I wasn’t very close to my Uncle Lenny growing up (although I did forget that he lived with us for a while while he worked on our house). I remember seeing his “Brush” logo on magnets and his van, I remember he was always wearing paint-splattered clothes, and maybe he used to have a thing at his house in the summer and we played volleyball? I don’t remember.
I don’t think I could really “see” Uncle Lenny until I was an adult.
In fact, I remember the exact moment: we had gone over to his house to pick pears, and he was showing us around his place. Evelyn was playing with the kittens, and at that time I think he had his turkeys? Anyway, it was one of the few times I was ever over to his place without a big crowd of people. He was showing us around, showing us around the barn. He just seemed so happy, and proud, and just…in the moment. Like he was where he was supposed to be, you know?
And I remember I just had this lightning bolt moment, like “Uncle Lenny has got his life set just exactly how he wants it.” I mean, most people spend all this time working and saving and striving, and we never really get there. But Uncle Lenny had cracked the code: he was more or less satisfied with his life. (This must have been in 2006, because I briefly mentioned it on the blog, so Evelyn and the kittens must have been later.)
I don’t think most people wanted to live Lenny’s life, and so they might have looked at it and said, “He must have been unhappy.” And as I’m typing this out I can almost hear him saying, “I don’t give a shit about what most people say.” And he’s right, because most people will never feel as content as Lenny felt when he was sitting out back of his house at a bonfire. Never.
I can’t even tell you how enraptured I was with Uncle Lenny’s yard, and it was 100% the catalyst for buying our property up in Michigan. In 2011 I wrote:
My Uncle Lenny’s yard has always been something of an inspiration to me. He’s got some awesome fruit trees, a little pool with a waterfall and actual, flowering lily pads, and a nice little cozy yet open area off the back deck. However, this time I got to see an awesome new (to me) feature, which I never knew about before.
A large section of his yard is densely wooded, and through this area winds a series of paths. You enter through a trellis-framed door, and if you follow the main path, you wind almost 800 feet to the little cleared camping area in the back. On the way you pass through a spooky wooded section, a more open back section, and even come upon a pine-tree-fairy-ring. I cannot tell you how cool the whole thing is! I enjoyed the first trip through so much, I took a second trip. Oliver apparently found it relaxing as well, since he fell asleep on my head.
The first thing Ollie said when I told him about Uncle Lenny was, “What’s going to happen to all the Santas?” Christmas was Uncle Lenny’s season. Whether it was decorating his house for the Christmas party, sneaking an unexpected gift into the dice game, or dressing up as Santa and giving the kids toys, he just had this grin on his face. I mean, who would have guessed the quiet guy off to the side in the cowboy hat had a house full of tiny Santas?
Lenny was kind of a man of contradictions. On the outside he was rough and tumble, but on the inside there was nothing he liked more than bringing joy to someone. If you didn’t know Lenny well, then you’d probably be surprised to hear it, but if you did know Lenny well then you’re not surprised at all.
Rest in peace, Uncle Lenny. World lost a true original.