It is with a sad heart that I report the passing of my father, James Levens, on September 27, 2022. He was eighty-seven. This comes eight months after losing my mother, Connie. Married sixty-two years, it's clear they wanted to be together always.
Living most of his earlier years in East New York, Brooklyn, Jim spent the late 1950s in Germany as a vehicle mechanic in the Army. The skills he acquired there were enough to secure him a seat in auto mechanic roles at General Motors for over forty subsequent years.
A very devout Catholic, like my mother, they met when he offered to walk her home after a church group mingle. Warning sirens were sounded in Brooklyn that night, and residents followed the instructions to turn out their lights.
Here I am with the first camera I've probably ever held, sitting on Jim's lap in Highland Park, Brooklyn in 1960.
As anyone who knows him will attest, my father had a personality beyond unique, if such a thing were possible. You might refer to someone at times as living on another planet. With Jim, that would be another galaxy. He was a genius at fixing anything mechanical, usually involving approaches and implements much simpler than you would have thought. Sometimes he was quite innovative in his repair technique, earning the title The King of Makeshift.
One day, in my early twenties, I remember coming home and seeing my car jacked up in the driveway, my father underneath it. I was not aware my Chevelle had any serious problems. When I asked him what he was doing, he rolled out on the dolly and said he was installing a fuel cut-off valve under the passenger seat. "Use it whenever you park the car and no one will ever steal it," he said. No one ever did.
This good man was an extremely kind individual, and I have never seen him in a bad mood or seriously argue with anyone in my family. Never. He had a gentle manner, but that is not to say he was quiet. When he entered a room, everyone knew. If you were in need of a wristwatch, or a flashlight, or a knife, just ask Jim. He was always more than happy to show you his collections and let you pick something for your very own.
Below is our makeshift king getting ready to start a fire in the fireplace, yet you will not have seen such a wood-burning stove elsewhere. This one he fashioned from a discarded section of a New York City water main pipe. It heated our house during the Ice Storm of 1977, when most of Long Island was without power for at least five days. While others might have been trying to stay warm, our family and our neighbors were sweating.
In his last days, I was with him when two of his long-time buddies paid a visit. What he said to them at one point will stay with me forever: "I want you to remember to pray to me. I will do everything I can to help you out." I am going to do that also, Dad—pray to you and not for you—and I know you will, as always, do your best to help me out.