By Joanne Benjamin-Lederer

To most in my neighbourhood — Hughson below Burlington — he was a familiar figure who was simply known as Dan. I always addressed him by his full name, Daniel, and he always flashed a sheepish grin when he heard it. I often wondered if it brought back fond memories of his mother chastising him for his bad behaviour when he was a boy.

Our first encounter was a contentious one. He didn’t have a filter and was direct to the point of rudeness. While I appreciate honesty, he had crossed a line with me. To establish a boundary I stood my ground, giving back to him in a less aggressive way what he had given me. At that moment his posture changed and a friendship was forged, lasting 20+ years.

For some, Daniel’s disposition was off-putting, but to me he was a softy. He was unassuming, a bachelor in his 60s, slight of build, sporting a shaggy white mustache and beard, and balding. He was well-groomed, and a waft of overpowering cologne preceded him wherever he ventured. He had a good heart; you just had to dig a little when you talked with him to find it. He touched many lives with his charity and generosity because he was a kind and gentle soul who needed to feel relevant, and he never boasted about all of the good deeds he did for others. Only those few close to him knew about it. Out of respect for his legacy of humility I won’t boast for him on his behalf, but what I will say is he helped me with minor tasks and in turn I shared some of my cooking and baking with him. (He was partial to peanut butter cookies.) When he sought conversation I listened, regardless of what he said or for how long, and he could talk. He taught me to be more patient and understanding.

In the last few years his health had declined, and his quick stride had slowed. In early January 2022, police cruisers parked on the street a few houses down from mine, where Daniel lived. As the day wore on, additional official vehicles concentrated in the area, and technicians dressed in protective clothing came and went from his house with their equipment. I stayed away, not wanting to impede, and observed the commotion from a window. When darkness fell a sleek, black vehicle appeared: a hearse. My heart sank, because I knew who it was there for. The next day my fears were confirmed. Daniel had died, and while that in itself was a blow, what I found out still leaves me extremely disturbed, because it’s deplorable: Daniel had been discovered laying on a frigid bathroom floor, and had been there for several days. To call it tragic just isn’t enough.

And so another day will go by. People will enter and exit our lives, but there are some who make a real difference for the good. I will remember sharing the simple pleasures with my friend who made my life better. Thank you, Daniel, you benevolent curmudgeon.