By Alexe van Beuren
Chances are, if you’ve stepped into Turnage’s Drugstore, you’ve met Peggy Lebo. She’s the lady who serves up coffee and tuna sandwiches with a smile and a word for everybody. If you spend any time at the counter, it’s hard to believe she’s been working at the drugstore for a mere five years, because she seems to know everybody.
Born in the “boot heel” of Missouri, Peggy has spent most of her life living in Memphis and Southaven, where she raised three sons with her husband, Hank. It was while they were in Memphis that Hank and Peggy met Billy and Venea Stark.
“Hank shot a squirrel,” Peggy tells me, “And Billy saw it fall and went outside to see what had happened to it. That’s how they met.”
The two men – and in short order, their wives – became friends who would take hunting and fishing trips together, often to this part of northern Mississippi. Decades later, the Lebos found themselves building a house a half-mile apart on the same parcel of land as their good friends, the Starks.
That was seven years ago. Five years ago, Peggy decided to look for work when the Lebos had trouble obtaining a life insurance policy.
“God is right on time,” Peggy says with awe in her voice. “He is never late.” Shortly after deciding to look for a job, a spot opened up at the drugstore, and Peggy was hired. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she tells me, and then asks if I’ve seen the guestbook at the drugstore. “I started this last one a year ago,” she says. “I can’t believe where some people come from.” When I ask the most exotic, she recalls a young man with a guitar on his back– from Finland.
Maybe it’s because she spends four days a week in the center of Water Valley, but Peggy tells me. “I know more people around here than I knew in Southaven in 24 years. Water Valley has been wonderful to us.”
To the shock of her old friends, Peggy loves working in Water Valley and living on her peaceful five acres.
“My friends in Southaven would say, ‘how can you live out there in the country? There’s not even a Wal-Mart,’” Peggy tells me in the sun-filled living room of her beautiful home, which is surrounded by flowers and cool green woods. “I’d say, ‘I don’t like Wal-Mart.’”
Instead of shopping trips, Peggy spends her time working four days a week at Turnage’s, catching up on chores, and – gardening. She takes gardening seriously, like most ladies with sun hats and seed catalogs, but goes about it in a different fashion.
“If you buy flowers and they die, you’ve wasted a bunch of money,” Peggy tells me. Instead, she and her husband take Sunday drives and collect the flowers they see on the side of the roads, in fields, and around abandoned home sites.
“The flowers you dig up have already adapted to the area.” She grins. “And to drought.” Judging by the state of her flowerbeds, she’s onto something.
On the days they’re not working in the garden, she and Hank do things that sound downright exotic, like hop on the four wheeler with a picnic for lunch in the woods. In the wetter months, they’ve been known to go snake hunting together. On the morning of our interview, the Lebos had made a breakfast of bacon and eggs with an electric griddle on the front porch.
“We do whatever we’re in the mood to do,” Peggy shrugs, and smiles. “Once you get used to being out in the country, it’s a different world.”