Uncle Paul at 80

My brother-in-law Paul Kern turns 80 Saturday.
To see him you’d never believe it.
Paul has a head full of thick, wavy, black hair. Yes, black. Only lately has an occasional strand of gray made an appearance.
You could hate a guy like that.
I’m joking, of course. But where Paul is concerned, I do have one heck of a case of hair envy.
Paul’s been in my life nearly as long as I can remember. He’s got ten years on me and a few on my sister. She was in high school when they started dating and Paul knew enough to win over her younger siblings by always showing up with a big bag of candy and, most Fridays, a couple of trays of pizza.
I never got to know Paul’s dad, Lou Kern, very well, but his mom, the former Millie Randazza, was another story. For one, she was around a lot more than Mr. Kern. But it was mostly because she was easy to know. She loved well. And loved everyone. When I wound up a divorced guy in my mid-40s, I spent more time at my sister’s and therefore more time around Millie. Her message to me was always the same: “You’re too skinny.” If she could only see me now.
Millie’s kindness knew no bounds. And Paul not only inherited it, but expanded on it.
He’s been delivering Meals on Wheels for years and still does so, even during this coronavirus scare. At every parade in Pittston, he rides in the Meals on Wheels truck and has come up with a twist on tossing candy to the kids along the parade route. Paul tosses stuffed animals. He spends the entire year regularly dropping in the dollar stores and scooping up 20 or 30 plush bears and puppies and bunnies at a time. During the parades, he’ll toss out hundreds of them. And leave hundreds of bright eyes and squeals of delight in his wake.
Paul understands kids in ways most of us never would. And as such, kids adore him. My daughter, now 36, and my son, 33, can’t get enough of him. They both do a darned good impersonation of Uncle Paul’s unique laugh. They do it out of love.
You might even call Paul a “Kid Whisperer.” His insight into what makes them tick is never more apparent than during his annual Easter egg hunts in his back yard. Once again, Paul prepares with trips to dollar stores stacking up on prizes. But they’re not what you’d think. One kid might win a large can of tomato juice. Another a can or peaches or fruit cocktail. There’d be boxes of saltines or Cheerios or chocolate chip cookies. Someone might win a hairbrush. Or even a toothbrush.
And guess what? The kids love it. They dance around holding their prize – perhaps a can of pork and beans – over their heads. Later, you’ll seen them trading each other. A roll of paper towels for a package of clothes pins.
No chocolate candy could be more coveted.
Sadly, the egg hunts are a thing of the past.
All the kids have gotten older.
Thank God Uncle Paul has not.


Ed Ackerman