Lines on the Loss of Lou Squeglia
My uncle on my mother’s side, Louis Squeglia, passed away on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. He was 95. I was tasked with writing the eulogy and thought I’d post it here.
Five-star General Douglas MacArthur, who played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II, once said that “the best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.” Louis Squeglia was a fine example of the truth in these words, and they were what he lived by: he considered himself a lucky man, and he wasted no time reveling in it.
Like MacArthur, Lou served in the U. S. Army in New Guinea from 1943 to 1946 as a Radar Crewman. His stationing there resulted in a connection to the Battle of Luzon, the initial conflict of MacArthur’s Philippine Campaign, which would eventually result in the liberation of the islands.
If you asked him what he thought of those trying years in the South Pacific, he’d tell you the reason he was losing his hair was because of the heat and his helmet.
“But I’m lucky,” he said, “that I didn’t lose more than that.”
In the next breath, he’d tell you the papers proving he’d been there were his most prized possessions. They were more important, in fact, than any of the several service medals he was awarded, including the Victory as well as the Asiatic Pacific, American Theater, and Philippine Liberation Campaigns.
Still, Lou wasn’t a braggart. He was a humble man, and often thought he got more than he deserved. He took great pride in his 35-year role at the U. S. Post Office as a mail carrier, because he knew his job was important, and he was glad for its stability in that he could always put food on the table.
His palate, though, was rather interesting. He hated turkey, and he despised garlic. While there was always a variety to eat at our big Italian spreads—and many may associate him with his constant hankering for braciole—he’d rarely demand special treatment. “I’ll just have hot soup, Dellore,” he’d say to his wife of 63 years, “and that’s enough.”
Strangely, however, his favorite sauce was fra diavolo. When my generation took over preparing Thanksgiving meals, oddly, the only person who knew how to make it was my German husband. One year, when Lou couldn’t attend, Nathan sent him a large container—and there was plenty, since it was simply too hot for any of us. Lou sent back his thank you through Maryanne with a caveat. “It was really good,” he said, “but next time, you could even make it a little hotter.”
His taste in gifts was simple. One of his favorite presents in later years was peanut butter pretzels. This made him easy to please, because if you got him four large containers of those, you were all set—and he wasn’t big on sharing them.
When he arrived at his surprise 90th birthday party—aptly branded “You Only Live Twice”—he was aghast when he saw nearly fifty of his friends and family. “Shock! I’m in shock. I’m in shock that you are all here!” He often used to tell us, “you could have my funeral in a phone booth.”
Few will forget his self-described “stone-breaking” sense of humor. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether or not he was joking, but once you figured it out—as Dolores did, and she often noted it was part of what she adored about him—it was easy not only to laugh with him, but to dish it back. I once gave Dolores elegant kitchen towels for Christmas. “Oh, aren’t these beautiful, Lou!” she cried. Lou’s response to her was, “I bet you can’t wait to go put those away,” ribbing her about her penchant for not using anything too nice unless there were guests coming over. She’d politely laughed and fired back something about his messy hands.
He was especially thankful for his daughter, Maryanne, who came along in 1966. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Mare,” he would always say to her. “After all, who’s going to turn on the video machine?”
What he didn’t bargain for was that she’d inherited his sense of humor. When they arrived at Biagetti’s for that 90th birthday dinner, he had no knowledge of the banquet room in the back of the establishment. “Where are we going?” He asked Maryanne. “We’re going down the cellar, Daddy,” she said, and something tells me that although he knew not to believe her, he asked, “am I still being punished for that stuffed unicorn I didn’t buy you all those years ago?”
Perhaps capitalizing on how lucky he felt, one of Lou’s great passions was the track. He enjoyed going, watching it on TV, talking the odds, and the occasional bet or two, which was usually heralded by the ringing of the phone next to his chair. It was a sign that he embraced life in many ways. He relished every moment he spent with his “grand-dog,” even if it meant chasing him around the apartment. And he and Dolores would go out on the town back in the day when the supper clubs were the places to be seen. But as time marched past those golden days of Singapore Slings and Sidecars, ashtrays on every table and cutting rugs until your feet fell off, he did not. There wasn’t one Thanksgiving at my house without the music of Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Glen Miller and Benny Goodman.
At his 90th, guests tapped spoons against their glasses in the signal to “kiss the bride” that is ubiquitous at weddings. It was a tradition with which he apparently wasn’t familiar. He wasn’t sure what to do at first, but then, he leaned over and kissed Dolores. When it was over, he sprung from his seat, raised his arms in the air and screamed, “You’ve still got it, Louie!”
Lou considered himself a lucky man, but we are the ones who are lucky to have had him in our lives. Whenever we think of him, we should remember how grateful he was for everything he had, and how fortunate he considered himself.
In those moments, the first thing we should think isn’t “I’m sad you’re gone,” but rather, “You’ve still got it, Louie.”