The story is apocryphal and it matters little. It is the iconographic rememberance of Aunt Peg, always the supporting actor but one who deserves an Academy Award for her performance. “Who’s askin’ Peg?” What is the meaning of Francis “Sam” Boyce without Margaret “Peggy” Boyce? Where is the center of gravity in an extended family strewn about the eastern third of the country. It is Aunt Peg. What loss is the most devastating for a family that has little left to lose of “the Greatest Generation.” Aunt Peg.
From her hospital bed she gathers the family to her and creates connections between us. Holding court in her tiny apartment with empty refrigerator and rented furniture, she commands our attention, our devotion, even while she waits almost impatiently for the thing she fears and, maybe, welcomes.
Her wit. The dry Walsh humor unscathed by her decaying body. Unintentionally making us laugh not at her but in amazement at her observations. Her truth.
She is the indespensible Aunt; Great Aunt; Great Great Aunt. The surrogate mother; grandmother; great grandmother. She rules by force of a gentle personality and peels away the layers of our own complex personalities until we discover at the core who we are; what we are; why we are. Devout. Devoted. Unselfish. Satisfied with a phone call but always asking when you will come to see her again. We feel her pull on us and know we will buy the airline ticket first and foremost to visit her.
For some reason we believe she will always be there, having cheated death so convincingly that her family liquidates her belongings thinking she will never need them again. Never leave the health unit at her care facility. And they are wrong. Thus the rented furniture. But she doesn’t care. It is all temporary. She knows it even when we don’t or won’t admit; cant admit.
She has always been there in her Mayfair living room staring out her bow window across the heads of her Hummels at the quiet neighborhood around which a bustling city has grown before her eyes. Standing ready to throw the levers of her time machine taking us backward or forward to relive whatever moment of our lives that we wish.
She is there in the back of “Uncle Sam’s” toy store, holding up the item a customer wants to buy. Like all things in her husband’s eclectic emporium it has no price marked on it. She has always been left with the impossible task of sorting it all out. Delivering receipts in a shoebox to their harried accountant. Paying bills. Doing some of the bookkeeping for which she has training but for which no human being can possibly be prepared. She holds up the item and yells: “How much Sam?” Without turning the proprietor responds simply: “Who’s askin’ Peg?” And as that exchange of words is completed, we stand as one and cheer. A “standing O.” The screen dims. The lights come up. And Tom Hanks offers the posthumous award. We cheer wildly rushing the stage. Best Supporting Actress in a Lifetime Role. Best and Favorite Aunt.