A Tribute to the Doctor in (My) House — In Memory of Peter Gott, 6/8/35-6/13/12

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Over the years, I’ve found that honoring gifts is a way to heal the grief that accompanies death – and sometimes it takes the death of a loved one to understand their full influence on my life.

So in that tradition, I want to honor a few of the gifts that Peter Gott – my step-dad — bestowed on me during my formative years. And now, I realize, throughout my life.

When I was around six, Peter showed up on the scene and several years later married my Mom. To be with him, we moved from New York City to a cozy, bucolic New England town in northwest corner of Connecticut. Until I left for college, he was a constant presence, almost greater than life. One who was there through the thick and thin – through some major life milestones as well as some heart wrenching tragedies.

Many have known him as “The Doctor in the House,” the author of a multitude of books…or a family doctor who actually made house calls any hour of the day or night.

But I literally had him as the doctor in MY house who could cure an ear infection in a flash or offer a hankie when I was in meltdown mode. Whose fingers could flit over piano keys and envelop a room with dreamy Broadway tunes. He regularly channeled the great jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson.

He played a mean game of tennis, and was relentless in teaching me to drive. He was a negotiator, a doctor, a writer, an auto aficionado, a friend, a Dad, and a really lousy cook (at least in the early years). He was also complex, and very human…and as it turns out, ultimately mortal. Who knew?

Growing up, he’d built a house in the woods in the early 70s in the rolling hills of Lakeville…and the endless acres of wilderness became my refuge. I spent hours and hours playing there, searching for bobcats (the cave!), pitching a tent outside the house, playing in streams, wandering aimlessly and never getting lost.

But my most memorable outdoor adventures were with Peter and my family – blazing trails, cross-country skiing up the back of Mt. Riga, ice-skating on our pond, building igloos from snow drifts, and hiking near the reservoir. In the wintertime, I lived in the Land of Narnia…this beautiful wilderness we called home. From these cherished moments evolved my deepest reverence for the natural world — a place to escape, a place where I’m never alone.

Today, as I quietly hiked through the redwoods in the Oakland Hills of Northern California, I was again inspired by the views as the songbirds mourned with me. I reflected on my family, our friends, and on the loss of Peter. The gentle breeze touched breathtaking trees, reminding me of the early years in “our woods.”

I never realized what an enormous impact Peter had on me – and who I am – until now. As with any parent, we ARE part of them, and although we weren’t related by blood, he deeply influenced my life and my love of nature.

I moved West to be close to spectacular views, the outdoors, balanced with the grit of urban life. I now share that love of nature with others as an environmental educator, as he was in his own way.

Thank you, Peter, for helping me become the person I am today.

A poem in his memory, by Mary Wood:

My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company.
So I must stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.

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About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. More than 8 years ago, I founded and continue to manage the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin Prison, a rehabilitative organic gardening program designed to re-connect men to themselves, their communities, and the natural environment. Building on that work and my experience in communications and organizational consulting, I plan to help transform people, communities and organizations (outside the prison industrial complex) through connection to the natural world... To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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15 Responses to A Tribute to the Doctor in (My) House — In Memory of Peter Gott, 6/8/35-6/13/12

  1. Terri says:

    Beth, thank you for sharing this loving tribute to your step-dad. Heartfelt hug to you.

  2. Nothing like nature to remind us of the beauty of ALL Earth’s beings ! Love YOU !

  3. Steve Mettee says:

    Touching and well-written. Peter impacted tens of thousands of lives via his books and his columns. I am proud to have had the chance to publish his books and proud to have considered him a friend.

    • Beth Waitkus says:

      Hi Steve, sorry for the delayed reply…I haven’t worked with my blog for a while…very much appreciate your thoughts…and thanks for publishing his books!

      • smettee says:

        My pleasure.

        Stephen Blake Mettee

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      • Beth Waitkus says:

        Steve it was so great speaking to you — because of your connection to Peter, it really meant a lot. And thanks SO much for sending a copy of your book. Much appreciated! Now, I have a commitment to start writing daily! Warm regards, Beth

  4. mariam f donerian says:

    I will really miss his columns in the Journal Inquirer newspaper here in CT.

  5. Kathy Sisler says:

    So sad to learn of his passing. I loved reading the advice he gave others. He will be misse.

  6. George Held says:

    Thanks for the warm tribute to your step-dad, Pete Gott, a classmate of mine at Scarsdale High School. Thanks also for including the photo of you two.

  7. Gaby Siemon says:

    Oh, my. Tears ruining my make-up and a big smile on my face and in my heart. I’m happy to learn more about your step-dad… and you! Your gift to those of us who didn’t have a personal relationship beyond his writing appreciate your tale and the poem. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your life with your memories, the love you will continue to feel (death can’t touch that), and the angel in heaven who continues to be your companion. Condolences to you and all who miss him. Love, Gaby

  8. beagle47 says:

    Thank you for your tribute. I just discovered your father passed away. He did not know me, but I knew him to be the kind, fatherly, gentle man who eased me through many pains, real and imagined. Tonight I received a cholesterol reading of 221, then read his response to another which eased my troubled mind. My only regret is I never thanked him, but my guess he would forgive me…and pass me a hankie as well.

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