This one’s for Puck

Right up front, I will tell you that this story is true.  I should also warn you that it’s a little bitter-sweet.

When my brother Peter came into our lives my parents already had three girls. They longed for a son.

A couple of interesting points about this story:  First, like all good men living in the area of the Adirondack Mountains, my father liked to hunt.  Hunting season in those parts was a religion, sacred and holy; the woods, nature’s cathedral.  The thing about my father was that he had never bagged a deer.  He’d been hunting with plenty of other guys who had, but he’d never actually shot one on his own.

The second thing, is that shortly after the third girl was born, my father started growing a beard.  It grew fast and bushy, and with a red hue that didn’t match the hair on his head at all.  (Somewhere there’s a photograph of my dad at that time, sitting on my grandmother’s front porch, wearing an army style camouflage cap.  He looked exactly like Fidel Castro.)  My mother didn’t much like that beard.  My father said he would shave when he got a son or a buck.  Either one.  Whichever came first.

The third point is that my mother is half Mohawk.  She was born and spent the first decade or so of her life on the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, which straddles the border of Canada and the US.  We would often make the winding drive to visit aunts and uncles and cousins there.  One day after a visit, on the return trip, the car held my parents, my sisters and myself, and a brand new brother, named Peter.  He was 18 months old at the time.

The particulars of how it came to be that we brought him home are not important.  What matters is that he was ours from that day on.  I wasn’t very old then, but I do remember the car ride home — I remember Peter’s little face peaking over my mother’s shoulder, watching us and smiling.  Oh, how I remember that smile.

Peter in an old photo taken when he was about 3. Even though the quality of the photo is poor, you can see how his face lit up with the sweet spirit of his smile. He was some cute kid! Peter in an old photo taken when he was about 3. Even though the quality of the photo is poor, you can see how his face lit up with the sweet spirit of his smile.

My father did not get his buck that season (nor any season, ever).  But he got his son, and true to his word, he shaved.  Peter grew and thrived, we girls grew and thrived, and my mother went on to eventually have three more babies – all of them boys.  And we were a rowdy raucous family of seven kids who were sometimes very close, and sometimes throwing things at one another.

Except for Peter.  At least, the way I remember him, and I’m telling the story so you’ll have to take my word for it.  If you happen to know or run into one of my siblings, they may tell the story differently.  That’s the way families work.

Peter was a quieter kid than the rest of us, he was by nature more even-tempered. And always, he was quick to smile.  He loved to hunt and fish, though he mostly used his hands for the latter – he was that patient and that quick.  As a teenager he took up wrestling and was pretty good and quick at that.  He was no push-over if really provoked.  Somewhere in those teen years, people started calling him Puck.

He tried his hand at many things.  He joined the Navy, hoping to travel, but that didn’t work out the way he planned.  He got married and moved back to the Adirondack town where we grew up.  He raised chickens for awhile, and for awhile he worked at the local paper mill.  Eventually he and his wife moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where her family lived.

Today is an anniversary of sorts.  Twenty-two years ago on a day like today, full of spring and glorious sunshine, I took my then two-year old son to the park, and later for the first ice cream cone of the season.  The phone rang as I was leaving the house, but I paid it no mind.  If it was important, whoever it was would call back.  Turned out it was my sister, and call back she did.

Peter was thirty-four years old on the last night he went to sleep.  A hemorrhagic tumor was the reason he didn’t wake up.  Twenty-two years is a long time.  Also, twenty-two years is no time at all.  It’s one of life’s many conundrums.

I believe in stories with happy endings, or at least in which there is the possibility of something honest and good.  In this story I once had a brother who possessed the kindest of hearts and a sweet smile.  We called him Puck.  He is with me still.  And that is enough good for now.

Puck holding my son. Still the same smile. Puck holding my son. Still the same smile.

60 thoughts on “This one’s for Puck

  1. What a wonderful eulogy to your brother. Such great memories will remain. One day you will be together again and will enjoy that wonderful smile! Thank you for telling this story.


      • Losing a body part is a good way to describe it.It is wonderful to have great memories though, including pictures. I have to think it’s ultimately easier for writers as we can, well, write about it.


  2. Oh, Mary, I do remember Peter…and that sweet smile. Thank you for telling about him and for that lovely picture, with the same sweet smile.


  3. Mary, What a beautiful story. You did a wonderful job with it. Having lost 2 of my brothers, I can relate to your fond memories. thank you for sharing it.


