Uncle Willie's Gift
Frank Dunsmore


Uncle Willie sat by a window in the Olympic Restaurant. His eyes were closed and he smiled as the afternoon sun soothed and warmed his old bones. He napped and dreamed of Greece and his home village, Laganas. He was a young man and he, his father and brothers fished in the sea. In the evening everyone in Laganas ate fish, drank Metaxa, and danced.

It was a sweet dream. He cherished those memories but now he was old and felt his life was without meaning and purpose. He regretted not marrying and being a father. He owned no business and was getting by on his Social Security check and $25 a week from Louie, “the Greek bookie,” for whom he ran errands.

Father Angelo Polydoris was the Pastor of Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church. He took a special interest in Uncle Willie because his parents and Uncle Willie were from Laganas. Uncle Willie liked Father Angelo’s kind and gentle manners and his good sense of humor. Father Angelo always greeted Uncle Willie by saying, “How’s the mayor of Laganas?” This made the old man laugh.

During a visit from Father Angelo, Uncle Willie said, “Father, I am sad that I didn’t do more with my life. I want to give a gift to the church and hope this will help that I won’t be forgotten by the Almighty.”

Father Angelo said, “Uncle Willie, the Almighty loves you and will never forget you. Your good spirit is a gift to us all. If you would like to give a small donation for the repairs of our old church, that would be greatly appreciated. Peace be with you.”

Though Uncle Willie had no living family, the waitresses, cooks, and the Greek boys all were fond of him. The owners of the Olympic gave him free meals once in a while and he was always welcome to sit in a booth if business was slow. The waitresses bought his coffee and the cooks would give him soup and a sandwich whenever he liked.

Uncle Willie liked to gamble, especially on the horses and so did the Greek boys. They came to the Olympic at night after their studies and work. The boys looked over the racing form for the next day, made their pick for one race, and then gave Uncle Willie money to make their bet at the track. One of the boys always said, “Don’t make our bet with Louie, the Greek bookie!”

Uncle Willie said, “No, no, not in this life.”

When Louie heard that Uncle Willie made bets at the track for the Greek boys, he cursed in Greek, saying they should all go to the devil. Louie wanted their action. He knew the Greek boys bet a good buck. Then he thought, They’re all Greeks, like me, it’s a disgrace! They got no respect for me! Why do they treat me like this?

The Greek boys made Willie proud and happy. His young countrymen were smart. Willie thought, They each study at the university, they work at jobs, and they win money they don’t really need. Then he would laugh. The boys were good to him and always gave him a big tip for making bets for them at the track. They paid Willie more than Louie paid him.

Monday was split pea soup day at the Olympic and Uncle Willie was enjoying a bowl. Louie slowly walked over and sat
down opposite Willie in the booth. He said, “Willie, I’ve gotta go up north for a few days. Nick will come by Wednesday, the day after tomorrow, to collect the take for last week. Here’s a grand to give him, tell him I’ll have the rest for him Saturday.” Louie shoved a brown paper bag with a rubber band around it to Willie’s side of the table. “Don’t screw up, you know Nick can be nasty!” Louie got up and shuffled out the door of the Olympic.

Willie was used to carrying a lot of money around for Louie and this was business as usual. As he sat finishing his Split Pea soup, he thought, I’ve got this $1000 until I give it to Nick, the day after tomorrow. If the Greek boys are making a bet for tomorrow, I could use at least part of the money to bet with them. I would only borrow, it wouldn’t be stealing. The boys haven’t lost in the last four time I’ve placed bets for them. If I win, I could make a gift to the church.

The hours passed slowly, as Uncle Willie waited for the Greek boys to arrive at the Olympic that night. Finally at 10:30 they all arrived. They sat at their usual round table in the corner and each had a Butt Steak and a large Greek Salad. Uncle Willie looked on while they ate their meal like young lions. Then it was down to business. One of the boys pulled out a scratch sheet for tomorrow’s races.

