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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Death's Heartless Theft

It wasn't my intention to write a gloomy post during this festive time of year but death has blown hot breath through my community and in the space of a week I have lost 4 friends. Two had been dreadfully ill for a long time. Their departure was not unexpected, but neither was it desired. Still, both B and M were so very sick who would want them to linger in a suspended state of pain and suffering? One death was, true to the nature of time, at least a reasonable development. H was 92. Dementia had set in and the circle of his life had shrunk to virtual minutia. Until 3 years ago, he was driving, cooking, taking care of himself and enjoying his grandchildren. I am sorry and sad he is gone, but there is something whole about the fullness of his life - his experiences - his love. Like the cadence of a beautiful symphony - it feels right when it comes even if it does mean that silence follows.

And then the 4th blow struck with the news that Pete had died over the weekend.

Pete wasn't really his name - not even Peter. For some reason, in this community, 60-plus years ago it became a common nickname. I know several Petes, Peties, and Petsies. Burly men or august seniors now, who once were little darlings. When BD and I moved down here this particular Pete was the very first friend I made. We knew we were oddities - living in Pop's old WWII army pup tent and building a yurt and talking about our plans to live off the land and sustain ourselves with wild food. We had all the books and the youth and the sense of magic it takes to do something crazy like that and who cares if your dad looks at your house, turns away and mutters "tar paper shack".  But not Pete. He just drove right up to our campsite, hopped out of his rattly truck and hallooed. He had heard about us from Agnes Ware, who was sure we would become fast friends.

She was right. And not just because he was as much of an oddity as we were.

Pete really took us under his wing, sharing in that flat out, full blast, one hundred per cent way he did everything.  He helped us get building materials at cost. He invited us up to his place to swim off the shady banks in front of Marlbank. He showed up with beer. He showed up with hammer and saw. He showed up with friends. He just poured welcome all over us as we hewed a place for ourselves in the woods, in the country, in the community. Pete did everything that way. He was like a spewing volcano. I was the beneficiary of his warmth and generosity but there were others who swayed beneath his cantankerousness - an almost insane madness that gushed out of him with the same intensity. He was really famous for his wild outbursts - this, in a county rife with stories about passionate flamboyant men. But he was always kind and good to me - and to mine.

And he once saved my son's life.

I don't say that in an cliched sort of way. He is an unsung hero and I mean it with all the passion of a mother who nearly lost her only child. There was a day when we were building our house and I was showing Pete around. He and I, with 4-year oldLDclimbed up to the second floor to have a look-see. Sub-flooring was tacked down everywhere, but there was just the smallest gap between some of it and sure enough, LD dropped right through it. Had he fallen all the way it would have been about 12 feet to a concrete slab. No way that little body would have survived.  Both Pete and I were just beyond an arm's length away from him and in slow motion I watched my only child heading for that unyielding floor below. Faster than lightening Pete leapt the distance, snatched my little boy by the shoulders and flung him back onto the second story surface.

A flash. A millisecond. A tiny child. An adult with ADD. A miracle. Thank God. 

Everything that defines my first steps into country life is wrapped around Pete and losing him really hurts. He had been out of touch with everyone for a long time. He was actually incommunicado, though I had a private way to send him messages and just knowing he was alive and okay and somewhere doing what he wanted was one of those little savings accounts I kept in my heart to assure me that I had extra resources, that I was rich.But now that's all gone, melted away with this sad, sad news.The memories are still there - Pete and the Ghost Car. Pete and swimming up at Marlbank. Pete and the arrowhead root. Pete and his dog Squirelly. Pete's oyster roast. Pete's crazy laugh.


Not quite as tangible as the real flesh and blood Pete - but riches nonetheless.

Oh Pete. Fare well.

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