An Ode to Uncle Ted

by Karen Topakian

Another Ted died recently. My Uncle Ted. My godfather. You probably won’t read about him in any history books or hear tributes about him on radio and TV. But that doesn’t make him any less special to me. 

As a life long athlete he excelled in golf, tennis, bowling, swimming and, of course, football. Many a Thanksgiving dinner of my childhood was spent with Uncle Ted’s chair strategically placed to watch the football game while fielding the dishes as they passed. Let’s not forget how much he loved his Yankees.

Uncle Ted had a firm handshake and a hearty hug. Two things you could always count on. Two things I will miss.

No one on my dad’s side of the family could touch my uncle in the humor department. Always there with the perfectly timed quip, humorous remark or one liner. The anticipation of his entertaining commentary was worth the price of admission at family events. At family dinners, I tried to sit next to him to hear his remarks. 

Once at a summer family gathering, where he and I were both wearing shorts, he looked down at my unshaven legs and said,  “For a minute I thought those were my legs.” Pointing to my hair. We both laughed.

I’m not sure his parents, my grandparents, appreciated his humor, which was sarcastic and a bit irreverent but as a teenager and an adult, I admired his spirit.

Many of us remember the time we were visiting my grandparents in their house on Western Promenade, which was quite chilly. My uncle rose from his chair marched over to the thermostat and said, “Ma, whaddya got a lock on this thing?” And proceeded to turn it up.

In my teen years, Uncle Ted started calling me Karensky, Flower of the Yukon. We don’t know why. He never said. But it stuck. At the same time, he nicknamed my sister, GailZ. Again we don’t why. We laughed and it stuck.

One of his customers referred to him as Terry instead of Teddy and that name stuck for us.  When I learned that he didn’t have a middle name, he corrected me and said he did. N for Norman. Making his initials TNT. As he said, a dynamite guy.

Uncle Ted was not only the funniest man in the room but the tallest. When he walked into a room, he owned it. You knew it. And I hoped he knew it. My mother’s side of the family didn’t produce such height. When I grew taller than they, they noted that I must have gotten my height from Ted. I liked hearing that. Truly a point of pride for me.

Not only did I know him as my uncle but also as my employer. Twice I worked at General Plating, the family business where my father was my boss, assigning me work, correcting my mistakes. But it was Uncle Ted who brightened up the day with his easygoing manner and frequent comical comments. I knew he said them to make me laugh and they did.

Like clock work, right before morning break time, he would say aloud, “How’s the cof-fee?” in a high-pitched voice. I would laugh and he would keep working.

I believe he suffered from nervous energy. Often picking up random items on a coffee table and banging them on the surface. We laughed knowing he would be told to stop.

At his 80th birthday, our whole family gathered in Greg and Christine’s backyard on a sunny summer day to celebrate. His children and grandchildren delivered loving words about their pop and I thanked him for being an excellent godfather to me.

That particular job comes with two responsibilities: guiding me in my spiritual life and approving my spouse.

He accomplished the first task by letting me decide my own religious/spiritual path. Some might call it benign neglect; I called it giving me the freedom to think for myself.

On the second responsibility. Approving my spouse. He played the role perfectly by opening his arms and heart to my partner Peg.

Another of my Uncle Ted’s legacies will be the family he leaves behind. My Aunt Annette, a loving foil for my uncle, never letting him take himself too seriously, always taking an interest in others’ lives. And his three children, Lisa, Diane, Greg and their families whose humor and gregariousness have been one of the lights of my life.

I couldn’t have asked for a better godfather or uncle.

Comments

  1. dolores garay says:

    what a moving and funny post! I love how you illustrate the importance of having loving adults who are not your parent be in the picture and involved in kids’ lives! I hope my son will have someone as wonderful as your Uncle Ted.

  2. Jill Hutchinson says:

    Karen you are so fortunate to have such a great sense of humor, now I understand how it is embedded in your soul. Uncle Ted’s humor lives on in his beloved Godchild, may your memories of him hold you tall and forever funny…I am deeply sorry for your loss.

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