My cousin Rhonda takes a bite out of her salad, and smiles at me, a half smile, actually. Suddenly, I see the image of her father with his twinkling eyes and trademark smirk. It's no wonder everyone always referred to her as "Bennie's clone."

Rhonda's dad was my husband's paternal uncle, Bennie, the prankster, the consummate clown of the family, with a heart of gold and a soul as deep as the ocean. I have never witnessed a father-daughter relationship as close as Bennie and his middle child. He adored each of his three offspring, yet he and Rhonda shared an unspoken language, one which he most certainly used consciously and with fatherly wisdom, meticulously orchestrating a plan to prepare his daughter for her new role in life – taking over his beloved kippah business.

Bennie simply loved to tease us all with his zany pranksBennie's memorabilia, cherished pieces of his life, remain hidden in a large container, reminders of another time, an era when handshakes sealed a business deal, when families gathered around the table sharing laughter and funny stories, when letters were handwritten because phone calls were too expensive. Rhonda sneaked a peek many years ago, when her father lifted the lid of this treasure chest and then quickly closed it before she had a chance to see its contents. It was just like him to do that, of course. He simply loved to tease us all with his zany pranks and hilarious stories. He never lost his sense of humor, right to the end of his life. But the greatest treasure of all was not in this storage trunk. It was Bennie, a guy who stayed happily married to his one true love for fifty-six years, the daddy and zaida who gave butterfly kisses to his children and grandchildren, the irresistible, charming man who personally gift-wrapped his love and devotion to each one of us. And we unabashedly adored him in return.

Bennie worked as an independent cutting contractor in the once flourishing Montreal needle trade for many years; he toiled night and day, but always made time to come home for dinner with Miriam and the children. He absolutely cherished his family. It didn't escape Bennie's attention that his eight-year-old, Rhonda, took an unusually keen interest in his work, watching him with wide curious eyes, waiting for any opportunity to assist him. Sometimes, she would surprise Bennie (to his consternation) by organizing and tidying his desk, getting as close as she dared to the sights and smells of her father's work. He would, however, never allow her to use the cutting machine. It was too dangerous, he would say with a stern look… a look which was always accompanied by that twinkle for his adoring daughter.

Bennie the cutting contractor also took immense pleasure from performing good deeds for others. There was the time when a cousin, struggling to make ends meet, was determined to send her twin girls to experience the joys of camp. Bennie, of modest income himself, used all the resources and connections he could muster, gathering donations from factories and friends until he collected a huge boxful of clothing for the children to wear that summer. Those girls were outfitted from head to toe thanks to Bennie's thoughtfulness, and they never forgot his kind act.

He would secretly drop money throughout her homeBennie's generosity flowed effortlessly into the lives of those around him. When his niece became terminally ill, he would secretly drop money throughout her home so that she could buy special treats for herself. "Uncle Bennie," she would ask with mock bewilderment, "Did you lose some money at my house?" Each time he would reply that no, it most certainly wasn't his. Soon, Rhonda, too, was emulating her father when she visited her dying cousin. It became their private little game.

Over the years, dozens of people have shared stories of Bennie's kind acts, and still talk about them to this day. He was a weekly visitor at a local children's hospital for a lengthy period, dispensing his wit and good humor to staff and patients alike. Each good deed was done quietly and modestly, in the usual, unassuming Bennie-fashion.

About thirty-one years ago, Bennie decided to start a new business making kippahs in his basement. He developed a number of loyal customers over time, and eventually, he and Miriam were finally savoring the fruits of their labor. They married off their daughters, anticipating the joys of becoming the proud zaida and bubbe, and eagerly looking forward to those so called "golden years."

But life took a treacherous turn for Bennie, and ultimately, his health would be ravaged and his precious life cut short. Bennie was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema around 1984. By then, Rhonda was busy with the responsibilities of marriage and starting her own family, but her devotion and strong connection to her ailing father propelled her to stay close to him, allowing Bennie to remain faithful to his kippah business by assisting Miriam with some of the legwork, buying necessary supplies, working with printers and laying out material.

By 2001, the once robust, hefty man was now physically compromised, carrying portable oxygen tanks with him wherever he went. Hospitalizations became a regular part of his life. But the determined kippah-maker was still devoted to his craft, for it represented much more than anyone knew, and his second born somehow understood instinctively what needed to be done.

One day, to Rhonda's delight, Bennie finally allowed his daughter to pick up the cutting machine. This once forbidden act, now sanctified by her mentor, eventually led to her cutting the material while her father supervised closely. His intuition told him that his time was running out. During his many hospital stays, Rhonda would bring him the triangles of material for approval. Once he would give his blessing, she would continue with the work at hand, still unaware of Bennie's ultimate wish.

Rhonda knew what he wanted before the words would leave his mouthAs his condition worsened, Rhonda was never far from his side, still working feverishly to satisfy Bennie's customers. She respected his every wish; she anticipated his every need. Somehow Rhonda knew what he wanted before the words would leave his mouth. He never directly told her that she should take over the business. She just instinctively knew she had to be his eyes and his ears.

Their deep roots extended far beyond the cutting room. Her father did not openly discuss his fear of dying, but if she would leave for a few minutes, he would laughingly joke, "Rhonda, don't get lost!" Bennie was scared, yet his protective nature prevented him from expressing it verbally. Nevertheless, his daughter understood what was in his heart.

Bennie's devoted family rallied around him constantly. Hospital life was almost routine, and we never thought our Uncle Bennie would leave us, so there was no warning in February of 2005, when he finally took his last breath. It was Rhonda who was standing right beside him at his hospital bed as he collapsed into her arms. She was no longer Daddy's little girl. She became Rhonda the kippah-maker, and she was ready.