The LuLac Edition #2369, March 4th, 2013
(Photo: LuLac archives, by Dolores Klink and Abby Klink.)
THE LESSONS OF LENNY
The last surviving member of my Mother’s family passed away last week. I mentioned many times here that my mom had 13 brothers and sisters. Andrew, John, Tom, Joe, Anne, Verna, Margaret, Helen, Sue, Betty, Mary and Marian (my mom) preceded him in death. In this long line of accomplished brothers and sisters, he was the “baby” of the family. As a young child, I could relate to that, being “the baby” of our much smaller family unit.
The very first memory though of my Uncle Lenny had to do with his car. He drove a glorious 1958 Belair Chevrolet which was cream colored white with a type of oak trim. All the nieces and nephews at the time vied for a ride in that car. And did he ever keep that thing clean! One time uncle Lenny decided to take my mom for a driving lesson. To keep her at ease, he sat in the back seat with me as she went through an empty parking lot. To this day I have no idea what possessed me to open the back door of the moving car but I did. As the door flung open, I leaned out to see the parking lines going by and thought that was pretty cool. All of a sudden, I felt a tug on my belt and was lunged back into the car. My mother had stopped the car and the next thing I knew my uncle was standing in front of the open back seat door leaning in on me and asking (loudly), “What are you doing?’ I told him I want to see the lines and he again asked (this time more loudly) “What are you doing”? He then commanded me to sit in the middle of the seat, nowhere near any door and rejoined my mother in the front seat. My mother was livid and I thought I’d never see the inside of that car again. But after a brief interval, Lenny started shaking his head and had a slight smile on his face. My mother, ever his big sister said, “Don’t you dare smile, he’s a bad boy”. Lenny replied, “He’s a boy” but being the baby brother, he obeyed. I got many more rides in that car again but always in the middle of the back seat squished in by two adults.
The very first wedding I ever attended was my Uncle Lenny’s. It was 1960 and I got to see the ceremony in person. I remember his bride to be walking down the aisle in an incredible dress. Fifty years later, at Lenny and Joan’s 50th anniversary party at the Knights in Pittston, I saw that photo and it literally took me back to that day. At my own wedding to Mrs. LuLac in 1982 as he went through the receiving line he cordially welcomed the new Mrs. Yonki to the family, then shook my hand and said to me, “You got lucky” and chuckled as he walked away.
The Knights in Pittston was the place where Lenny hosted thousands of events. So many people knew him from that job. At both Mrs. LuLac’s shower and my sister’s, I was one of the morning delivery guys bringing boxes and a few other items. (They wouldn’t trust me with the sainted Pribula, Yonki, and Seman cookies baked for the event). Lenny showed me where to put the stuff and then said, “Let me show you how to make scalloped potatoes for a hundred hungry women”. It wasn’t Clemenza showing Michael Corleone how to cook for a bunch of guys in “Godfather 1” but it was pretty damn close. When my sister’s shower rolled around two years later, (again I was on box duty) I got to see him prepare the seasonings for that incredible Knights baked Chicken.
So many people knew him from the Knights as well as his involvement in Golf, Bowling, the Moose in West Pittston, his church and the Knight of Columbus. Running an establishment like the Knights most likely had an array of stories about some of the “colorful” characters who showed up at the bar through the years but my Uncle would never tell any tales out of school. Whatever happened at the Knights, stayed at the Knights.
Even politics. Lenny might have had an opinion but he never took the liberty of speaking for anyone except one time. During the 2009 Luzerne County Judicial race, at a campaign event, someone asked Lenny if he was going to vote for any of the women in the race. Lenny replied that he was undecided but was sure that his nephew (pointing to me) would vote for a few of the women running. The guy asked Lenny who they might be and he grinned and said, “The tallest ones!” He nailed that one.
He did follow my broadcast career and when he found out I was working at Rock 107, and I told him the biggest advertisers were beer and cars, he expounded on his knowledge of beer. He said that guys his age would drink the long necks in a bar and would only drink beer out of cans in the summertime. He also said that younger people were also opting for the bottles in the fall, winter and spring because it was like drinking the beer their fathers and grandfathers used to drink. When I checked the Marketing Stats back at the station compiled by the biggest ad minds in the nation, I saw Uncle Lenny was right on the mark.
When I was growing up, our house during the holidays was a beehive of activity. All of the uncles, aunts and cousins would visit which would give my mother great pleasure. When the families started to have their own traditions, and with my father gone, my family homestead became much more sedate. But my mom’s little brothers, Tom, Joe and Lenny would always drop by to visit. I could always count on Uncle Lenny being there on “Good Friday”, sitting with a beer picking up his traditional Slovak Easter cheese (a tradition my sister Sandra Barnett still keeps to this day) and just visiting.
When my mom died in 2008, my sister and I encountered people expressing their condolences. We really weren’t sure we knew them. “Did you know who that was?” my sister would ask and I’d say no. But after the 20th person came in I looked over at my Uncle Lenny and saw a multitude of those mourners expressing their friendship and condolences to him. I said to my sister, “I know who those people are, they’re FOLs”. “FOLs?” she asked, “Yep”, I replied, “Friends of Lenny”.
One of the most memorable encounters I had with him was just a few years ago at a family event. Like most men his age, who never spoke of their military service during that era, I was stunned to learn he was in the Navy shortly after graduating high school in 1945. He was stationed off the coasts of New England as a Deep Sea Diver making sure the Torpedoes that were marked as duds were in fact duds. “How the hell did you do that?” I asked. “Very cautiously” he said returning to his coffee and cake as if it wasn’t that big a deal.
The last time I saw him was in November at my cousin P.J.’s second son’s First Birthday party. We chatted and as he nodded over at Mrs. LuLac, he smiled and said, “Still a lucky guy”.
None of the lessons of Lenny here are not going to make me or anyone else millionaires. But multiply my little stories with thousands of people who knew him and you see the man was a pretty incredible guy. When I spoke to his daughter Nancy last Friday night on the phone, she said "We're going to miss him". She was not only speaking for herself, her mother, her brothers Joe, Paul, John, Lenny, and all the grandchildren but for all those “Friends of Lenny” (the FOL’s) whose world is just a bit poorer with his passing.