A couple of months ago I saw a list of famous people. They were living in the fame-lane, but very few of us were directly influenced by them. We were mostly touched and influenced by those who were our relatives, those who were our neighbors, those with whom we had friendships and fights, those who were with us for long periods of time. That list made me think of those people who had a direct impact in my life when I grew up as a child, those who were in my immediate neighborhood. For the next few weeks I will feature some of these important people in the hope that you will reflect on those people who were important in your life.
The first person of influence in addition to my parents was my next door neighbor whose name was John. He was in his late fifties when I was a child. He was a relative and a neighbor. He had children my father's age, but his first daughter died and the second was childless. Thus we became their grandchildren. One of my three sisters lived with his family.
I start my reflections with him because I remember thinking that he was a good-looking man. He was over six feet in height and having been a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army he kept this beautiful moustache. He had a royal bearing about him. Not only did he look always in top shape, but he had beautiful horses. He had farm horses, but he also had stallions. He knew that I loved to ride with him when he would travel to the marketplace or to his fields, and often would invite me to ride with him. I learned to appreciate beauty from him because he kept an immaculate yard and barn and he loved his animals. He was proud and pleased with what he had.
When we left our village and settled in Detroit, we invited him and his wife to come and visit us. His wife was afraid of flying and thus never visited us. He came and enjoyed visiting with us and if his wife would have decided to come, he would have enjoyed living with us.
He went back home and became a cantor in the local Eastern Orthodox Church. Two previous Stefan generations had beautiful tenor voices. Even now when I hear a good tenor, suddenly I hear my father or my uncles singing beautiful songs - religious or popular songs.
As he became older, the family that bought our house started to supply him with alcohol. One day when he was drunk they had him sign his house over to them. Somehow his daughter found about this transaction. One of her cousins was a lawyer. He petitioned the judge and in one splendid judicial moment the judge asked the family to state how much alcohol he drank. They quickly told the judge the amount which the judge calculated to be the worth of at most 10 sheep, not a whole house. The judge nullified the deed and John kept the house. Until his dying days he kept asking his wife for forgiveness which she gladly gave to him (the first time he asked) for she was indeed one of the godliest women that I have met. Her name was Sara and that is half of the name of my daughter SaraGrace.