My Uncle Pete Christensen passed away last Saturday (my wedding day) after a long and eventful life. A benign family consipiracy kept the news from me until they day after the wedding, but even if I had known it would not have troubled me - I know for a fact that Pete was ready to move on and start a new journey, and there is no great sadness in that for me. He had been in failing health for some time, battling cancer, and although there is of course greif and a very real sense of loss aflicting those of us who knew and loved him, we all knew that the time was near and understand that death is simply a part of life. Yesterday I attended Pete's memorial service at his church in Wenatchee, and afterwards a family potluck in his honor, complete with Pete's favorite cookies: Scotch-a-roos (peanutbutter rice crispy squares with milk chocolate on top) and Snickerdoodles. We have such a great family!
The thing I will remember most about Pete is his sense of humor. Bawdy jokes and cards were his speciality. You could always count on getting two separate cards with any gift from Pete and Patty; she would pick out a nice, heartfelt one, and Pete would give an off-color or sometimes just plain ridiculously funny one. Even when the years started to weigh heavily on him, he always had that twinkle in his eye that let you know he was getting ready to tease a Norweigian (he was very proud of his Danish heritage) or to crack a joke.
Pete married my Aunt Patty (my Dad's sister) in 1981, so although he was only step-father to my cousins he was really my uncle; I don't have any memories of Patty's first husband. For most of my childhood I wasn't very curious about Pete's early life and experiences (16-year-old me: "Duh, boooorrring!") but luckily a few years ago I got a chance to get to know Pete better and listen to some of his stories. Pete was a pilot, amd during WWII he was a pilot instructor with the Army Air Corps and also served in the 7th Division Ferrying Group which flew airplanes from Montana to Alaska which were then transfered to the allied Russian airforce.
I spent just a few evenings (after dinner at family gatherings) chatting with Pete about his piloting and wartime experiences. He was a great storyteller. One of the last times I saw him at his house on Orchard Street (just before he and Patty moved into their condo) he showed me some pictures from those days, and I have to say he was a really sharp looking guy in his flight suit! :) He gave me a couple of his keepsakes: his parachute-silk pilot scarf, and a dashboard hula girl whose skirt flips up when you pull a string. I am really honored to have them both.
Most of Pete's wartime piloting stories include him getting into trouble for buzzing the tower or some such practical joking. He once buzzed some unsuspecting fishermen on Hood Canal, coming in so low to the water that both men jumped from their boat. He felt a little bad about scaring them that badly, once he stopped laughing. Ferrying planes to Alaska (and flying back) meant landing and refueling at many airfields along the way, both military and civilian. Pete loved to buzz the towers and otherwise lively-up the days of the airfield personell. He was a likeable guy, and when his charming personality failed to get him out of trouble he was ready with a bottle of whiskey or two to give to the miffed airfield managers by way of appology. He even managed to get into the good graces of the commanders of some airfields they weren't really supposed to land at, by means of always leaving a bottle behind.
Pete loved to socialize, and after his retirement in 1984 he and Patty traveled all over the US in an RV. Thanks to a geneology done by one of his Danish cousins he was able to locate a number of relatives in the US and western Canada, with whom he and Patty shared a lot of good times. Pete was active in his church too, even teaching Sunday School according to the program from his memorial service (I cannot imagine Pete as a Sunday School teacher!). He was a great guy, and he will be remembered fondly.
This memorial essay is dedicated to my Aunt Patty. I love you!