A remembrance of Vernon E. Peets by Dee Cappelli
I met Vern, through Nia, in 2006. Nia and Vern were roommates in Mission Viejo, and I stayed with them, there, for 10 days while I recovered from hip replacement surgery. I also met Vern’s best friend and brother-from-another-mother, Grizz, during that stay.
In the years that followed, I learned how stunningly smart Vern was. He knew about a half-dozen programming languages, several of them self- taught. He was exceedingly generous, sweet, gentle, made me laugh, had a great memory, knew a lot about history and even more about cars; and he gave really great, warm hugs. I enjoy warm hugs, history and cars so he was fun to talk to — as long as we didn’t discuss politics. When he and Nia moved to Pollock Pines, he always welcomed me like I was a member of his family. What I really liked most about Vern was how much he loved Nia’s dog, Mr. BoJindo. He came to love my dog, Dory, too. He ended every phone conversation, with, “Give Dory a big hug for me.” I would always say, “I will!”, and I always gave Dory that big hug from Vern.
Sometime around 2008, I began working for his company, DSLWest, as a combination DSL tech support/bookkeeper/sales & customer service rep. At that point, Vern was both my friend and my boss. After he left Pollock Pines, I handled day-to-day operations for DSL customers. Since I worked from home, I didn’t have daily contact with Vern, but I texted him frequently with business questions, and we spoke a few times a month. I would call just to check up on him — especially after his heart attack in 2016. I’d ask about his general health and, more recently, get an update on the status of his eye condition. He didn’t mind sharing the details of his eye problems with me. I had been struggling with eye operations to slow the loss of my sight from glaucoma, and shared a lot with him about my experiences, so I think he felt at ease discussing what he was going through.
I often talked to Vern about history, especially after I’d seen something on the History Channel. He almost always knew something about what ever it was. After my father died in 2012, I called Vern more often, to talk about what ever history documentary I’d seen. I used to enjoy calling my Dad, a World War II veteran, to discuss World War II, the Korean War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis — all events in which Dad had been involved. Once Dad was gone, it was comforting somehow to talk to Vern about those things.
In early 2017, business for DSLWest began to dwindle. Vern kept me on board in an as-needed capacity. Finally, in June, I left DSLWest and went back to Santa Monica College. Vern and I remained friends, but we didn’t have the long chats as frequently. It was usually me calling him to check if he was okay, and maybe to share something I’d learned in school.
About the middle of last May, I realized I hadn’t talked to him in a while, although, I had texted him several times about DSLWest customers who’d contacted me for help. I told myself to call him as soon as I had a quiet moment. The urge to call him would always come in the middle of washing my hair, or working on a paper, or walking Dory. “Later.” I told myself. I did call on May 25th and left a voice mail message. He was usually good about calling back in a few hours. He didn’t call back this time.
Nia texted me on May 27th, with a terse message, “I need you to call me as soon as possible.” I knew it was serious. Nia is never that insistent for a phone call. When I called, she said, “I don’t know how to tell you this — I’ll just say it: Vern’s gone.” A few seconds of silence passed while I tried to get my brain to comprehend what she meant. “He’s missing?” I asked. Then she told me Vern had died and that [Bryan] found him. I felt like I was experiencing the kind of swirling fall James Stewart had in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” I remembered how I had been thinking about calling him. It struck me that I would never hear his deep, beautiful voice again.
Suddenly, Vern was gone from the earth of wind and rain, the smell of cut grass, and bird’s songs. No longer there to speak with, laugh with, gripe with. Just ripped away like sand taken by a harsh wave from a distant beach. It seems there are no rules that allow humans to make sense of the shock of suddenly losing a loved one. I hugged Dory several times that day, thinking about Vern, and trying to hold onto a life I didn’t want to slip away.
Vern was the fifth close friend I had lost to sudden death since August of 2017. When Grizz passed away in October, Vern was the one to tell me, and Vern drove me to Grizz’s funeral. That was the last time I saw Vern.
Vern: the loss of you lingers and hurts. I miss you. I miss your laugh. I miss brainstorming with you. I miss your hugs. I still feel fogged in, and more than a bit immobilized by your death. I grieve that you died alone instead of surrounded by the very friends who love you and celebrate your life today. I carry the memory of you in my heart, right next to the memory of Grizz. I like to imagine the two of you, seated on a couch, perched somewhere in the celestial whirling of space, being raucous while watching a football game on a wide-screen TV, and eating — what else — barbecued ribs. Every time I think of you, I will give Dory a big warm hug from you.
Photo 1 (top): Vern in 2009, my 60th birthday party at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. He and Nia drove down from Pollock Pines for the party.
Photo 2: taken about 2006, in Pollock Pines, near Jenkinson Reservoir (I think).
Photo 3: photo of Grizz, taken in Pollock Pines about 2007. Grizz challenged himself to make vegan food for Nia and me when he visited Pollock Pine. This was one of his outstanding efforts: vegan French toast breakfast, covered in fruit compote, with vegan sausages. Grizz wanted to make sure Nia and I were fueled up before going on a long hike. When it came to cooking, Grizz did not do anything halfway. It was unforgettably delicious and did, indeed, keep me fueled up for the hike.