A middle-aged woman dressed in black steps onto the stage in a room full of people. Many have tissue in their hands, sniffling from the kind words said by the last person in front of the microphone in this small church hall.
An open casket covered in flowers sits against the far wall on the stage.
The crowd holds their breath as they wait for the woman to speak. She clears her throat.
“Thank you for coming today. I know he would be overjoyed with the love and support his family have received over this difficult time. Walter was a great man. He’d hate that I am calling him Walter, but that is who he was to a lot of people. Walter. It sounds weird coming out of my mouth. Walter. Dad.
Walter made a lot of friends over his 35 years in the peanut butter business, and many of them are here today. In the great war between peanut butter and jam, my father was the first person to demand unity and bring these two juggernauts together. The world was a better place because of it and that accomplishment will not be forgotten, even in death.
I have a lot of great memories of my father. When others might be teaching their children how to ride a bike or the secrets to catch a big fish, Walter was teaching me how to complete my taxes and the difference between an RSP and an RRSP. Growing up, some say that would be the biggest reason that I would not find someone to marry, but I point to my terrible sense of humour and pale complexion as to why nobody would want to touch me. But don’t fret, I showed them eventually.”
She paused for laughter, but none came.
“Instead of camping trips in the summer, Walter would take my brother and I up to the big city, where we would stay in the biggest skyscrapers. Ten, eleven stories up, he would leave us there while he attended various food spread conferences where he would routinely host a panel debating the differences between chunky and smooth. We were a chunky family. In more ways than one.
My brother, who couldn’t make it here today, never really got along with my father. Perhaps it was the way he pushed our mother out of our lives after finding out her deepest and darkest secret. She was slightly allergic to peanuts, and she would swell up briefly if she was ever in the same room with it. Of course, my father never touched the stuff either. It wasn’t like he was in the factory all day smashing peanuts and butter together. He was a boardroom guy. Walter made the tough peanut butter decisions, so I don’t blame my brother for hating Walter. But I never could.
Perhaps I saw a softer side to him. He had a crunchy outer shell, but I knew there was a creamy inside to him, although he had a tough time showing that outside our walls. I’ll never forget when he showed up to my University graduation, unannounced, and made a fuss in front of the whole graduating class and school faculty, because he didn’t have a ticket and they wouldn’t let him in. I was quite embarrassed for a long time, but I knew he just wanted to show me how much he cared for me. Maybe that was because I was the only child of his that didn’t completely hate his guts. Maybe he saw the potential in me that nobody else did.
“When I graduated, I moved away. I hadn’t eaten peanut butter, or jam for that matter, in years and I feel like Walter could sense that. In his yearly Christmas cards, featuring himself and his new wife, he would always reference peanut butter in some way, mostly in just obscure facts. ‘Did you know the United States consumes $800 million worth of peanut butter per year?’ or ‘They called it monkey butter in World War 2’. Thanks, but no thanks Dad.
Look, Walter wasn’t perfect. He had his flaws. He was selfish. He drove his family away because of his love for something other than us, but in the later years, he tried. It was too late for their relationship, but he tried with me and we learned to be father and daughter again after he retired. I helped him write a book. ‘Peanut Butter and WHAM! George Michael Inspired Food Spread Recipes’, which was a modest success. We spent a lot of time talking and doing things we should have done when we were both much younger, but it was better than nothing.
The fondest memory of my father is also one of the last ones. At my wedding, yes, finally, to my lovely Glenda, my father not only walked me down the aisle, but he took my hand for our father-daughter dance. He was 78 at the time, but he moved and grooved like he was years younger. It meant a lot to me that he accepted my life choices and although he never came out and said it, I knew he was proud of me.
Which makes his ending even more sad.
He told us every day how much he loved peanuts and peanut related delicacies. With a new peanut related fact with every Christmas card, he described in detail the tastes and smells that came with it. We even wrote a cook book about legumes for God’s sake.
But the coroner was very clear.
Walter had a secret.
Walter died of a peanut allergy.
He breathed his last breath because of it.
He must have known, surely.
How could he lie to us for that long?
It doesn’t matter.
Let us remember him for who he was.
A man who could unite people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and ideologies.
Thank you all for coming, and have a safe trip home.”
She turns around and looks at her father in the open casket.
His eyes were calm, his throat was closed.