I had the privilege of delivering the eulogy at my mother’s celebration of life that took place at St. John’s church in Sandwich on April 19, 2017. Perhaps you’ve read the memoir that spurred this website… perhaps not (available here on Amazon). If you have, you already know the essence of my mother, Peggy Pola, as well as my father Carlo. If you haven’t read the memoir, I hope you’ll get to know her just a bit from the text that follows.
Margaret (Peggy) Pola
May 15, 1920 ~ March 27, 2017
My mother loved Saint Johns. Being here is so special, gathered under this roof, in a place that has offered much shelter and comfort to the Pola family over the years. In one way or another, each and every one of you here today has a connection to Peggy Pola. Gathering in her memory, as a family and as a community, it is clear that we were blessed to have her among us.
I was especially lucky to have been ballast for my mother as she navigated the choppy waters of old age—she began to call me her anchor though, believe me, it was she who anchored me, not the other way around. For close to a decade, over and over again, she and I would hear doctors and nurses and receptionists declare at every appointment, “You’re remarkable for your age.” It became a joke between us, we heard those words so often. But what was left unsaid was that Peggy Pola was remarkable at any age.
Like so many of her contemporaries, she had few needs and even fewer wants. She was the epitome of the Greatest Generation. A child of the Great Depression, she was an economist and a recycler before it become fashionable. I still can’t throw out a plastic bag without wondering whether I should rinse it out and use it again — just one of the many life lessons she left us with. She was the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments and Miss Manners all rolled into one — and yet she didn’t think she was anything special at all, forever insisting that the pedestal we’d put her on was much too high for her own comfort. I had to disagree, and seeing you all here today proves the point: Peggy Pola was a woman worth looking up to.
Most of all, my mother was a practical person. To give you an example: Lately, you might have read of studies that conclude Facebook causes depression in some people, like one of those over-zealous Christmas letters that makes the reader feel totally inadequate. A few years ago, I’d found myself at the golf course for an early morning tee time. I began to unload my clubs, only to look down and see that I’d arrived wearing mismatched black shoes. I snapped a picture and posted it, thinking a little self-deprecating humor was a good thing—the opposite of a braggadocios posting—that would instead say, “See, none of us are perfect, and that’s OK.” But my mother didn’t take it like that. In all seriousness, she later admonished me, “It serves you right for having more than one pair of shoes.” She was that practical.
Though she’d been a little girl raised with more than a bit of privilege and polish, with matching hats and coats and white gloves and high tea, material things were of little importance to her. She kept a house—in fact she ruled her house, and with nine kids that was no simple feat—but she didn’t decorate it with material things. Instead, she cultivated relationships—with her family, with friends and with her community. When I think of all the lives she’s touched, I envision a daisy chain of construction paper loops in brilliant colors, simply crafted, her love the glue that holds the links together.
My mother was a great communicator. She had the same pen pal for over 60 years and visited her in Hawaii after all that time. When they lived in the Far East in the 20s and 30s, her family welcomed servicemen for Sunday dinners and she kept in touch with at least one of those men for many decades until his death. In their travels, he and my father made friends all over the world: a fisherman in Maine, a couple with whom they caravanned to the Yucatan Peninsula, and many others—she stayed in touch with everyone. It distressed her that in the last few months of her life, she’d fallen behind on her correspondence. She might have done better but that darn new computer sure put a crimp in her style. And when she outlived almost every one of her contemporaries, she cultivated friendships with their children. Her Facebook list of friends was evidence of that.
She had a prayer list that grew longer and longer and she recently had said to me, she wondered how she had time to sleep. She gave of herself so often, it’s amazing that there was enough of her to last almost 97 years.
So, the next time you find yourself on a quest to buy that metaphorical pair of shoes you don’t really need, think of Peggy Pola. Think about the things that really matter. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Write a note to someone you’ve missed. Maybe just sit for a moment and watch the birds she loved so much. I guarantee, you’ll find yourself a little bit richer—and you’ll understand the wisdom behind the rich and fulfilling life my mother led.