Legacy

I think every family has that “weird” uncle, right? I am quite certain, that in my family of origin, I am that weird uncle to certain nieces and nephews. In fact, I know I am.

However, if you believe this moniker of “weird” is somehow unflattering or disrespectful, you have no idea about my thoughts on “weird.” If interested, you could read about those thoughts here.

In short, I really like people who are different. How boring this planet would be if we did not have eccentric, strange people inhabiting it.

Enter my Uncle Les. My 87 year-old uncle recently passed away from lung cancer. As the one who presided over the funeral while delivering the eulogy, I had a chance to sit back and really reflect on my strange uncle. Though was he really that strange? You be the judge.

Uncle Les never married. He rarely dated, at least to my knowledge, and I was around for 56 of his 87 years. He never had children, or if he did he performed a stealth-like job keeping it a secret. He lived alone with his two pooches in a modest house in the hills of Burbank.

While recently cleaning out some of his belongings in his home, a neighbor came over and informed us he was very territorial and, allegedly, threatened gun play when someone dared park in front of his house or trespass on his property. I do not think he was a violent guy, you know, he just, like, didn’t appreciate unwanted trespassers I guess.

I have plenty of Uncle Les stories, like the time when I was a kid and my family was driving home one night and we watched as police officers were giving a man a field sobriety test…lo and behold it was my uncle.

But that was a long time ago. Uncle Les stopped boozing sometime in the mid 80’s.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about him was his relationship with money. In our Hungarian family he was known as an “ocho sheggi,” (please do not hold me accountable for the spelling of this phrase) which is Hungarian for “cheap ass.”

To illustrate, often times for Thanksgiving he would eat at the local Salvation Army to save a few bucks. He was generous enough to will me his car upon his passing, and though Uncle Les had plenty of money in the bank, several properties, and a home worth damn near a million bucks, he left me a 2011 Toyota Yaris with crank windows.

I had no idea they still manufactured cars with crank windows in 2011.

You could say he was a “no frills” kind of guy. He actually enjoyed being extremely cheap, saving every penny he could whenever he could. He would brag about how little he paid for things…if he even paid for it at all and was not picking it out of a local dumpster.

But dammit, I loved the guy…a lot. I really did, particularly as he aged. His relationship with money was endearing in a strange kind of way. We would often take him out to lunch or dinner and I would pick up the tab. As I swooped up the $32.49 check to pay, he had a look in his eye like I just bought him a new Tessla Roadster or 14 carat diamond watch.

And, to be fair, he would treat on occasion as well…even if it was the greasy spoon called Harry’s Family Restaurant in beautiful downtown Burbank, where the omelettes are 4.99 though the cockroaches come for free.

But this is not why I write today. I write because Uncle Les is remnant of a bygone era whose values are sadly dying with it. Born circa 1930, a depression era baby, Uncle Les and his ilk did not run out and by new socks when one wore a hole through one – you stitched it back up and off you went.

You valued hefty savings accounts not expensive cars; a “rainy day” fund over fancy clothes. Uncle Les had enough money to do whatever he wanted to do: buy a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation property or two, but, no. He had developed a lifestyle that he was content with and lived life on his own “ocho sheggi” terms.

So now I, along with my siblings and cousins, am left with what Uncle Les refused to spend and I feel really weird about it. Really weird.

Perhaps my biggest take away is the old adage, that money cannot buy you happiness. Or that a man worked his entire life and saved damn near every penny for the sole purpose of leaving it for the next generation – a next generation that did not include any children of his own.

Uncle Les lived in an age where character mattered and the legacy a person leaves actually meant something.

As we buried Uncle Les we did not bury his legacy nor our gratitude for his profound generosity. As we lowered him down his legacy rose like a phoenix out of the ashes along with our love and appreciation.

I now realize Uncle Les is in many ways a role model for all of us and I am now challenged like never before to consider what legacy I can leave the next generation when my number comes up.