The third race looked promising. Three horses could win the race. The jockeys were the best and the boys thought they should bet a Trifecta, three horses finishing in exact order. Now all they had to do was pick the order they would come in. The odds against winning were always great but so was the purse for any Trifecta race.

After studying the jockeys’ and horses’ race history, the boys decided. They wrote down the horses’ numbers 2, 5, and 7 for the Trifecta in the third race and each boy anted up $100. It was an exciting moment, like making a big
investment. Then they gave Uncle Willie four $100 bills, the paper with their bet, and $50 for his trip to the track to place their bet. Uncle Willie was just as excited and the boys told him, “Easy Uncle Willie, take it easy. It’s only money!” And then they all laughed.

Uncle Willie knew this was a great moment for him. The gods of Olympus had smiled upon him. He would be able to give his gift to the church. All he had to do was use some of the money that Louie gave him. $500 is what he would borrow. He would bet $500 and then replace it from his winnings.

He arrived at the track and went straight to the “$100 or more” Pari-Mutuel clerk window. Uncle Willie said, “For the third race I want a $500 Trifecta for 2,5, and 7 and in the third race I want a $400 Trifecta on 2,5, and 7.” He handed the clerk nine $100 bills and the clerk’s ticket terminal spit out his tickets. He checked to make sure they were correct and then gently placed them deep in his right front pocket. He was nervous but felt confident as he walked outside to watch the races.

The first and second races ran and Willie anxiously watched the horses being brought into the starting gate for the third race. He became faint and for a moment couldn’t swallow. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Louie, the bookie with another man. Louie saw him and said, “What the hell are you doin’ out here? Are you taking care of my business?”
Uncle Willie said, “Oh yes, Mr. Louie, everything is fine. I just like to come out and make a few small bets for myself.”

Louie laughed and said, “Here, use this to stay out of trouble.” He threw a crumpled bill at Uncle Willie and then walked on with the other man.

Uncle Willie unfolded a crumpled $20 bill. He was so nervous he barely heard the announcer yell, “And, they’re off!” The third race began. Willie held his Trifecta ticket with the numbers 2,5, and 7. This was the order the horses must come in to win. The horses were halfway around the track and numbers 5 and 7 were leading the way. Number 2 horse was fifth. At the final turn number 2 horse moved into third place. Like the wind, number 2 horse blew into first place and the first three horses finished 2, 5, and 7. Uncle Willie’s heart pounded and he gasped for air. He and the Greek boys won the Trifecta.

Willie moved as fast as he could to the nearest Mutuel clerk window to redeem his tickets. The clerk looked at the
tickets and said, “Wow, you really hit it big! Your winnings for both tickets before taxes is $29,319.”

Uncle Willie felt faint again but smiled and nodded. He signed the W2G form for the tax deductions from his winnings and the clerk drafted a cashier check in the sum of $20,230 made out to William Yokas, aka Uncle Willie.

The Greek boys were already at the Olympic Restaurant when Uncle Willie arrived from the track. They greeted him
with hugs and cheers. Everyone sat down at the table in the corner. One of the boys ordered a bottle of Metaxa and told
Uncle Willie they were going to get him a belly dancer. They all laughed.

Uncle Willie looked at the boys and said, “I have a check made out to me for $20,230 and half of it is yours. I know how good my boys are at picking winners, so I bet along with you. I bet on the Trifecta too!”

The boys yelled, “Bravo, Uncle Willie, you are the greatest!”

Uncle Willie said, “Tomorrow you must come with me to the bank and I will get the check cashed and we can all have a share. Meet me here in the morning at 9 o’clock.” The boys agreed and then the celebration began.

“Tonight everyone is Greek!” yelled one of the boys. Uncle Willie invited the waitresses, cooks, and some of the customers to have a drink with them. Before long, the entire restaurant was filled with laughter and praises. One of the Greek boys said, “Let’s drink to the horses!”

Another said, “Here’s to the great jockeys!”

The festivities were still going strong but Uncle Willie decided to call it a night. He exited the restaurant side
door and walked toward his apartment building when a black sedan pulled up to the curb just ahead of him.

