When I turned nine years old, December 19th, 1958, my mother told me it would be the best year of my life.  Six days later I had reason to be concerned.  It was a warm and rainy Christmas and my dad started drinking early. Christmas was hard on my dad for it reminded him of his failings, real and imagined.  The tension between my parents was palpable as the family got in the car to visit my dad’s Aunt Auberdine who we all referred to as Maranne.  My brother Ricky, my sister Marie and I sat quietly in the back seat hoping for the best.  We wished for an uneventful Christmas dinner,  topped off with Maranne’s perfect, home made lukken cookies for dessert.  We prayed that the only squawking would come from her parakeet.

Meanwhile, a man my father worked with in the building trade, thirty-six year old, Leo LaMote was having a Christmas I could only imagine.  He was together with his wife Agnes and his young children counting his blessings.  Financially it was not easy but he had much to be grateful for.  Besides his family Leo had dear friends such as Remi Phlypo and Henry Verlinden.  Leo enjoyed playing cards and he may have been playing bien that Christmas afternoon. Perhaps he was thinking about the Cadieux Bowling Club where in only his second season as a featherbowler he was challenging for the club lead. This was good news and bad news because the Grand Champion traditionally hosted a party for the rest of the membership and he knew he could not afford it.

The rain was coming down hard when my father turned into a flooded street on Detroit’s east side.  We were minutes away from arriving at Maranne’s when the car told us it was in serious danger of drowning.  My dad impulsively pulled the car off the road and onto the nearest lawn. He proceeded down the street tearing up every lawn in his path.  Neighbors emerged and became an angry mob. They chased us all the way to the end of the block screaming and cursing. At the corner my dad drove back into the street where the car promptly stalled out.  When I looked out the window back to the curb shore I saw hideously contorted faces spouting words I had never heard before. This, I thought, is not in the spirit of Christmas.  I rolled down the window and said, “Merry Christmas to you too.”  It was not the right thing to say.

Then into the fray came Leo LaMote.  His lawn was one of the many torn up by my father’s ill advised turn.  Leo said,  “I know this man, he’s a good man and will make up for it.”   Leo gave my dad a gift more precious than all the lukken in the world…

Twenty-three years later I met Leo LaMote again at the Cadieux Cafe.  When I joined the featherbowling club he embraced me.  I learned that my dad had indeed made good for those damaged lawns and I discovered that with some help from the Cadieux Cafe owner, Elia Calmeyn, Leo hosted the featherbowling club party as the 1958-1959 Grand Champion. He would  bowl for fifty seasons before his legs finally gave out on him.

I was never able to repay my debt to Leo except to love him back. Yesterday, December 11, 2009, Leo LaMote died.  Every Christmas for as long as I live I will think of him.