Benny died this weekend. He was more than just a friend of the family, he was family. He and my father knew each other in high school, and Benny married my Aunt Karen’s friend Mary. Benny and Mary moved from New York to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1968. After my parents got married, they moved out there and shared an apartment with them. I was born in Vancouver, so Benny and Mary were the first people I ever knew, other than my parents. He had cancer for the last few years, but in the end, that wasn’t what killed him. They think that he had a pulmonary embolism, so in time we’ll probably be glad that he didn’t have to die from his cancer. Maybe later.
Benny and Mary stayed on in Vancouver, so we didn’t see much of them unless they came back to visit their families. They would often come to stay with us when they were back in the States. They seemed slightly exotic to me, coming from another country. Benny is the person who really gave me my “Canadian-ness”. He may have lived in Canada, but I was born there, and that was special. He said that made me more Canadian than he was. I remember that he gave me a little Canadian flag when I was probably in the third or fourth grade. He knew that I didn’t have one, and felt I needed one, because that was my country after all, and I should be proud of it. It was important to him, so it became important to me. It made me different. It made me special. What child doesn’t want something that makes them different and special? Every so often, I would get some little thing from them that was from Canada. Sometimes things with the red Maple Leaf symbol. After I got a little older, I discovered ice hockey, which really pleased Benny. I started getting things with the Vancouver Canucks logo, because of course you’re going to follow the team from where you were born. Whenever I did see him, we would talk a little hockey and commiserate on the state of our favorite teams and the NHL in general. He said that he had seen one of those huge Canadian flags outside of a fast food restaurant, and he said he wanted to get it for me. I think his intention was to take that particular one without permission, but I won’t say for sure. He thought I could use it as a bedspread, but in reality, it probably would have covered our house, not just my bed. In the end, it’s probably better that he didn’t “get” one of those flags. I rarely look at a Canadian flag without thinking of him. I never watch the Vancouver Canucks play without thinking of him.
I got the chance to visit with them earlier this spring, when they came out to visit my parents, and I’m very glad that I had that opportunity. We knew he was sick, but he was still himself, and seemed pretty good. I was glad that they got the chance to meet Mark, and even though it was brief, I’m glad Mark got to meet them too. Benny and I were standing next to each other after lunch, and he nodded over at Mark and said to me “You’ll keep this one, eh?” The fact that Benny liked him meant a great deal to me. When we had to say goodbye, it was just like any other time, with us saying we’d continue our talk about hockey the next time we saw each other. I said I would try to come out to visit someday, like I always said. It wasn’t a sad goodbye, and I’m glad for that.
I can’t claim to know him in the same way that my parents did, but I still felt he was my family. He was at least a little bit responsible for the person I am today. I can understand what my Dad meant when he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of a world that didn’t have Benny in it.