Little Bitty Lady, Huge Impact on My Life
Peggy Ashcraft walked into my life in 1988 when I was 20 years old and a second-year contestant at the Miss Louisiana Pageant. The pageant organization is comprised of volunteers, and Peggy served for many years as a hostess. The hostesses at Miss Louisiana are responsible for 2-3 contestants during pageant week, driving them to and from events, helping them carry their belongings back and forth - basically being their surrogate mom-away-from-home. Peggy was assigned to be my hostess the year I competed as Miss Shreveport, and although I competed another two years after that and was assigned different ladies to be my hostesses for those years, Peggy never stepped out of my life. She kept her feet, and her heart, firmly planted in my life until the day her sweet spirit left the earth.
Peggy came in at about 4 foot 10, and probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, but she had the biggest personality of anyone I've ever known. I've seen her animatedly angry -- sometimes at the injustices of the world, but more often after LSU football games when the team didn't play well -- and I've seen her laugh until tears ran down her face. While you might think someone as small in stature as Peggy would be meek, she was anything but. She feared nothing (that I'm aware of), was a staunch supporter of her two sons, her husband, her family, and of me, and would speak her mind always.
And boy, could she cook! I stayed at Peggy's house many times, typically in June when I would travel back to Monroe to attend or entertain at the Miss LA pageant when my competing days were over. I had a specific bedroom in Peggy and her husband Wyche's house where I would stay, and upon my arrival I would always find a month's worth of my favorite chocolate candy bars waiting for me on the dresser, which was always a sweet surprise. But that didn't compare to the heavenly plates of deliciousness that Peggy would cook and serve at suppertime. The woman was blessed with the gift of turning any food item into something that could compete with any professional chef anywhere. My favorite was her veal... I just cannot begin to describe it. She'd serve it with fettuccine and bacon-wrapped green beans. And because she knew how much I loved it, she'd cook extra so I could take some home with me. She was awesome like that.
** Side note -- She also cooked desserts and knew how much I loved chocolate. Back in the days of my competing in pageants, I actually had an issue with losing too much weight during competitions due to nervousness and not being able to eat. Peggy knew this, and when I won the title of Miss Louisiana and lived in Monroe for the few months leading up to the Miss America competition, she would make pans of chocolate brownies and sneak them to me in my apartment every couple of weeks. That's how great she was. **
She knew how much I loved her cooking, so one year for Christmas she made me a cookbook of all her favorite recipes. The fact that she went to all that trouble and took the time to hand write all of those pages, all of that detail, so that I could try to replicate those meals in my own kitchen (and trust me, "try" is the operative word here) is such a testament to the lengths she would go for those she cared about. I will forever treasure that cookbook filled with her handwriting and love.
Peggy has known my daughter, Emily, since her birth; she has been there for good and bad times in my life; she even opened her home to my little brother, Erick, when he had a job in Monroe, and let him live with them for a while. She was at both my weddings and signed the marriage certificate as a witness for my second one. She attended all of my shows, always asked about my family, and constantly kept in touch. I can still hear her voice saying my name, I can hear her laugh and I can see her standing at her stove in the kitchen. I always told people she was like my adopted mom. I have a great mom and a step-mother who is a good friend, so there was never a need for anyone to step into a motherly role for me. But Peggy did it anyway. She chose me. She picked me to fill that little place in her life, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I miss my friend. But I know I will see her again, and I can't wait to once again sit at the table, eat a meal and laugh with her. I am grateful to her husband, Wyche, and their sons, Chris and Fletch, for sharing Peggy with me. And I cherish the memories we made that will be forever in my heart.
Peggy Tipton Ashcraft
November 3, 1937 - February 9, 2018