Our dear friend Paul Berti passed away yesterday. He was 68. Rudy has known Paul since highschool in 1969. I met Paul in 1987. It’s weird to think we will never see him again.
Over the years we had many encounters. But it really all started in 1990. That was the year Paul convinced us to join a group of other couples in renting a summer seasonal cottage on Lake Muskoka. Paul contacted Rudy and explained the deal, but when Rudy didn’t jump on the plan immediately, Paul sent in his closer, Derrick. When we agreed to the rental (which wasn’t cheap by 1990 standards; $2000 for the season May to Sept), we had no idea what an adventure it would be.
The Coles cottage (named for the family who owned it) was on Browning Island, a fair sized island in Lake Muskoka near Gravenhurst. One of our concerns was the island location; how would we get to and from?? Paul assured us that this was no problem since there was a convenient water taxi service out of the nearby marina and also Derrick had a boat. We were dubious with good cause: the water taxi was nonexistent (Bob the marina owner prioritized his water shuttle services at the bottom of his long to do list) and Derrick barely used his boat. So after two weekends of frustration we bought a boat. A repo Bayliner bow rider was the beginning of our continuing love for boating.
On the first weekend we owned the boat Rudy was not able to be there. Paul and Derrick were more than happy to take me and our new boat out for an orientation. Even getting stopped by the cops (safety check that we failed miserably) was an adventure as Paul explained that we just bought the boat and didn’t have all (read any!) of our gear yet. Not to mention the ownership and registration which were in limbo due to the repo! We enjoyed every minute on that boat and looked forward to weekends when we could venture on the water.
But it was the cottage shenanigans that made the summer unforgettable. There were five couples. Only two of the couples were married. The others were dating. The cottage had a bunkie with four bedrooms and the fifth bedroom (ours) was adjacent to the dining room and only bathroom. As it turned out, the least desirable room was the plum. Ask anyone who has to bear the bugs and elements to pee!
The weekend parties were epic. As everyone rolled in on Friday (or late Thursday night) they would come laden with stuff. At the time Paul worked in sales for McCormicks (a food company) and he would bring cases of candy, cookies and other snacks. The Bear Paws were of particular desire but I could never understand why. I thought they were gross. The girlfriends had an unwritten competition for gourmet dinners. At some point, while trying to outdo each other, a kitchen feud started. Cliques formed and the rivalries began. Derrick’s girlfriend, Julie, was in my view the worst offender with her bacon wrapped scallops and other delicacies. One of the other guys, Lindsay (whose girlfriend was hardly there due to her job at the Jockey Club) would routinely start a scene when he couldn’t get to the appliances to make his standard hot dog dinner. It was truly comical.
Paul’s girlfriend, Mimi, was a fiery Italian who didn’t back away from anything or anyone. She and Paul didn’t last the summer (neither did any of the other couples) but while she was there it was never a dull moment. Over the years we reflected on that summer when Paul would come to visit and we laughed for hours. It was such a fun time.
After that summer we connected regularly. The epic parties continued and our friendship endured. Paul was a fixture at any events. He was a tall, athletic, handsome dude that attracted the ladies attention. His sense of humour and easy going attitude was contagious. I didn’t keep our old photo albums when we downsized several years ago, but I know there were tons of Polaroids (yes … take the toll of film to the Kodak store!) of our partying ways.
One year Paul introduced us to Sussi. We knew it was serious when the moved in together. Next thing we knew there was a baby on board. Alaiya Napa (named for the place of her conception) changed Paul’s ways for good. He became a family man complete with house and dogs. It looked good on him and we continued our friendship on new terms that included kids and pets. Paul and Sussi made a beautiful home north of Hamilton and I always marvelled at their sense of style. Paul enjoyed the nesting aspect and they showcased their good taste in their home. In particular I recall the dining room light fixture which was so trendy.
Paul and Sussi also acquired a cottage in the Muskokas. It was a cute A frame on the mainland near Walkers Point. Nestled in the woods above the lake there was also a bunker (our digs when we visited) and a lakeside dock that was the gathering place. The cottage was surrounded by trees and greenery and the large deck off the main room served as the outdoor eating and gathering place. Again, the flair for design was evident. The large teak table and chairs laden with lanterns was encompassed by a wooden railing; each rail post had a metal sap bucket overflowing with white baccopa fastened to it. There were strings of lights illuminating the cozy space. It was magical.
Alaiya became their style muse also. She was always so well dressed and cute as a button. They took a photo of her sitting in one of our leather chairs. She was dwarfed by the chair but it was her adorable bright striped tights and dress and her huge eyes that jumped out of the picture. We had it framed.
Paul got cancer and things were rough. Soon after his recovery, he and Sussi split. The stylish house sold and Paul kept his beloved cottage. Sussi and Alaiya and the dogs moved to Dundas. Paul retreated a bit after that. He kept to himself and stuck to a regular routine. Work, sleep, cottage (in the summer) repeat. When his father became ill, Paul added visits to St Peters to his routine. We saw him only a few times a year.
Our last get together was in Blue Mountains. Paul drove up to see us for a couple of days. For a change of pace I organized a wine tasting at The Roost Winery. Paul marvelled at the charcuterie board and told us this was a first for him. It was a great visit. Who knew it would be our last.
Paul’s birthday in January was always a point of connection. As well as holidays. I sent him a happy Easter text. Didn’t hear back. Sent him another text trying to arrange a visit when we got back from Florida; didn’t hear back. I told Rudy something was wrong. And on our drive home from Florida my phone rang. It was Paul. I answered in horrible Italian as was our tradition. Except it wasn’t Paul. It was Alaiya on his phone. Paul had fallen in his apartment and suffered seizures and possible heart attacks. He was in hospital on life support.
I don’t remember much of the drive that day. I was in a trance of some kind. So many memories and thoughts flooded my mind. When we got to Ontario a few days later, we stopped in Hamilton at the hospital to say goodbye. Seeing our dear friend in such a fragile state was unbearable. I wished him a peaceful journey to the other side and asked him to say hello to our friends who are there to greet him (including all of the furry ones).
Godspeed, Paul. Until we meet again.