Que Sera, Sera, and always, the piece that she played in her Senior Recital in High School. It was her Daddy’s favorite, and he had whistled the tune almost every day of her life, as he drove through the fields, moved irrigation pipe, worked in his workshop.
She’d requested the music months early, to surprise him at her final recital, for he’d not missed a one during all her years of piano lessons. He’d hurry home from the field after she and her Mother had left for the school, pulling into the long gravel drive to the welcoming yodels of his three hounds. He’d sit briefly at the kitchen table, quickly eating the plate of supper left for him, then get a quick shower and a splash from the heavy white Old Spice bottle. He’d put on fresh khaki pants and a short-sleeved white shirt, get his hat from its closet shelf, and be back out the door in less than twenty minutes.
Mr. Ogletree would enter the auditorium hat in hand, nodding to friends and neighbors. He’d take an aisle seat on the far back row, just waiting out the first dozen or so pupils, enduring the 1-2-3 Waltz and the Mexican Hat Dance and, if there happened to be a boy amongst the performers, there was sure as shootin’ to be a startling version of Halls of Montezuma never before heard by any Marine living or fallen in battle. So far, Mr. Ogletree had heard nine of those interpretations, and winced every time for the battering of the notes and the tempo.
He’d squirm a bit in the hard flip-seat where he’d sat in his own schooldays, waiting for the moment she’d appear in the light of the stage---his GIRL.
And all those lessons, all that practice with the repetition of the same drilled scales competing with the sounds of What’s My Line and Lawrence Welk, all the recital dresses commissioned twice a year or shopped for in TOWN by her Mama with the discrimination and care of selecting a wedding gown, all the times she’d needed ferrying to Mrs. Carpenter’s house for Saturday lessons---those moments all melted into a shine surrounding his Girl, as she smiled and sat down and began to play. Just for him.
It was Stardust, all nine pages of the special arrangement, all learned in afternoons and Saturdays and times when her Daddy was out of the house, practiced furtively, with the pages of music whisked immediately away into her sock drawer so he would be surprised at the performance.
And he was---he sat there looking down that long straight center aisle at her in the golden light of the stage, as she played the first few notes, drinking in the melody of a song he’d only heard on the radio and television. And played, for HIM, by his child. No one noticed when he reached unobtrusively into his hip pocket for his handkerchief, or when he wiped his eyes.
It was a moment of moments in his life, one of those experiences seared into the consciousness with the golden hue which had surrounded his meeting her Mother, and of Peg’s own birth.
And years later, as his family gathered around his bed for his last moments, the strains of Stardust drifted into the room, as softly as the Spring wind stirring the pale curtains---his Peg at the piano, playing her Daddy Home.