Commentary: When money just isn't enough

January 28, 2008

The other day, I was annoyed when I received a letter concerning my uncle's untimely death.

The letter began:

"As you know, our firm represents Illene Maurer as a result of the tragic death of her husband, Mickey Maurer, on Feb. 1, 2006. ... Mr. Maurer's death was as a result of an automobile collision that occurred at 106th Street and Meridian Street.

"One of the elements of damage that Illene Maurer is entitled to recover is the loss of love and affection as a result of Mickey's premature death. She has provided your name as someone who might provide testimony concerning that loss ... "

What about my loss of love and affection as a result of my Uncle Mickey's premature death? The law does not provide for compensation of a nephew's irreplaceable loss, but the kid who broadsided my uncle with his Hummer ought to know how I feel.

They call me Mickey Maurer. Within the family and a small circle of friends, I used to be called "Little Mickey." My uncle, a man I looked up to all my life, was referred to as "Big Mickey." I called him Uncle Mickey and, I'm reluctant to mention this, he called me "Mickle Pickle." I thought by the time I was a teen-ager I would outgrow this moniker, but I never did. Eventually, coming from Uncle Mickey, I grew to like it.

I was named after my grandfather, Morris Maurer. But my mother hated the name Morris, so she and my father settled on Michael. Uncle Mickey and I dealt with this confusion for over half a century. I am very lucky. Uncle Mickey was an honorable man with an extraordinary reputation for honesty and fair play. He created for me the most important asset any man can have-a good name.

Uncle Mickey was in the junkyard business with my father at Ninth Street and Senate Avenue. The junkyard, later named Wrecks Inc., was the place of employment for me on Saturdays and every summer from age 10 until I had enough education to find a job that better suited me. In those days, Cokes were a nickel, pay telephones were a dime, and we would sell a good used tire for a five-dollar bill. It was basic capitalism where the rubber actually met the road. Everything in the place was for sale and every price was subject to negotiation.

On Saturday, everybody came to Wrecks. Business was transacted in English, Spanish, and the language of the neighborhood. The Maurer brothers spoke Yiddish. The first time I heard this, I suspected it had something to do with our ethnicity, but then I noticed some of the employees were speaking Yiddish as well. Nowhere else on earth would you find African-Americans doing business in Yiddish. Telephones rang continually. Uncle Mickey became famous for juggling phones while conducting four or five simultaneous conversations.

My father's sudden death over 30 years ago was a tragedy in the lives of both Mickey Maurers. My father was also a father to Uncle Mickey, who never really had one of his own.

Seven years ago, I established Mickey's Camp. It was a perfect fit for Uncle Mickey who, at 12 years old, was the youngest Eagle Scout in Indiana. At camp, everyone called him Uncle Mickey and adored him. Although in his 70s, he chose vigorous activities, including horseback riding and mountain biking. He would come back from these adventures beaten up and bruised but with a beaming smile. He was a kid again.

The lawyers will attempt to place a price on my Aunt Illene's loss of love and affection. I am not interested in compensation. I hope the kid who inflicted this tragedy understands the consequences of his act. I will accept an apology.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. He can be reached at mmaurer@ibj.com.
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