One man’s gift to his family

He offered more mentorship than advice.

I close my eyes and all of it comes back to me. Richard Nixon had just won the U.S. Presidency, for a second term. The family gathered – either later that fall of 1972, or the following summer – from Toronto, from Maryland, New Jersey and Florida. Then, usually after the first meal together, dessert was finished, a few drinks consumed, and it was time to talk. It wouldn’t take long before current events, politics and Nixon became the focus. Within minutes there was a storm brewing.

“How could he possibly get re-elected?” my father would say.

“He’s good for business,” a couple of my American relatives would say. “He’s gonna end the war in Vietnam.”

“He’s a crook!” my father would say, looking for a verbal fight.

“He’s our president,” came the retort.

And, well, it escalated from there.

The favourite uncle

Our favourite Uncle George joins a toast to his 80th birthday.
Our favourite Uncle George joins a toast to his 80th birthday.

I remember the first time he spoiled us. My sister and I often travelled with our parents to New York City, where they had grown up. Until that time in the early 1960s, however, whenever we holidayed with relatives in the Big Apple, my sister and I had pretty much been turned over to our grandparents for entertainment and discipline. But this time was different. When we arrived, instead of the customary hugs and kisses from Yiayia and Popou (Greek for Grandma and Grandpa), there was this guy taking charge.

“Wanna go for a ride?” he asked us. And our Uncle George (my mother’s baby brother) led us to the garage to see his late model (early 1960s) Chrysler convertible. It was salmon coloured. It had these massive tail fins. It even boasted the most modern of driving conveniences – a push-button transmission. “Watch this,” George said. And he just pushed in the “D” button for “Drive” and away we went.