“Hey Willie, come over here,” a voice said from the sedan. Uncle Willie didn’t know who it was but he walked slowly to the car.

“Get in Willie,” the voice said and the back door opened. Willie saw Louie and Nick, the collector, in the back seat. They pulled Willie into the back seat between them and stared at the old man to make him nervous.

“Hello Mr. Louie, Mr. Nick. I hope you are having a nice evening.”

Louie said, “We don’t like to be cheated, old man!”

Uncle Willie said, “I don’t cheat, I would not cheat you or Mr. Nick ever.”

Nick said, “You crazy old Greek! Everyone’s talking about the Trifecta you won today. You took my money and bet it on the third race today. You’re lucky you won because if you didn’t, you’d be at the bottom of Lake Michigan right now!”

Uncle Willie shuddered and said, “Mr. Nick, it was like I borrowed the money just for a few minutes. I would pay you back. I only used $500 of the grand. I don’t cheat you.”

Louie said, “You don’t get it! You owe us $1000 and the Trifecta winnings. It was our money that won the race, not
yours! Nick and me is willing to forget the $1000 but you’re gonna give us the winnings or else!”

Willie’s brow broke out in a cold sweat and the hair on the back of his neck bristled. He thought for a moment and then said, “Mr. Louie, Mr. Nick, I would gladly give you the money but I made a gift of it to Saint Demetrious Church in care of Father Angelo. When the tax people asked me who the check should be made out to, I said to Father Angelo Polydoris of the Saint Demetrious Church in Chicago. He will get the check. But I will go to him and tell him that I can’t give the church the money.”

Louie looked at Nick and then Nick said, “Old Greek, for your sake I hope you’re tellin’ the truth. You’ve got until 8
o’clock Friday night to bring us the winnings or else! We’ll meet you at the Olympic.” They let Uncle Willie out of the sedan. He was so sad he could cry but he was also scared of what would happen to him if he didn’t give them the winnings.
Uncle Willie tossed and turned all night and he was thankful when he saw the first rays of sun against the window shade. He got up, put his teeth in his mouth, and got dressed while the coffee perked. Finally it was half past eight and he phoned Saint Demetrious Church. The secretary answered, took Uncle Willie’s name, and said, “One moment please, while I connect you.”

A few moments later Father Angelo’s cheerful voice said, “Good morning Mr. Mayor of Laganas. How can I help you?”
Uncle Willie said, “Good morning Father, I must see you as soon as possible. I have big troubles and I need your help.”

Father Angelo said, “Uncle Willie, I’ll be in your neighborhood this morning. I have an errand to run but it won’t take long. Can you meet me at the Olympic at 11 o’clock?”

“Oh yes, Father Angelo. I’ll be there. Thank you so very much.”

It was a few minutes after 9 o’clock when Uncle Willie met the Greek boys. They walked across the street to the
bank. Uncle Willie saw a personal banker and presented him with the $20,230 certified cashier check. The banker looked shocked but then said, “How do you want the cash?

Uncle Willie smiled at the boys and said, “Divide $20,200 into two stacks of $100 bills. The $30 is your tip for services.” The banker smiled and thanked Uncle Willie.

A few minutes later the banker returned with two bags of cash. Uncle Willie gave one of the bags to the Greek boys and
they left the bank. The boys went their way and Uncle Willie walked back to the Olympic and waited for Father Angelo.

Father Angelo walked into the Olympic at 11 o’clock sharp. They greeted each other and the priest sat down in the booth across from Willie.

Uncle Willie said, “Father, I have big troubles. I won a great amount of money at the track and I wanted to give it to you and the church. But Louie, the bookie and his friend Nick want the money and if they don’t get it, they’re going to do something terrible to me.”

Father Angelo asked, “Why do they want to hurt you, Uncle Willie?”

Uncle Willie said, “I was holding $1000 that belonged to Louie. I was supposed to give it to Nick on Wednesday. I used $500 of it on Tuesday to bet on the Trifecta that I won. They said it was not my money to bet with, that it’s good that I won because if I lost they would put me at the bottom of Lake Michigan.”

