Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lessons Learned

I wasn't an easy child. I was scared, I was shy, and I wanted to please everyone, but I had no idea how to begin to please.

Uncle Lenny and Aunt Debbie took me in during the summers and treated me like their very own, with patience and love and so much overwhelming kindness. It was they who took me camping for the very first time, swimming in the ocean for the very first time, and "spotting" for deer for the very first time. It was Uncle Lenny who put a video camera in my hands and laughed uproariously when I filmed 45 minutes of a crab shuffling on the beach and about 30 seconds of our actual family. It was with Uncle Lenny and Aunt Debbie that all the bad things that could happen did - running out of gas on a dark, twisty, mountain road; losing keys in a river while tubing; coasting a car to a stop in the pouring rain in a car wash to find that the air filter of their six year old Dodge Caravan had never been changed; and so many other stories of silliness and forgetfulness that it would make your head spin.

He always laughed, my Uncle Leonard. A memorable, booming laugh, easy to come and easy to go. When the car ran out of gas, he laughed. He laughed, grabbed my hand, and said, "well, I guess I get to go for a walk with the cutest girl in the state right now." Five minutes later, when the car pulled up to take us to the nearest gas station, it wasn't luck. It was because Uncle Lenny knew everyone in the whole damn city and it was, of course, someone he had done business with before.

I would never have tried to use that video camera. But Uncle Lenny insisted. When I demurred, claiming to not know how to do it, he told me that we all have to start with everything somehow. New experiences scared me, but I was reassured right then. We are all tyros when we first start. No one expects perfection the first time out. Uncle Lenny expected me only to do my best and even if that wasn't perfect, it would be just fine with him. And what would we do without that 45 minutes of film of the crab?

They didn't have children of their own. But they had us - their nieces and nephews who adored and loved and cherished them.

Uncle Lenny died two days before Thanksgiving. I've spent the last seven days going from one family function to another, not knowing if I should laugh or cry. On Sunday night, I sat next to Aunt Debbie on a couch, the same couch I spent many a night sleeping on, just one of the many nieces and nephews swarming around the house, desperate to let Aunt Debbie know that we are her children, we aren't going anywhere, and we will be there for her.

I think now of the lessons he taught me, never with a lecture, but only by example. Money is important, but how you spend it is more important. Do you want fancy garbage bags or a trip during the summer? When life hands you lemons, screw the lemonade. What can you do with the lemons themselves? Perfection is overrated. Do your best, do a job you're proud of, and go on a big vacation once a year, twice if you can make it work. Don't be so quick to judge people. They might just surprise you with their kindness and generosity. Laugh often. Laugh so hard it makes it your stomach hurt. Don't ever forget to tell the ones you love that you love them.

I love you, Uncle Lenny.


  1. It's obvious from this post that you loved him a ton, and I'm sure he knew it. Everyone should have an Uncle Lenny in their life. I'm so sorry yours had to go so soon. As always, I'm here if you need anything.

  2. What a beautiful, heartbreaking post. The way you describe him makes me feel sad that I won't get to meet him. He sounds like a wonderful man. I'm glad your Aunt Debbie has all of you, but that must be an overwhelming loss.

  3. I miss you and love you. I hope you're doing okay. I'll call you tonight ;)

  4. hugs. Many thoughts and prayers are with you.


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