Thursday, January 08, 2015

Memories of Uncle Peter

Last night, I had a few beers at my favourite local watering hole and toasted the memory of Uncle Peter. Peter Dusick passed away a couple of nights ago.

I called him "Uncle Peter" but technically he was my cousin. He, will, of course, always be "Uncle Peter" to me.

And, as I sat at the bar at The Winking Judge, chatting and joking with a few of the staff and regulars, I thought that perhaps The Judge was, to me, what The Blue Bird in Levack was to Uncle Pete. And, as Levack legend has it, Peter was to The Blue Bird what Norm was to Cheers. When he wasn't at work or fishing or working in his garage, you could find him at The Blue Bird.  Like Norm Peterson, he was there every day - sometimes, you'd call there before calling his house on a day that you knew he wasn't either at work or out at the camp or hunting or fishing.

I remember, trying to sneak in to The Blue Bird and have a beer before I was of the proper age, hiding behind my friends and a menu when Uncle Peter came in so that he didn't catch me. (Stupid me, I should have known he'd walk in - it was a day that ended in "y" after all) Although, if he had spotted me there, something tells me the teddy bear likely would not have ratted me out to my Dad. He likely would have given me a warning, shooed me out and said if he caught me there again, he'd go to my Dad and there'd be hell to pay.

I call Uncle Peter a Teddy Bear, because, like most of the Dusick men, he was a large and powerful man with a deep voice and the gruff look of someone who could snap you in two. But, in the Dusick-man manner, he was a also a big softy with a heart of gold and a smile as big and deep as his love for his family.

I recall, fondly, almost falling out of my chair laughing when he shared the amusing (and slightly disturbing) tale of how, when he was young, his brother chopped half of his one finger off. He shared the tale the way he told most stories, with a giant grin on his face and an infectious laugh. Even as he described standing there with the finger hanging by nothing but the flap of skin, there was no anger or bitterness towards his brother for the "incident" -- it was just one of those stupid things that a couple of brothers did, yet more mischief that they engaged in as part of growing up.

Peter loved being with friends and family, and the giant grin on his face and the laughs he shared over the years were evidence of that. He was generous to a fault; there aren't many people who would actually give you the shirt off their back, but Peter was certainly one of them.

When my Dad died, I remember the quiet and solemn morning that my Mom and I went to scatter his ashes at Windy Lake. Peter had been staying out at the camp on Windy Lake and met us in his boat to take us out to where he knew was one of my Dad's favourite spots to catch fish. It was a sad morning, difficult for all of us (I was so choked up that I couldn't even read the words I had carefully crafted to speak when releasing the ashes), and I recall watching the ashes settle into the water, the three of us barely able to see it for the silent tears filling our eyes as we each reflected on memories of my Dad. Peter was there and was a comforting presence to us, and I'm forever grateful for that.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time at Uncle Peter's house, goofing around and getting into trouble with my cousins (although nobody used an axe to take off any else's finger - it was a different kind of fun trouble). There are too many funny stories to mention. But I recall, when hanging out in the garage with our Dads, looking at just how many beers the two or three men working in the garage (likely on a snow machine or some other small engine item) could put away in an afternoon without seeming to be affected by them at all.

Uncle Peter loved to cook, loved to prepare food and loved to feed people. I was not a big eater when I was young; quite picky, in fact. My Mom still reminds me about how I raved about the amazing hot dogs Uncle Peter made one time when I was having lunch there. I'd never been a fan of hot dogs, and rarely could eat a single helping on my plate; but that day I'd had 3 or 4 hot dogs and raved about how, when the buns ran out how Uncle Pete did the coolest thing. He wrapped a single slice of bread around the wiener - to me, it was a gourmet solution that I raved about for years. I've even used that method myself, and every time I do, I think about Uncle Peter.

I saw Uncle Peter and Aunt Linda at the Sudbury hospital in November when my Mom was staying there after her operation. I was so pleased to see them (having not really seen them in a long time), and I still marvel at just how concerned, generous and thoughtful Peter was to my Mom even though he was there for a variety of health concerns that had been plaguing him for a while. But he was like that; regardless of the situation, of the hardship or personal concern, he had a smile, a story and a laugh for everyone. Generous, thoughtful, a big teddy bear of a man.

Left to Right: Uncle Leslie, Bob Armstrong, Jerry Mallow, Uncle Peter and my Dad. Four of these men are likely now sharing fun hunting stories across from one another at some watering hole in the sky . . .

I'll likely have another toast, raise another glass of beer to Peter as he sits there, at some after-life bar table with so many other amazing men from our family, sharing stories, laughs and friendship.