About a month ago, while visiting Sarah’s parents, the girls decided to make Afghans and so I was sent to the garage to fetch some walnuts. I don’t like them myself and tend to pick them off if they’re not buried too deep in the icing. But then other people seem to like them and who am I to play Nut Police?
So down I go to the garage. Raise the door, turn right, reach into the sack – and I’m immediately four years old again, standing in Peter Burt’s garage with a walnut in each hand, struggling in vain to pry one open. When he was done laughing (sometimes it took a while) Peter would take them off me, hold them both in one hand and *crack* – palm opens to reveal shattered walnut. I didn’t much care for the walnuts themselves. What mattered to me most was that Peter Burt was my friend, and he could do anything! One day I’d grow up big and strong like him and open walnuts with one hand too.
Me and Dave, aged around 1 years. I’m the cute one on the right. What are we doing? Trying to figure out how to get over the fence to visit our mate Peter Burt.
In addition to the walnut trick, Peter taught me a lot of neat stuff over the years. On some occasions his motives could possibly have been less than altruistic – such as when I learned how to paint a fence, push a wheelbarrow and mow lawns – but I wouldn’t have known or cared.
Peter would do things purely for the joy it brought to other people. One day he called right out of the blue to say that he needed some labourers, and so Dave and I were immediately dispatched. It turned out that his project for the day was to build a trolley for us to race down the street. The ‘labours’ he required were for us to sit on the thing and make sure he got the dimensions right.
When I was fourteen I asked Peter if I might rummage around in his wood-pile for some scraps to build a skateboard ramp. He told me to draw up some plans and come back that afternoon. When I arrived he was unloading a trailer full of brand-new timber and plywood, and we got to work right away. Teenage years can be troublesome at times (and that year had been a bitch, to tell the truth), but that summer spent on the ramp with my friends – sun shining and music blaring – still rates for me as one of the best times of my life.
When I heard of Peter’s passing my first reaction was disbelief. Not denial, the usual first stage of grief – but disbelief. I’d seen Peter in December at my Grandmother’s funeral and he looked so good – strong as a ox and happy as Larry. Surely there had to have been some kind of mistake? Sadly not. He was always so vibrant and full of life that it was easy to forget that he’d had his health issues over the years, and he’d had seventy three of them. He hadn’t aged a day the whole time I knew him – but it’s hard to detect old age and infirmity behind eyes that literally sparkle, and a voice that begins and ends every sentence with a peal of laughter.
He’s only been gone for a few days, and those of us who were lucky enough to know Peter already miss him like crazy. But spare a thought perhaps for those who were not so fortunate – the hungry masses scrambling for hammers, multi-grips and nutcrackers as we speak, their walnuts unopened. They will never know the joy of having a friend so completely decent, caring and charitable. I do, and will be forever grateful.