Father Angelo said, “Uncle Willie, you must know that what you did was very dangerous. These two men are unscrupulous and would think nothing of murdering you. You really should not have used their money for your bet. They are right about this.”

“Yes, I know now, Father, and I am very sorry to cause you trouble.”

Father Angelo asked, “What did you want to do with the money you won?”

“That’s the other trouble. I told Louie and Nick that I already gave you and Saint Demetrious the winning money. They said I had until 8 o’clock Friday night to bring them the winnings. I’m to meet them here.”

Father Angelo frowned for the first time Uncle Willie could recall and said, “Do you wish to give the money to the church?”

“Oh yes, Father, it was my plan to give it as my gift to the church.”

“Uncle Willie, is that the money in the bag beside you?”

“Yes Father, let me give it to you.”

Father Angelo grasped the bag and said, “Do not worry about this anymore. I will speak to Louie and Nick Friday
night. Do you understand? Now go in peace.” Uncle Willie smiled and shook the priest’s hand with both of his.

It was Friday night at a quarter of eight when Father Angelo walked into the Olympic Restaurant. He took a booth
by the window, ordered a cup of coffee and waited. At eight o’clock sharp, two men wearing dark clothes entered the restaurant. Father Angelo recognized Louie and rose from his seat and said, “Mr. Louie, would you and your friend please join me?”

Louie said, “Good evenin’ Father, no thanks, we’re here on business.”

The priest looked Louie in the eyes and said, “Please join me, I’m your business.”

Louie and Nick looked at each other and then Louie asked, “Do you know Uncle Willie?”

Father Angelo said, “Yes, he’s part of my business.”

They all sat down in the booth and the waitress brought two more coffees. They sat in silence and then Nick said, “Father, I don’t mean to be disrespectful but this is not your business!”

“Anytime I know an old man is being threatened with his life, I make it my business!”

Nick was not used to being talked to like this and he felt put down. The priest stood up to him and even though Nick didn’t like it, he respected it.

Louie said, “Father, there’s no need to get upset or bothered. All we want is what is rightfully ours. Uncle Willie stole from us and won a bet with our money. The winnings are ours. We even told him we’d forget about the $1000. All we want is the purse for the Trifecta he won.”

The priest said, “You’re right, Uncle Willie should not have used your money and I wouldn’t say too much if I knew he wanted the winnings for himself. But you see, he wants to make a gift of his winnings to Saint Demetrious and the Almighty. His act is completely unselfish, unlike gamblers.

“Louie, you come from a good family, the Petrakis family. They’re very devout and generous to the church and Nick, I believe your last name is Deremas. I know your brother Peter. He’s an outstanding high school teacher. I’ll be glad to give you this money,” the priest held up the bag containing the winnings, “if you don’t mind me telling your families how you threatened an old man with his life and wouldn’t let him donate his gambling winnings to the church! Whataya say, guys?”

There was silence for a moment and then Louie said, “Father, we’re sorry, we only meant to do what we thought was right. Please keep the winnings for the church.”

Nick smiled at the priest and said, “Father, I gotta hand it to you. You’ve got a lot of moxie for a priest. You put me down but that’s all right, coming from you. Here’s another grand to add to the winnings. No hard feelings Father.”

Father Angelo thanked the men as he grasped the money Nick handed him. “The church can use these gifts.”

The priest made the sign of the cross over the two men and said in Greek, “May the Almighty be with you. Go in peace.” Angelo and Nick crossed themselves. They were embarrassed but felt good. The three departed.

The Olympic was festive and joyous that night. Father Angelo, Uncle Willie, and the Greek boys sat down to a lamb dinner. They toasted with their Retsina while a Greek band played. Uncle Willie had given his gift to Saint Demetrious and he felt that his life had meaning. He sat and closed his eyes and dreamed of the happy times of his youth. A time when everyone was happy. This evening was just like those times back in Laganas and he was very happy.




Copyright © 2003 Frank Dunsmore
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"