I guess sometimes (Uncle) Les(s) is more…than you could have ever imagined. Thank you. Your legacy lives on.

jimmysintension

15 Comments

    • Thanks Georgia…yeah my point about the Yaris was that he made sure to buy the most “bare bones” model with no upgrades….that is so Uncle Les.

  1. Normal is overrated. Strange makes things interesting.

    That said, it’s lovely that he left you something. As a depression-era born man, he, no doubt, learned the value of a penny. “Money can’t buy you happiness” but the other saying is, “You can’t take it with you”. I think it’s sweet that he saved so much and instead of spending it on himself, and gifted it to his extended family.

    And his dogs, I hope.

  2. There are many character traits that might be considered weird and these days it seems like there is no limit to just how exotically weird some people can be, but from what you have told us about your uncle, I don’t think he was weird for living a value driven life. He should be commended for avoiding the unfulfilling, Capitalist / Consumerist way of life that our economic system tells us we should embrace. What is weird anyway? If you are saying that he was weird because his habits, behaviors, and beliefs didn’t easily fit into the constraints of generally accepted social norms, than I suppose you are correct but, I think you are also quite lucky to have known and appreciated such a man and yes Jimmy, you certainly qualify to take the moniker of weird uncle or professor or (insert role here).
    Just as your own habits, behaviors, and beliefs are often viewed as unconventional or weird to some of the younger folks you spend so much time around but less so to your um, more aged peers, I would venture to guess that your uncle’s frugality is not so weird to others born from the depression era. Maybe your uncle Les was not so much a “cheap ass” as he was a man who understood and appreciated the value of simple things, like a good Jazz session…

    • Or a walk on the beach, right? Well said Brendhan. Please keep in mind that I did not call him a “cheap ass,” rather that was his stereotype in the family. As I aged, I realized that the most vocal persons calling him a “cheap ass” were the actual cheap asses. Thanks for the contribution Brendhan.

  3. Hey Jimmy,
    Condolences for your loss. From your description it seems like your uncle was quite the character. In a lot of ways a role model. I personally struggle at times trying to hard to fill roles that would make other people happy. I have to admire your Uncle Les, living his life his way. My best to you and your family.
    -Chris

  4. Awesome read! Everyone has an uncle Les. I love keeping up with your posts after all these years.

    • CarFREAKINGleen! I think the last time I saw you was the Hard Rock in Palm Springs, like 3 years ago, right?? Thank you for the nice lil shot o positivity! Hope you are well and things are good 🙂

  5. I feel like I relate to your Uncle Les in the penny pinching aspect, every since I was about 8, I’ve been saving all my birthday and Christmas money. After every Christmas my brothers would be begging to go to Walmart/Target/Best Buy, but I rarely cared to at all. As I’ve been growing up into an adult it has been very difficult for me to get into the habit of spending money. Unfortunately, I do need food to survive, I don’t have parents feeding me all the time, and food costs money. I am fortunate enough to be financially stable, but voluntarily letting my money go towards paying my bills, or buying food/gas was very difficult for me at first, but it is something I’m getting more used to. I still try to live a cheap life as I am trying to save up for university (and I am terrified of debt), but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Sometimes I walk out of the grocery store with a euphoric feeling over how much food for the money spent, or how long I made a full tank of gas last. I’m not proud to admit how much joy I gain from witnessing my brother make poor financial decisions, despite any advice he asks of me, he makes spontaneous decisions. As bad as it sounds, he serves as a reminder for me to stay diligent, and almost a measure of my progress towards saving for my future.

  6. I love this , and the one on “weird JLBV.
    I do believe your “legacy” is your writing.
    Thanks for doing it and making it available.

  7. Coming from a family of “weird” people I was lucky enough to see weird as a positive term of appreciation. We are all different and quirky and, although all of our weirdness is different from person to person, thinking something is weird usually means you can learn something new from that person. It is awesome you had an uncle that had his own kind of weird that you where able to view different values and lessons from. Those are the things I hold value in, especially after someone is gone, because money comes and goes but the ideals you learned from him you will get to keep the rest of your life.

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