May 26, 2014


I've always loved handsome men.
I mention that because I lost one of "my" handsome men on Friday.
Even as a very little girl, I was very attracted to physical beauty. My cousin Peter P. Montera Jr. was a beautiful specimen.  He was about 11 years older than me, so I started to understand that he was part of the genetic cream of our family crop when I was about 5 or 6 years old.

My cousins teased me a lot.  They were a team.  There were five Montera kids and one of me at the time.
From the time I was a baby, they called me "Pookie" baby.  There are different explanations for this.  I am going to skip those explanations and say that it was my "what do you call it, my sobriquet..." (Grey Gardens reference, sorry). I never minded because I was part of a very big, extended family and when we were all together, I had people that belonged to me, besides my parents.  I liked that feeling.

Pete was the second of the Montera kids, and his sisters Nell and Toni were two and one year older than I, respectively.  We were great friends as well as cousins.
Annemarie, Pete and David were the big kids.
When Pete was a Senior in High School, he was cast as The Tin Man in The Wizard Of Oz at John Jay High School.  Nell and Toni were Munchkins, so their parents, Chickie (sobriquet) and Peter (sr.) took me to the show. It was my first Theatre experience.
All of this to say...I was in love in a very real way with my cousin Pete.  He lit up that stage, and I was taken by the whole experience.  If you know me, you know that the Theatre is a huge part of my life to this day and it is rooted in that performance.

With the expanse of years between us, we were not "close" by any means.  Pete left for the Navy and married a girl.  They had a son and I was still in second grade!  We saw very little of him over the years. Families are like that. Ours is, at least.  Sometimes I would get a post card from abroad, and they would be newsy and sweet. He always called me "cutie" or some other such term of endearment... after "Pookie" baby wore off.
At one point, I remember being in high school, (Senior Year, I think) and he came back to our home town for a few weeks.  I think his sister Nell will remember this too...he visited and we went out as a threesome.  I remember a few evenings out with him, and thinking at that time, he really was one of the most handsome men I knew.  If I'm not mistaken, he pressed his jeans...meticulous.
We had some good times, and I was entering adulthood.  I liked everything about Pete.  He was elegant.
After he went away again, more postcards, and I married shortly after high school, and he and I saw one another at another family gathering, a funeral for Nell's beloved husband, Al in 1986, I believe.  We joked about Pete's inability to grasp the idea that I was a "married woman" and we warmly shared the same ease and sweet familiarity we had always had together.  There was never any explanation for it.  We were just kindred spirits.

That was the last time I would ever see Pete.

Years went by.  Family spread across the country.  Sometimes we gathered, but not often, and certainly not enough.  We were never, and will never all be together again.

In 2004 I was diagnosed with the Big Breast Cancer, and word spread through the family.

Oh no...not Cheryl.  She's too young.  She just had that baby!  I can practically hear the banter between all of my sincerely concerned family members that had rarely seen or heard from me in the nineteen years since I had married, or nearly that long.  ...but a couple of e-mails arrived in my inbox.  I remember my cousin Annemarie, the eldest Montera kid sent me love and best wishes.  I was moved by the gesture.
Chickie & Peter were living locally so they were in the know about my treatment and they kept their kids "in the loop" to the extent that was proper.

My cousin Pete sent me what I would characterize as a "shy" email, almost introducing himself to me and apologizing for being a "guy" and not staying in touch over the years. apology for something that we all, each and every one of us, as cousins was guilty of.
It was an email that was newsy, and informative of all things in his life since we had seen each other.  I answered with all of the wonderful things going on in my life, and probably a brief outline of what the Treatment Cycle was going to look like for the next six months or so.

Pete answered the following morning...and so it began.

Every Day. Monday through Friday, I would get an email from Pete.  I loved Mondays because they would tell about the weekend with his wife and boys,  and what the family did.
He would share his vacation planning. I remember when he was looking into a Disney Cruise for the family.
He shared with me that he called the Disney Cruise folks and when they quoted the price, he told them "I don't want to buy the ship...I want to cruise for a week!"  He was funny, and practical.  He shared some stories about his travels in the Navy, and lots of updates on his kids.
Sports they were involved in, grades they would bring home, anything that was of interest about what we shared in common, our love for our families.  Regan & Lucas are just a bit younger than Pete's twins, Justin & Jarrett.  Jackson is a bit older.  We shared daily conversation.  We connected as adults.  We took all of the extended  family dysfunction and locked it up someplace out of view, from which it could not escape, and we became a new kind of fresh, real family.  The kind one would choose if they had all the choices in the world.

