Living a busy life in a busy world certainly has its advantages in as much it keeps you from dwelling too long on all the craziness going on in the world around you. However, it often takes the death of a loved one to force you to take a step back and reevaluate things. For me, it was the recent loss of my 95-year-old uncle Johnny to old age.

My uncle was the last of my parents’ generation to die, overwhelming me with feelings of nostalgia and gratitude. He served his country in World War II as well as in the Korean War, yet he was remarkably open-minded, positive and fun-loving. He was one of the most contented men I ever knew.

He lived a few blocks from me when I was growing up in Queens, but he fulfilled his long-held dream by settling in 1989 in Lauderdale by the Sea, Florida, near where his father, my grandfather, had purchased a small motel around 1962. We would all stay at the motel on vacations, going to the beach whenever we wanted, getting the new drink — called a Slurpee — at the nearby 7-Eleven, having lunch at the all-you-can-eat Sweden House, riding the sightseeing train at Hugh Taylor Birch Park and Jungle Queen Riverboat down by the strip.

We had no idea of all the turbulent events going on in the 1960s.

Now the last thread that my grandfather began when he bought the motel on Bougainvillea Drive has ended. Thus, has finally ended the perfect, predictable vacation time I spent with my uncle — when I would treat him to his favorite restaurants (he was a rock star with the waitresses at the local Panera), we would go swimming together at the same beach (just south of Anglin’s fishing pier) where I swam as a child, and I would talk with him about his rich life, family memories, our mutual love of history and everything else.

In looking through the letters and postcards my grandfather sent us over the years, I came across a letter postmarked exactly two weeks before he died in 1972. It was addressed to my mom and asked about his grandkids, "the little angels" (which we certainly were not), and ended with a personal message for me: asking Mom to give "a big hug to Tom-Tom."

How gratifying to know the patriarch who started the thread of perfect summers in Florida, and cherished visits with my uncle, was thinking of me at the end of his life. My dad never took us down to Florida again after Grandpa died — too painful he said. I did not quite understand that then, but I understand all too well now.

The sun may have set for me in Fort Lauderdale. But I like to imagine a future sunrise in a perfect world, perhaps the hereafter, devoid of COVID-19 and death, where we would all be forever young. Every day would be perfect and carefree, like they were in the 70’s when my loved ones were alive, happy and healthy, and all we needed to feel like we were in paradise was good food, the beach and one another. Then, besides once again seeing their truly Great Uncle J., my daughters could meet the grandpa and great-grandpa they never knew, and I would swim together again with them on my favorite beach in a world where each sunrise brings a new and better day.

Tom Aydinian,

Queens Village

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