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Peggy Jean

Today marks a day in my life that has come and gone for over sixty years, and each year, on May 29th, I can’t help but think about the sister I never knew. On this date, 70 years ago, Peggy Jean Harper was born to my mom and dad.

Reflecting upon Peggy Jean, I am filled with a sense of longing and curiosity. Peggy Jean’s life was heartbreakingly brief—only 192 days. Six months and eight days. She succumbed to pneumonia, an illness that took her from this world far too soon. She was the second child of my parents, Jesse, and Marguerite Harper, following my eldest sister, Nellie, born in August 1947. Three years after Peggy Jean’s passing, my parents had another daughter, Patty, born in May 1957, and then I entered the world, the only boy, in September 1960.

I've always wondered about Peggy Jean—this little girl who existed in our family for such a short time, undoubtedly left a lasting imprint. I imagine what life would have been like had she survived. Would she have been kinder to me than my other sisters? It's a whimsical thought, rooted in the typical sibling rivalry that defines many childhoods. Would she have been the smart, high-achieving one, a beacon of excellence that the rest of us looked up to? Or perhaps she would have been a tomboy, energetically challenging the neighborhood kids to races, her laughter echoing as she outran and outjumped everyone in sight.

In my musings, I picture her as pretty, perhaps even the kind of girl who would have turned heads at school, capturing the attention and hearts of many. Would she have married a wonderful guy, started a family, and added to the vibrant celebrations of our family gatherings like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas? If Peggy Jean had lived, the dynamic of our family would undoubtedly have been different. I sometimes wonder if my parents would have felt their family was complete with the three girls and perhaps never tried for a boy—meaning that I might never have been born. My very existence hung in the balance of her brief life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren trace directly back to that loss.

Parents who lose a child are forever changed, their lives altered in ways that are both profound and enduring. The fact that Peggy Jean was a part of our family, even for just those 192 days, brought immense joy to my parents and sister Nellie. Her death must have cast a heavy shadow, one that reverberated through their hearts and souls, shaping their futures in ways both seen and unseen. Losing a child is a tragedy that leaves a mark, an emotional reminder of what might have been.

How would my life be different if Peggy Jean had lived? That's a question that has haunted and fascinated me in equal measure. Would I have been impacted by her personality, actions, and presence in ways I cannot fathom? Imagining us growing up together, I wonder if we would have been close. Would she have been a confidante, an ally, someone I could turn to through the ups and downs of life? The sibling bond can be a source of immense strength and comfort, and perhaps hers would have been a guiding light for me.

As I near 64, with my sisters now 67 and 77, I can't help but wonder how our relationships would have been shaped if we’d had another sister turning 70 this year. The dynamic would be different, but how so? Would Peggy Jean have been the mediator, the one who brought us all together, or perhaps the trailblazer who set a path for us to follow? None of these questions have answers, but the speculation highlights how significant her presence would have been in the fabric of our family life.

In tender moments of reflection, I believe that Peggy Jean would have brought a richness to our lives. My parents always spoke of how she brightened their days during her short time with them, and easy though it is to romanticize a life that was never lived, I truly believe that her existence would have enhanced our lives in countless ways. Even though we never met, I feel a connection to her, a sense that she is a part of me and our family history.

As a child, you can't fully grasp the depth of such a loss, but the weight of those emotions becomes clearer as an adult. It must have been incredibly difficult for my parents to navigate such grief, and I can only hope that my existence and that of my sisters provided some comfort and solace. The resilience and steadfastness with which they carried on, embracing life despite their sorrow, is a testament to their strength.

As I write these words, it's clear that Peggy Jean Harper’s brief life is not forgotten. She remains a special figure in my thoughts, a sister I never knew but whose presence I feel. Her short existence underscores the fragility of life and the ripple effect of love and loss throughout a family. While her time was fleeting, it undoubtedly shaped the people my parents became and, by extension, the people we are today.

As I think about Peggy Jean’s brief journey, I am reminded of the preciousness of every moment and the enduring power of love. Her memory is a silent yet powerful testimony to the importance of remembering and honoring those we've lost, regardless of how short their time with us might have been.

Peggy Jean Harper, my beautiful dear sister, you are not forgotten. Your memory lives on in my heart, a gentle reminder of the threads that connect us all through time and space, until we meet in Heaven.

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