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.