Treatment ended.  I was cured.  Emails got fewer and farther between, but not forgotten.  We touched base about every two or three months, with news about the kids, or a Holiday wish.  In mid-January 2008 I shared with Pete the ordeal that Rosey had been through at the first of that month. She had a "terratoma" tumor the size of a coconut removed, and it had been a harrowing time for our family.  I reached out to Pete to share the story, as I knew he would want to know.  A couple of days later, an enormous bouquet of Cookies showed up on our porch for Rosey.  They were from Pete, Julie, Jackson, Justin and Jarrett.
That was only the beginning...

Rosey has received a bouquet of cookies for every holiday ever since.  Let me put that in perspective...
Six years of Cookie Bouquets about six times per year on the doorstep, for a little girl whom he never met.
Pete was an imaginary friend to Rosey.
Pete was a hero to my husband David.  Anyone that shows that kind of love to his family touches David's heart. He reached out to Pete via e-mail, randomly one time after a bouquet arrived.  They exchanged pleasantries about fatherhood and gratitude and family, our kind of chosen family.  I am so glad that happened.  Two of the most important people in my life connected over mutual love for family.
Last Father's Day, Rosey made a very special Father's Day Card for Pete.  An expression of gratitude, and an exercise in connecting.   I'm glad for that too.

I didn't mention that I receive a bouquet every Mother's Day, of my very own.
They arrive and I send an email thanking Pete, and he writes back to tell me how welcome I am.
This year, just last Sunday, I sat down and wrote a "proper" Thank You note to Pete, Julie and the boys.
I told him that I appreciate being remembered, and that I love him.
I'm not sure he got the Thank You note.
Pete was sick last week.  Something lingering, from what I've been told.
He died suddenly on Friday morning.  My cousin, one of the princes in my life and the life of my Rosey, passed away on Lucas' birthday.  He left behind four sons, three of which lived with him, one of which was grown.  He left behind a wife that by all accounts adored him.  He left behind a brother and three sisters that had been estranged from him, and some from each other over the years.  He left behind a Mother and Father. His Mother, is the matriarch of our side of the Woods family that remains.
We are not a "close" family. I received word of Pete's passing from Annemarie, his big sister, via a private Facebook Message.
How do you tell someone that a person who should be alive isn't alive anymore?  Is there an appropriate vehicle to deliver such news?  I am not certain that the Facebook message wasn't the best way to find out.
I was able to read it over and over.  "My brother Pete passed away last night.  We are all in shock."...
What? Read it again. What? Read it again.

I will end this post by telling you, readers, that I loved my cousin Pete very much.  The good news is that he knew it.  We stayed "close" with no expectations, no demands, we never even saw each other again, as we had planned..."this is going to be the year"...wishes don't always come true.
We stayed away from touchy subjects, and we never discussed our extended family.  We respected each other's boundaries.  I dare say, we didn't agree politically or on the topic of religion, but we never discussed such things so it didn't matter.  We talked about what we did agree about, our spouses, our kids, our daily lives, movies we'd seen, shows we'd attended, things that our lives are made up of on a daily, real, basis.
Love allows you to skip the things that don't matter. Love is what our lives are really comprised of, in the end.

I got to tell him I love him, but I didn't get to tell him, goodbye.
This is my "goodbye".
I will miss Peter P. Montera Jr. forever.  Forever...


  1. What a beautiful tribute and a very special relationship you two had.

  2. Thank you, Korina. I was very fortunate! He was a gem.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful post regarding your cousin.

    My husband was working with Pete on a project in California. My husband reported directly to Pete and would constantly tell me how much he admired your cousin. He said that Pete was hardest working man he'd ever met and even shared stories about Pete with our sons (a Navy ship commander!).

    We found out about his passing this morning via company email. I'm so sorry for your sudden loss. Your family will be in our family's prayers.


    1. Jessica,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your husband's admiration for Pete.
      He was very special,
      Thank your husband for sharing stories of Pete. Ask him to keep doing that whenever it is appropriate.
      I would ask that you think of Pete every time you do something nice for someone else. That was his specialty and we can keep his spirit alive.

      Your words meant the world to me, tonight.