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Clippings: Uncle Pete was strong to the end

Listening to my in-laws talk about Uncle Pete Hansen’s various feats of strength, he might just as well have been Paul Bunyan. For example, there was the true story about Pete lowering my brother-in-law Bill — then his plumbing assistant — down into a well by his ankles. And Bill is a solid 6-foot, 3-inches tall.
At around 6 feet, five inches tall in his own right and weighing more than 250 pounds for most of his life, Pete could single-handedly move a stove or refrigerator if he had to in order to get at a plumbing, heating or electrical fixture. He could literally palm a medicine ball. I often wondered if he had ever worn a ring, and if so, what tool they had to use to drill a hole into the necessary manhole cover.
When we played cards together on Thursday nights, the deck disappeared into those huge meat-hooks.
“What would it feel like to get backhanded by Uncle Pete?” I sometimes thought as I shuffled the cards, then dealt them as quick as possible so I would never find out.
I knew Pete for around 25 years. Tall as a mountain and bigger than life. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” but kind and generous to a fault. Always building something, or tinkering with tools. Big tools. The kind that make a 5-foot, 6-inch guy like me feel like a Lilliputian.
Most people who go boat shopping are looking for something in the 12-foot to 24-foot range.
Pete got a houseboat. After all, his shoes alone were about 10 feet long.
The big man had a big appetite. He could go into a restaurant and be asked if he’d like the pork, chicken or steak, and he could reply “yes” — and mean it. I could put a diving board on the glass out of which he gulped his screwdrivers.
Alas, that largesse and joie de vivre caught up to him later in life. His knees began to fail after decades of crouching and squeezing into tight corners during plumbing jobs. His big heart complained about the amount of extra exertion it was being put through to transport his growing frame. And his lungs couldn’t process enough oxygen to keep him up and about.
Pete probably made enough visits to UVM Medical Center to have a building wing named after him. They fitted him with some new knees, which he unfortunately never really got to enjoy as he entered his 70s. He made valiant attempts to hobble around with his walker before resigning himself to moving about in a motorized wheelchair. The chair couldn’t cut Pete down to size. He still went to visit friends, on occasional fishing trips, and on supermarket runs. After all, he wanted snacks around to feed his many visitors.
Unfortunately, it became clear that Pete’s lungs wouldn’t provide him with a second wind to continue on much longer. So a few months ago, at the age of 76, he decided he didn’t want any more medical intervention. He was going to live his final days on own his terms.
And true to form, Pete was going to go out with a party. He hosted a final barbecue with the many friends, family and neighbors he has accumulated throughout his life. People ate, drank and were merry.
The only date Pete dared to circle on his calendar was Aug. 20, the wedding day of his nephew, Peeker, and his fiancée, Heather. He was determined to make it.
Family and friends volunteered around the clock to make sure Pete got oxygen, medication, food and companionship. Sure enough, Aug. 20 rolled around and so did Pete, to the front row of Peeker and Heather’s wedding. The powerful man who once could move mountains was using all his remaining strength to gulp for some final breaths to complete his bucket list.
And he did.
Less than 48 hours later, Uncle Pete was gone.
But far from forgotten.
Editor’s note: See Pete Hansen’s obituary here.

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