Uncle Louie

(January, 1979)

Both myself, my great Uncle Louie and Jesus Christ were all born on December 25. Being non-observant Jews, neither of us, me nor Louie, attached much significance to our birth dates. Just the inconvenience of having our individual celebrations lost in Christmas sales and cardboard mangers.

This is sort of an obituary since Louie died, after eighty years on this planet, two weeks ago on Christmas day. On that day I turned thirty. Perhaps I too will die neatly on some future Christmas, my obituary lost in a list of needy cases.

This is sort of an obituary since Louie died, after eighty years on this planet, two weeks ago on Christmas day. On that day I turned thirty. Perhaps I too will die neatly on some future Christmas, my obituary lost in a list of needy cases.

Louie was the oldest of eight children. The next to oldest was Anna who left this world almost as innocent as she entered. Retarded, she never got further along in mental age than accompanying great nieces and nephews to Jerry Lewis movies. When my great grandfather died Louie, with my grandmother Hannah, were the family wage earners. My great grandmother had six children to care for at home.

Louie got a job as a hat salesman, traveled, made enough money to move the family from the cramped ghetto of the Lower East Side to the broad expanses of Flatbush. My grandmother found a good job as a secretary processing immigrants at Ellis Island.

FROM Around the Way
BY Martha Pinson

In 1928 Hannah, twenty seven years old, got married and Louie, thirty years old, moved into the Hotel Empire in Manhattan. In 1978 he died in that same hotel which was his permanent address for fifty years. He was still a women’s hat salesmen, though he no longer traveled and women no longer bought hats. When asked about business Louie invariably replied, “What the hell, what the hell.”

The reason Louie left the house in Flatbush was an open secret. In 1928 he moved in with an Irish woman. Since she was Catholic, marriage was out of the question. Although I never saw this woman I know her name is Virginia. I am reminded of her whenever I see the bumper sticker, “Virginia is for lovers.” I try picturing her in my mind but she always ends up looking like my great aunt Lil who had flaming red hair and was the family beauty. I like to think of Virginia wearing a straw hat with brightly colored plastic flowers, though I understand Louie sold high quality hats.

Almost all this information comes from my grandmother who is more accurate than a calendar. My mother was particularly fond of her Uncle Louie. He never returned to New York without a souvenir for my mother or her brother. Never visited without first purchasing some candy or cake as an expected surprise. For those thirty years that business was good he had a bit of ready cash for whomever needed it. He always gave this money with one stipulation: it was not ‘return money’ and the debt was forgotten with the gift.

Short, but well-built with a head full of bushy white hair and a florid complexion, Louie looked to me like a dignified Irish pensioner. His light green eyes laughed…

He was someone I, and I suspected the rest of the family, only saw on special occasions. Exiled in Manhattan he answered “How are you” questions with “How are you” answers. Short, but well-built with a head full of bushy white hair and a florid complexion, Louie looked to me like a dignified Irish pensioner. His light green eyes laughed at all of us.

Four years ago, at a family reunion, I got into an argument with Louie about God. He couldn’t believe I was an atheist and said, “Goddamit! If you don’t believe in God who the hell do you believe in?” For the sake of argument I could have said the spirit of Che Guevara, but I merely shook my head indicating I had no answers. Louie slapped me on the back and I joined him for a drink. After our second drink, Louie draped his arm over my shoulder, pulled me toward him and offered the following advice, “Never forget you’re a Jew because some Christian will remind you.”

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