This is the story of the miracle peaches. It’s a true story. It happened nearly thirty years ago in Atlanta, and it began in a cramped, window-less room full of telephones.
In a simpler world in early spring, everybody and anybody who wanted to work in the theatre flocked to Atlanta for the regional auditions. Georgia was a right to work state, no union cards required, and word was you could get a job there, get your foot in the door; if worse came to worse, you’d make a few connections. So, I called a friend and arranged some housing, and off I went to join the pilgrimage south.
Early in the week, I felt good about getting a few call backs, but by Friday I knew I’d been cut loose, and the best offer on the table was working in the box office phone room selling season tickets. I had to take it; I didn’t have enough money for the bus ride back to Baltimore.
I met Lucy on our first night working the phones. Short and petite with a full head of wild, black curls, Lucy looked more like an extra in a fairy tale than a set designer. But Lucy wanted to be the greatest set designer that ever breathed air, and the fact that she was sitting upstairs in the phone room instead of building a set downstairs in the theatre was almost more than she could bear. We were both a bit miserable, and maybe it’s true that misery loves company because Lucy and I became old friends the moment we met.
Lucy fascinated me. For starters, I had at least five inches and forty pounds on her. In a room full of adults, Lucy looked like a child, and she inspired acts of chivalry and flutters of protective nurturing wherever she went. Lucy triggered a call to aid and defend, and I was not immune. Without many friends in town, I started following Lucy’s lead; she was hard to keep up with.
Kinetic energy with a cause, Lucy saw injustice and suffering in daily life. She had a keen awareness of others, what they felt, what they experienced and what they needed; but her attention to the world’s suffering never accentuated its pain. In some unexplainable way, Lucy’s diligent compassion made the world feel safer and more manageable, as though, by sheer will, energy and expectation, the world’s greatest set designer could turn her attention to the nations and set things right. She was the only person I’d ever met who was both comforting and exhausting at the same time.
And she was the only person I’d ever met who was suffering in the name of set design. Suffering actors clustered in packs, preening at every watering hole in town, but suffering set designers were a rare breed. Most folks jostled to be in the spotlight; Lucy longed to figure out the perfect placement of its beam.
It didn’t take long before Lucy and I started leaving the phone room together at the end of the night, and we’d dig in our pockets for change and pool our money for a quart of Bud and a pack of Marlboro’s. Then we’d roam the suburban neighborhood behind the theatre, hunting for a quiet piece of curb under a good tree, and we’d sit in the growing dark together, passing the beer back and forth, talking and smoking. And sooner or later on a warm Georgia night, on a quiet curb, under the right tree with a quart of beer, the talk will turn to God.
A self-proclaimed agnostic, Lucy didn’t deny the possibility of God, she just didn’t see much evidence of God’s existence. For Lucy, life seemed too hard to have anybody who gave a damn running the show.
“If God is there—I certainly haven’t seen him,” she declared in a louder voice than usual.
“You could always try praying”, I suggested. “You’ve got nothing to lose.”
The next night Lucy bounded into the phone room carrying a large brown paper bag. She placed the bag gently on her desk. I could tell it was from Kroger’s, and it was full of something, but I wasn’t sure what. Lucy smiled when I asked about the bag, but she didn’t answer. She just kept smiling, and I realized that I’d never seen her smile like that before. “I’ll tell you after work” she said finally, sitting down at her desk. She picked up the phone and turned her attention to her call sheet, but she was still smiling.
Finally the clock struck nine, and the hum of the phone room died down; and Lucy looked across that room at me, and with one smooth and deliberate move, she rose from her chair and lifted her bag, and the new smile reappeared. I simply hung up the phone in the middle of the call and followed her out the door.
Lucy tortured me with silence until she found just the right spot to talk, but I knew something big was coming. She’d forgotten all about the cigarettes and beer.
“Peaches!” Lucy proclaimed, opening the bag and lifting high a perfectly plump, fuzzy piece of fruit. “Miracle Peaches!” She lifted the peach even higher, extending her arm as far as it would go, and turning her wrist slightly to the right and then to the left, she seemed to offer the peach for praise to an absent crowd. It was a fine looking peach, and we both stayed frozen in place for a moment, breathing in the spring air, two girls hanging out in a cul-de-sac, admiring a peach; but I knew more was coming, and I didn’t have to wait long.
Without taking her eyes off the peach, Lucy slowly lowered her arm. I watched the peach’s dramatic descent. And when the peach, still cradled in Lucy’s palm, was hip high, it caught the light from the street lamp. She’d found the spotlight’s beam, and she let the peach linger in its glow for a moment before repeating her line, “Miracle Peaches!” Then she looked me straight in the eyes and with a clear, cool voice declared, “Now, I believe in God.”
“When I woke up this morning”, Lucy testified, “I was hungry! Hungry and penniless!” Her choice of the word “penniless” struck me as odd at first, but then I realized that Lucy and I had both been living on change for so long that she was probably being literal—she’d run out of pennies.
“It’s hard to know what’s worse—selling their lousy, overpriced tickets or getting them to pay ya’ for it! And I’m tired”, Lucy lowered her arm, but she still cradled the peach in her palm.
“And I thought about what you said last night. How I didn’t have anything to lose, and so I prayed. And I said, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re out there, but this is Lucy, and I’m hungry. Hungry and penniless. And if you are there—I need your help!’
And I got dressed and started walking. I didn’t even have anywhere to go. I was just walking, walking and thinking about God, listening to my stomach growl. And praying, praying for real over and over in my head, ‘God, if you’re out there, please help me. I’m hungry!’
And for some reason, I looked up. And I was standing in front of this church downtown. I don’t even know where I was for sure, but there was this church. And the doors were open, and I went inside. And it was lovely—cool and dark and quiet—and I just sat for a while. I don’t even know how long I was there, but I think I was praying the whole time.
And when I went back outside, there was a peach tree! I didn’t notice it on the way in, but there it was, this amazing, beautiful peach tree. And it was full of fruit! Right there in the middle of downtown, and there are peaches just hanging from this tree. And I picked one and bit into it. And it was the most incredible peach I’ve ever eaten. And I just stood there eating peach after peach.
Lots of people are walking by me on their way to work, but nobody pays any attention, to the peaches or to me, so I just hang out under this incredible tree and eat and eat. And there are so many peaches—all within arm’s reach, and they are so good!
And this thought pops in my head, and I think ‘Hey, I should take some peaches with me. I need to share these peaches!’ But I don’t have a bag, so I’m trying to load as many as I can in my arms—when suddenly there’s a man in a suit handing me this Kroger’s bag. And he smiles and hands me the bag and keeps walking. Just like that. I think he may have been an angel. An angel with a Kroger’s bag.” Lucy laughed at herself and took a deep breath. Then she opened the Kroger’s bag and handed me a perfect peach.
“I knew when I was eating those peaches that God was there, and he didn’t want me to be hungry. And I can’t explain it, but everything is different now”, she closed her bag and lifted it to rest on her hip. “These are miracle peaches. And now I believe in God.”
I don’t remember how I responded to Lucy’s story. I only remember Lucy, and I remember that we carried that bag of peaches back to the boarding house where I was staying, and we traded a few of them to my kind landlady for bread and salami, and we shared a feast. And Lucy managed to eat two salami sandwiches without letting go of the peach she cradled in her palm.