On Saturday, at 3...the celebration began. My sister wanted to remember and celebrate him as he lived...with a party. Not just any party but one with plenty of food and drink, pictures of his life playing on the TV and the songs he loved. People began to arrive to pay their respects and the doorbell rang and rang. There were doctors and lawyers, electricians and plumbers, fisherman and friends...there were folks that he had put in their air conditioner and gave them years to pay it off.
Some referred to him as the "Mayor of Hernando Beach" and others didn't even know what to say. My sister put on a beautiful red dress, her black spike heels and looked like, as my father would say," a million bucks". My nieces accepted the "I'm sorry's" and hugs and remembered their father.
Uncle Pete, as we call him in our house, loved my boys. He and I would talk a few times a week and he would ask, "What are the boys up to?" and I would regale him with stories. Every so often, he would ask about "the girl" referring to my daughter. We always thought that was funny and when we went to visit in Florida, that was what we called her. He would take them out on the boat, jet-ski, fishing or doing something fun. He was a fun lovin' guy.
Uncle Pete was a guy that loved the water and fishing and boats. He had quiet a few of them in his life. He had little ones, flat ones, motors that ran well and others that when we started out to the Gulf, we were hoping for the best. He was at his happiest, though, when he was behind the controls of his last boat, "The Pelican Pete." It is a beautiful boat and a symbol of all the hard work that he and my sister did in this life. They named it the "Pelican Pete" because they like pelicans and you would see them alot out of the Gulf. As a matter of fact, the day he died, I wore his t-shirt that had the logo embroidered on it.
About 2 hours into the party, one of his buddies wanted to go out on the dock and do a toast to Uncle Pete with champagne. He wanted all of us to go out by the boat, the "Pelican Pete" do a send off. The group slowly moved outside and got on the dock. They were pouring champagne and talking and laughing. So many of us were on the dock that it was taking on water. It was loud and boisterous.
As we stood there, the friend began to toast Uncle Pete..."Here's to swimming with bow legged women" and the crowd raised their glass and saluted. He then did another toast along the same lines and I tuned him out. We raised our glasses again and saluted. As we did the last toast, a majestic pelican flew down the canal, circled over the group and came back. It landed 5 feet from the dock and the boat. As the group noticed what was going on, it became silent. This beautiful pelican paddled closer to the dock and watched us. The crowd remained silent. He was a beautiful bird, big with a long brown beak and sparkling blue eyes. He turned his beak to the left and looked directly at my sister...
I looked over the crowd to see if they understood what we were seeing...my daughter, "the girl" for today, had tears streaming down her face. My husband did too. The pelican stayed and watched us for what seemed like an eternity but really it was about 4 minutes. I didn't want him to go because he had a peace about him that was palpable.
Then, he turned around and lifted off. We watched him fly down the length of the canal before anyone said a word. The first words I heard were..."What did we just see?" and "I have never seen that before." I turned around, went back up the the house and poured myself a drink. That was a sign...and for me, a peaceful and loving one. A sign that he and we are going to be okay...
When I arrived in Denver yesterday and walked the concourse, I could feel the numbness leaving my heart and the pain seeping in. My pain because I am going to miss him, but also the percieved pain of my sister and her daughters. But, in a small corner of my heart, there was a warm, peaceful feeling...a sense of pride of how this family dealt with such a heart wrenching time...how they loved him and cared for him and not for one minute left him alone. I know he is so proud of them and hopefully as time passes, they too will have that corner of their hearts warmed and comforted by how they loved him until the end.
So, I will end this post like I ended every phone call with Uncle Pete...
"Carry on...and be careful"
We'll tawk tommorrow,
I love you all,