Everyone Should Have An Uncle Lou

Rest In Peace My Uncle My Brother

Uncle Lou above, Me marching at Uncle Lou’s wedding, no that is not Cheryl marching with me

This is a very special and personal blog and I beg your indulgence, but many of you have known me for decades and shared family Simchas with me. You may have met Uncle Lou on one or many occasions and I wanted to honor him and share a little of me in the process. He was my mother’s younger brother, and the last of all my uncles. He died Erev Sukkot at the age of 90. Because of Covid I could not attend but I wrote a special eulogy for him that was read at the funeral that I would like to share with you.

Eulogy for my Uncle Lou

Everyone should have an Uncle Lou. I know everyone can not which is why I treasure one of the great gifts of life I was given. I have known him for 70 years though the first 3 are kind of fuzzy. He has known me for 70 years and only the last year was kind of fuzzy for him. For many years he would pick me up around 7am and drop me off at Associated Hebrew Day School on his way to work. It was earlier than I needed to be at school, but it didn’t matter. He saved me the wait for the TTC bus, the slogging in the snow or freezing rain, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was that we got to spend time together every day. I do not remember what we talked about, but I know we talked a lot because neither of us were ones for silence. Like with Uncle Max he was more an older brother than an uncle, and I as the kid brother got love, gifts, and the joy of his presence; and joy was the key.

Uncle Lou was a man child in the best sense of the word. He had a passion for life and for enjoying it. If you ever saw what I do to a rib steak bone sucking every drop of flavor from it, that is how he approached life and its pleasures. He had his father’s smile and disposition. A twinkle of the eye, a big smile on his face, an impish delight in a joke, and a passion for good food.

Going to his and Aunty Myrna’s house was always a big treat for me. The best cherries in Toronto were in their house. I used to think they owned the nut house store because they not only had the best nuts but a seemingly unlimited supply of large cashews, the holy grail of nuts. In my house they were rationed, in Lou and Myrna’s house they flowed freely.

Halloween had two standards for me and my sisters as trick or treaters. What you picked up in the neighborhood was good, but the special bag that was waiting just for you at the Lefko home was gold. It was like getting the golden ticket from Willie Wonka.

They actually paid me to babysit Elliot and Perry and they paid handsomely for it. They never knew I would have done it for free just for the nosh they always had waiting for me, or the slightly risqué books from the “Are You Over Sexteen?” series.

Uncle Lou is responsible for one of the greatest days of my life and that is no exaggeration. I was a Toronto Maple Leaf super fan. I went to bed listening to Foster Hewitt’s call of the Leaf game on my radio. When the Leafs won I was happy all day, when they lost I was sad all day and nervous until the next game. We had a black and white tv with a small screen, rabbit ears and lots of snow. I think I imagined the game more than I saw it. But for newspaper pictures, I barely knew what Tim Horton really looked like. Frank Mahovilich was my hero and the captain was the chief, George Armstrong. I could go on, but you get what I am saying. My dad was an immigrant and not yet into western sports. He never came to any of my games and never went, let alone took me, to a professional sports game. I never dreamed of going to a real NHL game because A) it was too expensive if you could get a ticket and B) you could not get a ticket.

One day Uncle Lou told me that the next day we were going out for dinner and then going to a Leaf Game. I was in delightful shock and slight disbelief. “Do you have tickets”? I asked.

“Don’t worry about it” he answered.

The next day he picked me up and we went to the Sova restaurant. I had a corned beef sandwich, a full order of French fries and a coke that I did not have to share, and this was all forshpeis (appetizer) to the main course; the game.

We drove down to Maple Leaf Gardens, we parked, and he marched me over to one of the pillars. “Stay here don’t move.”

“Ok, but do you have the tickets?”

“Don’t worry about it just stay put”.

But of course, I did worry. How do you get tickets when you do not have season tickets? Your grandfather had to have been really rich back in the day to have owned tickets, not be an immigrant shoe maker like my Zaydie.

“Don’t worry” he said.

Of course, I worried. I knew this was too good to be true. Guys like me do not get to enter the holy grounds of Maple Leaf Gardens. That was true, but I forgot that this was Uncle Lou and yes, he gets you into places like Maple Leaf Gardens.

In what was probably a few minutes but seemed like an eternity, Uncle Lou returned. I immediately asked if he got the tickets and he showed me a long sad face.

“I knew it”, I think to myself already mourning the death of hope, when in classic Uncle Lou style he reaches into his shirt pocket and levitates 2 green tickets, all the while breaking into a 100 watt smile.

We enter the door; give the man the tickets and Uncle Lou starts tour guiding me through the lobby. He shoed me the pictures of the old Leaf stars from the 30’s and on. He told me of himself and Max getting standing room only tickets to watch games. We walked up seemingly endless stairs and then I entered the portal of our section and knew immediately that I was in the Holy of Holies.

If that was the end of the story dayenu, but this is an Uncle Lou story. In between periods he took me down to the back of the entry way into the players’ locker room, so I could see the players walk by. Walking gods of my youth were just feet away. I was in ecstasy and Uncle Lou was enjoying it as much as me but for him the joy came from giving me the experience and watching me enjoy it. If the story ended here it would have been more than complete, but it does not.

After the game when I thought we are returning to the car to go home because tomorrow was a school day, he takes me in a different direction. We were in the back of the Gardens where the players parked their cars. We waited and one by one, the players walked by, signing autographs, saying hello, and then I knew I had died and gone to heaven.

Nothing will ever happen to me again that will be that special, that amazing. Long before there was a make a wish foundation, Uncle Lou was reveling in the gift he gave me. As you see I have never forgotten that day. It was an Uncle Lou day.

Everyone should have an Uncle Lou.

Rest in Peace my uncle, my brother.

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Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .