My December letter of last year, 2009, was titled “An Eventful Year.” It was the year both my children got married. It was a joyous kind of eventful year. In the ebb and flow of life, we experience the ups and downs, the comings and goings, and the joys and sorrows of life. There is certainly a case to made that the sadder and sorrowful parts make the joyous parts all the more rich and sweeter.
This year, 2010, was eventful for many reasons. Maybe every year is eventful in its own way. As last year was the year of weddings, this year was a year of passings. In June, my father’s sister, my Aunt Seeran Wisner, passed away. In late July, my father in-law, Harold Mardoian, passed away. A few days after the passing of my father in-law, my mother’s brother, Uncle Ozzie, also passed away. Three people very close to me passed away in less than two months.
I knew Aunt Seeran and Uncle Ozzie all my life. They were both influential raising me. Just about the time their influence was settling into a more adult relationship, my relationship with and influence of my father in-law began. I am happy to have known all three and sad to see each of them pass on. I probably should have written a monthly letter dedicated to each of them but in their passing in such proximity to each other, I decided in August to dedicate this December letter to the memory of these three wonderful and influential people.
All three were the children of Genocide survivors. As they were raised by that very special generation, it colored their lives and influenced who they became. They came of age post World War II which was in many ways the zenith of the American Century.
Each of them all lived rich long lives. Though, we would have loved to have them around for another twenty years or so. But, they were all suffering chronic conditions and their passings were what are generally referred to as blessings. It was their time. While there were moments of sadness, their funerals were more celebrations of their lives. It was good for the family to be together to mourn and fondly remember great people and the warm memories we created together.
I loved being around Aunt Seeran when I was a young boy. She was doting, charming, and full of encouragement. She was a dreamer. She shared those dreams, big and bold. I loved hearing them, I was inspired by them.
While I was comfortable with the manners my Mother taught me and had me follow, Aunt Seeran always added just a few more. I found that very frustrating as a kid. I never really liked anyone changing the rules on me. Heck, I don’t like it anymore today. Yet, whenever I find myself following one of the “extra” Aunt Seeran manners, I smile extra big. For she was always right in these regards.
She loved the family. She loved the Gavoors and the Asoians. Like her two brothers, she loved growing up in the Armenian village of Andover, MA, the cluster of farms all part of her maternal Grandmother’s family, the Lousigians. This was amongst the happiest times of her life. She spoke of it often.
When I went to Boston for any reason, my wife Judy would always make sure that I included Aunt Seeran in my agenda. It was not always convenient but I did what I could. We would have lunch or dinner, we would go shopping, or we would visit. I treasure each one of those lunches, dinners, and trips to Star Market. She was genuinely happy. Her happiness infected me. We talked about my children and her grandchildren. She would tell me stories about her time at Harvard, whatever was going on in her building, and, most certainly, her grandchildren which were the apples of her eye. She would introduce me to her friends in her building and the owners of whatever restaurant we went to. She was happy I was taking her out. I will never forget those times, they are precious to me. They were pure enjoyment for the two of us.
She worked at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard. It was the greatest job she ever had. She helped organize every variety of conference and seminar which afforded her the opportunity to meet famous military leaders, statesmen, and journalists from all over the world. She absolutely loved that job and had the greatest stories from that time.
I would call Aunt Seeran now and then. I liked to keep in touch. She would call me as well. We got into a nice rhythm. The funny thing, though, when I called her was that she would always mistake me for my cousin David. She would answer the phone, “Hello?” I would say, “Hello Auntie Seeran, how are you doing?” She would invariably respond with, “David, tsakun, how nice of you to call.” I would tell her who I was. She was equally delighted it was me but she mistook me for David a lot. I kind of liked that. David liked it even more.
In the end, she had a form of dementia and lived in a full care facility. While her life was not easy, it was like God took special care of her at the end of her life. I visited her three times at that facility and saw other women with dementia. They were ornery. They were scared. They did not trust anyone. Not Aunt Seeran. She was happy. In fact, she was living in the happiest days of her life back in her childhood on her Grandmother’s farm in Andover, MA.
When I would visit Aunt Seeran there, she knew I was someone she knew and loved. Though she would know exactly who I was. She would tell me that in the coming weekend her father (who had passed on in 1959) would be picking her up to go to a cook-out in Andover at the farm and would I like to go. Sure I would. In my last visit this past May, I told her I had been by 179 School St. her parents last home, the house into which I was born. She lit up and told me that was her mother’s home. I said that is why I stopped by. She told me to call her mother (my grandmother who died in the mid-1980s) and say hi. I told her nothing would give me greater pleasure. Aunt Seeran, my cousin Bruce, and I all had big smiles.
We buried her in the same plot as her Asoian grandparents in West Parish Cemetary in Andover. She is again with the village, I believe that is exactly where she belongs.
Uncle Ozzie: Azad Merian was the eldest of three children and the only son of Levon and Azniv Merian. He was born on April 29, 1931 and passed away on July 29, 2010. His parents, my grandparents, named him Azad which means free in Armenian. They gave him that name because it meant so much for them to have escaped the horrors of the Genocide of the Armenian people. They were so happy to be in the land of the free that they bestowed this name upon their first born. He was always Uncle Ozzie or Uncle Oz to me, but Armenians that spoke the language always called him Azad.
As we lived a few miles from each other in Detroit and were a very close family, Uncle Oz was always around. He had a great influence upon me the way that a close Uncle can as being more friend and confidant than ones Father can be. We spent a lot of time together both in family gatherings on just ourselves.
Uncle Oz was a product of the streets of Detroit. He served in the US Army in Korea and worked at Cadillac Motors for many years. He had four children Sandy, Leo, Ralph and Chris, my first cousins with his first wife, Aunt Annie.
Uncle Oz was handy to the nth degree. He could build things and fix things and he did it often. He was a machine repairman in the Army and then at Cadillac Motors. He was always tinkering and thinking. I admired this in him knowing early on I could never really ever be that way. Probably, I really did not want to.
I did help him design the house he built on Georgian Bay though. Armed with nothing more than high school trigonometry, I helped him design the pitch of the roof and wall heights of the second floor of his place to maximize the living space. I was delighted to have been able to help him in this project.
Because he had three boys and because he was handy, he cut their hair. For economy of scale, he also cut my hair. He built his own barber chair putting on old oak desk chair on a pedestal. He was really a master barber as long as you wanted a buzz cut. He used two attachments: short for the top and shorter for the edges. I sported a buzz cut until either Junior High or High School.
Most men dream of having things such as someday getting an antique car, maybe having a second house on a lake, perhaps becoming a gunsmith or furniture maker, becoming a hunter, having their own business, learning to play the piano, or whatever else strikes our fancies. Not everyone acts on any let alone all. Uncle Ozzie was amazing in this regard and I really did not fully realize nor appreciate it until he died this year and I reflected on his life and how he lived it. He did things. He did things he wanted to do and loved to do. And he did these things as much or more than anyone else I have ever known. Everyone has an excuse why they shouldn’t or couldn’t do this. Not Uncle Ozzie. He did it all and on his terms. He did it while not being an overly wealthy man. He was rich, however, in spirit and self-confidence. I would have been well served to have learned that all important lesson from him.
I have many great memories of Uncle Oz. Perhaps the best memories are the summers in college when I worked with him. At this point, Uncle Oz had a contract with HUD to board up and winterize houses they had foreclosed on. We were on first cuts of the bleeding edge that foretold the difficulties Detroit was about to endure. It was a great time. I would drive to Uncle’s house and we would go out for breakfast, work, have a late lunch and work again until five. We worked and ate and talked. He shared with me his philosophy and ideas.
I cannot even remember if he paid me. I am sure he did but the value of the job was the time I spent with my uncle. They are times I will never forget.
I first met Harold when I started dating his daughter, now my wife, Judy back in 1970. Almost when we first met, I used to get to Chicago to visit… with increasing frequency. I used to stay at his home when I visited. From maybe my second or maybe my third trip of who knows how many, he started calling me “Maro Polo” because I was always travelling. He was not the first to call me that, but he did it the most. After a while, I just became Marco and was that until he passed away.
From my first getting to know him, there was a constant and underlying trait of this man. Harold Mardoian was a man of quiet determination. He was one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He devoted long intense hours to his work never really allowing himself any of the pleasures and pastimes most of the rest of use allow ourselves. He dedicated to himself to providing the best for his family.
He was a self-made man. With his brothers he started Mardoian Brothers food. He learned business in the very real world in the independent grocery business, a business of perishable inventories and razor thin margins. There was no quit in him. He was determined. When there was an obstacle, he did not let it stop him. He kept thinking about it and trying to figure out what he could do and how he could do it. He would figure out a way. He always figured out the way with quiet determination.
