“Have you ever had a nice baked cod, Peter?”
“Yes! In fact, I was treated to a fine homemade meal once featuring baked cod. The host was from Newfoundland and talked about how the cod industry was decimated by overfishing.”
“Yeah, that hurt a lot of people.”
“It sure did, James. They say the issue really challenged the SCALES of justice.”
Oh, Peter. You never thought of a pun that didn’t escape your mouth. And each time it did escape, all of us either laughed, or rolled our eyes and laughed. The point is, we always laughed, not because the puns were always stellar, but because they came from a man who always had his immediate company in mind.
You died a few days ago, Peter. I heard the news via a Facebook post from one of many people who were positively impacted by you and your endless trough of generosity. I felt that way about you from the day I met you. It was roughly four years ago and I walked in to CHCR with my 8 month old daughter in tow.
I knocked on the door to what would become Garth’s Kitchen and you answered, your eyes all slit in that signature Peter grin you always had on. I asked if you were the guy to talk to about possibly getting a radio show, and you spoke with me for a half hour. By the time I left I had a radio show-in-waiting and you, a man who would become a good friend.
I would soon realize you would be my favourite kind of good friend; a fluid conversationalist who appreciated virtually any type of humour, including my sometimes over-the-top, gallows humour. I like to push the envelope, and you were happy to oblige. You never took any offence, seeing the humour before even contemplating if the joke went too far. We did not tell racist or sexist or any other kind of cheap jokes, but we knew each other enough to trust the source of the material, as he put it to me a few weeks ago.
You had just returned to Killaloe after the death of your father. You were tirelessly going back and forth from Madawaska Valley to Port Colborne to spend as much time as possible with him before he passed away. The day after your return you ventured over to my place to pick me up. I stepped into your vehicle, gave you a long hug, and with a gravely tone I whispered in your ear, “I guess I’m your Daddy now, Peter.”
I know, that doesn’t read well on paper, but you received it as it was intended. You thought it was hysterical, the way I made light of your father’s death by informing you that I will now be in charge of your life since a spot just opened up. That is one big reason why so many of us respected you. You saw the good in everything, especially people who were down on their luck, or had mental health issues, or needed a place to crash, or wanted to learn about herbs, or radio towers, or the environment, or how Killaloe desperately needs to step up on public housing, or Indigenous writers and artists people should know about.
You were my ride to work a few times a week for the past year and a half, and we recently found ourselves talking about death due to your father’s passing. You asked me a couple weeks ago, as we were driving by St. Mary’s Church in Wilno, what I thought happened after we died. I told you that I thought nothing happened. You replied with that broadcast-quality voice of yours, telling me that maybe there is something more. I was reminded of how envious I was of true believers who had the good fortune to imagine their loved ones in heaven, and how I could see that being extremely helpful when people are in mourning.
So, for the past week, I have imagined Peter in heaven, coming up with holy puns and picking up discarded halos to do his part.
I miss you Peter Benner. And if we meet again I will not only tell you how wrong I was about life after death, but I will even allow you to say something like “The afterlife is potent, James. Some would even say OMNI-potent.”