Yesterday, my cousin Lenny passed away. Len was like a second father to me, even though he had five children of his own. He loved kids, he loved his family. He was a family man above everything else in life. He will be greatly missed.
Lenny was a big man, over six feet tall and over 200 pounds. He towered over us when we were little. He was the biggest person on my side of the family, but what was even bigger than his outer physique, was his heart. He always put on a tough exterior, but inside he was kind, sensitive and gentle. He was easily hurt and moved to tears. You had to really know him well to know that about him. What made him happiest was having his family all around him.
When he was 18 and out of high school, he enlisted in the military. It wasn’t long before he called his high school sweetheart and asked her to marry him. She went to meet him and they married near where he was stationed. It was a small wedding, no family members were present. In 2006, I went to their 50th wedding anniversary. Their children put together a wonderful slide show of the years they spent together. A montage of all the people who were important in their lives. It was very touching and brought many of us there to tears.
My cousin Lenny was my mother’s nephew, not just in name, but in personality traits, attitude and looks. He could have been her son. My brother and I would spend our summers with his family when we were teenagers. He lived in the suburbs and we lived in the city. He always welcomed us with open arms. It was our home away from home. My mother and father would visit us there every weekend and it was really a special time in all our lives.
I have so many thoughts and memories swimming through my head this morning, like how he loved those Nabisco dark chocolate graham crackers. I loved them too. There were only 15 in a package and he would eat them all, with a quart of milk, at one sitting. I remember how he would come home from work in the afternoon, open the mail and ask if anyone called and then eat a whole Entenmann’s cake right before dinner. The nights he was home watching baseball, he would snack on things, but mostly I remember the huge bowls of Breyers ice cream that he loved most. He loved his sweets.
It wasn’t easy supporting five kids either. He insisted that his wife stay home to raise them, so he worked three jobs to make ends meet and pay the mortgage. He had a full time job in the day with the railroad, worked at a local gas station at night and at his father’s dry cleaning store on Saturdays. It was a struggle at times.
I remember the first summer I went to stay with Lenny and his family. In was in 1967 and they had three children at that time. I was supposed to be staying for a week. But, during that week he went out and bought a four foot swimming pool for the backyard. He had it assembled by the time I was supposed to go home. He asked me if I wanted to stay an extra week so I could enjoy the pool. Truth be told, I was homesick and didn’t care for pools, but I felt bad to say so. I called my mother and asked if I could stay another week, she agreed. If not for that second week, I may not have gone back summer after summer. It was during that time that I really got comfortable and over my shyness, felt at home and part of their family.
Sometimes I think my cousin Lenny didn’t consider himself a “successful” man. He had ordinary jobs, made average salaries and he worked hard every day of his life. But, in my eyes, he was one of the most successful men I have ever known. He had a long marriage of 56 years with a wife who loved him and catered to his every need. He had the love of five beautiful children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. He was big, but gentle. He was hard, but sensitive. He was tough, but loving. He had his priorities straight from the very beginning…family first. He instilled his family values in his children.
If the true measure of a man’s life lies in the capacity of his heart for love and kindness, providing for his family, the love and respect he has inspired in his loved ones, his hard work and honesty, and the many hearts he has touched, then my cousin Lenny was a great man. He will live on in his children and their children. He will be missed and never forgotten.
Rest in peace, Lenny, I love you.