Today we celebrated my uncle Louie Schlifstein‘s 106th birthday. Louie is not a blood relative but my sisters and I grew up calling him “Uncle Louie.” Louie was an NYPD sergeant and he retired in 1962. My father, a 71 Precinct cop from 1943 to 1966, often had his other cop friends over on weekends. When they were in the house usually the football game would be on, and their conversations and celebrations really did not include us.
But almost every Saturday and Sunday, early in the morning, “Uncle Louie” sat in our kitchen. He brought things into my house that my father’s other friends never did – bagels and bialys, lox and the New York Times. But more important to my three sisters and me, Uncle Louie was another adult in our lives who we could look up to. Sitting in our kitchen, he and our father would share life wisdom and experiences with my sisters and I. Louie would chat with us about school, our friends, our jobs, politics, world affairs, and life. I had those mornings since as long as I remember growing up.
After I was out on my own, and on the job, I still visited my parent’s house when Louie was there, until he moved to Florida. When I called him on his 95th birthday he said to me, “I’m doing well. I’m slowing down a bit though – I can’t drive at night anymore.”
On his 100th birthday my sister Irene and I were able to get down to Florida to celebrate his one hundredth birthday. Louie then said that he believes that his longevity is due in part to him singing songs every night. One highlight that day was when he sang “It’s a Wonderful Life,” written by Louie Armstrong. His favorite line is “When people say, ‘How do you do?’ they’re really saying, ‘I love you.”
I guess we are still learning from Uncle Louie.