  4. Wonderful story. A friend recently told me about how she wishes she had spoken at her mother’s funeral. I told her to write the eulogy now. It’s never to late to say things, I think. These are the things we need to say.


  5. Mary, My Dear: You’ve written a loving elaboration on a family story (one I’ve heard portions of before). What a beautiful way to honor Peter. Thank you for sharing, and for your always lovely writing. Andy


  6. Hi Mary,

    What a wonderfully written remembrance of your brother. You drew me right in and kept me there throughout. The different ways in which family members can recall what they all lived through is a fascination of mine. When we get together and the differences come to light, you begin to wonder whose recollection is actually closest to the truth.

    “… when he got a son or a buck. Either one. Whichever came first.” Now that’s an either/or choice I would never have thought of, 🙂 My mom wanted a daughter and she had to birth five boys before she finally got her wish.

    From the photos I can see that Puck did indeed have a great smile.


    • Thank you, Ray. The differences in how family remember the same event has always interested me, too. I have come to think of it as a personification of the blind men and the elephant story – depending on one’s age and place in the scene counts for so much of their perception. Hmmm. . .you’ve given me an idea for a blog post, I think. Thanks! 🙂

      p.s. I’m glad your mom finally got her daughter!


  7. A captivating story and wonderfully told. The descriptions of your family and the lives you lived and the kind heart and the sweet smile. Thank you for sharing Puck with us.


  8. Your heart-felt memories are the gift your brother left to you. I know this to be true because my brother, Bill, did the same for me on December 26, 2010.


    • I was so sorry when I heard about Bill. He was my very first friend. Because of that he remembered by childhood nickname – he’s the only person in the world I would allow to call me by that name (quietly). He was such a sweet, sweet guy!


  9. Pingback: Spotlight: This one’s for Puck by A Wilderness of Words | Dear Writers

  10. Thank you for sharing your sweet smiling Puck with us. I’ve lost two sisters, and one day I may share them, as well. It is deeply personal and poignant, that spot where we hold our departed ones, and not often shared. It was a loving and lovely story.


    • I’m happy to share some of the memories I have of my brother. (Sadly, I also lost another brother a number of years ago.) I share your pain at having lost your sisters – it’s a difficult loss to bear. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. I so appreciate it.


  11. Mary, great story and wonderful memories of your brother. I remind my students when they grumble about their siblings that they’ll be the best friends when they’re older and eye me suspiciously. Thanks for the reminder of how true it is…


    • Thank you, Clay. If you want you can use my family as a perfect example — how we could fight, but then we grew up and though we are spread far and wide geographically, we remain close in phone calls, emails, and occasionally, mini-reunions.


      • You’re welcome, us too, I have two brothers and we fought bitterly as kids, me vs. my two younger brothers who banded against me. Today we are all 51, 50, 48 – almost one year apart at least until October when we become 51,50,49 for a bit over a month. I talk to my brothers often, my middle brother the most. He’s headed to Asia to get married this morning and I am wishing him well. I am heading home with O to see my mom for her 75th BD and will get to see them all for a couple of days. Can’t wait!


  12. This shot straight into my heart. First, I commend you for the spirit and strength to share this with us. From the way you’ve narrated this as from my religious POV I very much believe that he’s still with you all in spirit.


  13. What an awesome and emotionally touching story of your brother. He would feel great to know that you still hold him in your heart, people who leave imprints in your life always tend to stay with you no matter what happens. Thanks for sharing.


  14. Hey, I was browsing your blog while on the phone with my father. He grew up in Wanakena, and he remembers the Swinging Bridge and Madame Tweety and Mr Vickers and severeal other residents of Wanakena. Would like to ask about Joe King, Kenny Titus, and Ward Stoltz, if you know of their whereabouts. Also if you know anything about Floyd Madill.. 🙂 You can reach at my blog on wordpress.


  15. Heres a Peter Puck story: he used to walk me home before dawn after all nite bonfire parties and he would feed the donuts we stole from the bakery to my Dads beagle to keep him quiet while I snuck back into my bedroom window! Now THAT had to be 35 Years Ago! He taught me much, good and bad! I think of him and all the family often… The laughter of days rafting on the lake and building lean to’s on the mountain..
    Fondly Peter Puck— u r not forgotten!
    Lil Penny Powers


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