They say you can’t pick your family. In my case, I kind of did and I chose the best one. I just didn’t know it at the time. When I met Kurt twenty years ago, I had no idea that his family would become such an important part of my life. We’d only been together a couple of months when we met his parents for dinner in Miami. Knowing Kurt was the one, I wanted to make a good impression. I wore a cute dress. I brushed my hair. I talked about sailboats and other things I knew nothing about. Lou and Marie made me feel so comfortable that I forgot to be nervous and had an amazing dinner with them.
With a giant glob of something green plastered to my front teeth the whole time.
The next morning Kurt told me his dad noticed it right away but didn’t say anything because he knew how hard I was trying to make them like me and he didn’t want to embarrass me. That’s the kind of guy Lou was- making sure everyone around him felt like family.
In my second book, I mentioned Lou and Marie in the acknowledgements. I thanked them for loving me like I was one of their own and always making me feel like a rock star. I have never spoken truer words. Writing is fun and it’s definitely my dream job. But, it’s not curing cancer or ending hunger. Lou made me feel like what I do is just as important. When we’d see Kurt’s parents a couple times a year at Christmas and in the Outer Banks for family vacation, Lou would ask about my writing with such sincerity, I honestly felt like he really, truly believed in me.
Families and maintaining relationships among them is often difficult and rarely easy. There were several years where I was disconnected from parts of the family I grew up with. It was a desperately lonely time and one that I’m not sure I would have survived without Kurt’s family sucking me into their fold and doing their best to make me feel like my spot at the dinner table had always been there- just waiting for me. That’s a love that is hard to come by, no matter who you’re dealing with.
Lou had many health scares in the last several years. And each time he seemed to make a miraculous recovery. Despite the fact that he was in his seventies and hadn’t always been kind to his body, I started to secretly believe that he’d live forever. He had to. He was the glue that held us together. Time with Kurt’s family has always been my favorite two weeks of the year- we do nothing but talk, swim, eat, read, enjoy each other’s company and play Scrabble. No matter if we were at Lou and Marie’s house in Florida or on the beach in North Carolina, year after year, I marveled at the same phenomenon. We all gravitated to Lou. The kids wanted Grampy to read them a story or play a round of Trouble with them. And I was fascinated by his knowledge of… everything. There was never a lull in the conversation and we’d talk about everything from primitive villages in the Outback to his painting techniques to which movies were worth staying awake for.
Now Lou is gone. And I still feel like he is going to live forever. I guess you could call it denial. His death was sudden and certainly unexpected. But, I do think he’ll live forever. In how selfless his daughter Susie is. And in how Kurt is the one person in the room who makes everyone feel like they belong. And in his grandchildren who have his sideways sense of humor.
To say it was a privilege to be a part of Lou Strecker’s life and family for twenty years is a gross understatement. I feel beyond blessed to have been loved by him and, like I said, treated as one of his own for almost half my life.
May you rest peacefully, Lou. I love you always.