Being in the grocery and then food purveyance business, Harold learned to wheel and deal, to negotiate. It is a matter of survival in that business. I can imagine his quiet determination infuriated some in negotiation, but he always sought out the win-win. He never tried to take advantage. It was a core principal that everyone had to make something in a deal. While he was nobody’s fool, it was this eminent sense of fairness that made a strong positive impression on everyone that knew him and did business with
From the food and grocery business, the experience he gained in buying and selling there, Harold also became an astute investor. He moved his trading skills to a higher plane. He did a lot of his own research and was quite successful. It was his passion. He understood markets, market trends, the human motivations, and economics of it all unbelievably well. Formal education or not, he could have taught a course in the subject. He was investment counselor, behind the scenes, for several family members with the simple goal of not wanting others to have to worry about finances in their retirement years. Speaking of retirement, my Father In-Law was primarily an investor in his retirement. He would study and watch the financial channels, always with a pad of paper and pen at hand. He would learn, contemplate, and then make his moves.
During his working years, Harold was about running his business to the exclusion of all but family events. In retirement, he and my mother in-law Mary made up the time by touring the world. They went everywhere from Australia to Armenia. It was a wonderful time for them and their dear friends Winnie and Jim Reidy.
Harold was an attentive and sincere listener. He was not an “I, I, me” person. He definitely did not like to hear himself talk. He would listen and think. He would listen to learn. He would then think about what was being said and then give his own opinion. His views were usually pretty insightful. If someone was sharing a problem with him, he would do what he did his whole business life… try to figure out a solution. I told him once about some obsolete inventory I “inherited” to the tune of $6MM when I took the job that brought me to Chicago. There were two things about this pile of obsolete stuff that he kept pondering. First, how did the pile start and get so big? Second, he could not stop thinking about how to sell it all. This was his way.
To me Harold was first Mr. Mardoian, then Dad, in for the past 15 years or so, we all called him Papa. This is what his grandchildren called him: Papa. As the grandchildren grew, it became apparent to all that Papa was most fitting. We all came to call him that.
Papa suffered from Parkinson’s disease. This disease is slow and progressive, slowly taking control of one’s body. It does not get better, it just gets worse. There are wonderful medications that really help slow the advancement but nothing to reverse it. Harold never let the disease get him down. At least he never showed it. He wanted to attend every family event that he possibly could. In the thirteen months before his passing, he attended the weddings of my daughter Armené and Michael in Los Angeles, my son Aram and Anoush in New York City, and his niece Ani and Vicken in Boston. He danced at each wedding and when he did, he stole the show.
We just had the first Christmas without Papa. We felt it and we talked about it. While it was his time to go, as it was Seeran’s and Ozzie’s, the hole in our lives is still there. We missed his quiet conversation and unique wit. I miss all three.
Two More: My neighbor Paul Kedo passed away on October 11th at the age of 61. Paul was a great fellow whom I got to know when we came to find out we were both unemployed. We decided to network with each and form an informal support group with another neighbor Rick Schneider.
Paul suffered from a rare kind of cancerous tumor outside his pancreas for over eleven years. He never led on he had this condition. As he was looking for a job and had two strikes against him being a white male of his age, he kept his condition very private. He never even told Rick nor me.
Rick and I were both shocked to learn of his passing. We assumed it was sudden and shocked and saddened further to learn he had been fighting a terminal illness all along. It is tough enough being unemployed.
We also never knew he was the Renaissance man: a pilot, a sailor, and a painter. We only knew him in the context of the job search we were all engaged in and the support we were providing each other. Rick and I met for coffee after the funeral. We met at the same neighborhood Starbucks where we used to meet with Paul. We met to discuss that while we knew Paul, we did not know Paul more than in the context in which we met… and how that was our loss. We discussed how private he was about his illness. We talked about how much we will miss him.
Perhaps the saddest case of everyone I knew that passed away this year was Bob Lewis (November 4, 1971 – November 21, 2010). Bob was my controller at Sanford Brands when I worked there. When in my first few weeks there I had a chance to interview this internal candidate, I noted two things from his resume. First, he was born the year I graduated from high school. Second, we both were graduates of the University of Michigan – Dearborn. In the interview, we took an instant liking to each other. He was basically a shoe-in for the job. On top of everything else, I learned he had lived in Livonia.
Bob and I had a lot of fun and we did a lot of good. He was a good finance guy and wonderfully irreverent when it came to suffering the blow-hardiness of others. We would be sitting in a meeting when someone speaking would start spewing nonsense as if it were Nobel Prize winning economics. Bob would give me a look that would have my having to suppress breaking out into laughter.
He was a great friend and a great Michigan fan. I had emailed him in early November wishing him Happy Birthday and offering him my Michigan – Iowa football tickets. He thanked me and declined the tickets because he was going deer hunting with his father. I found myself at a funeral home in Livonia on the Friday after Thanksgiving for his wake.
Bob and I were let go from Sanford at the same time. He was fortunate enough to find a job immediately which was good as he had recently bought a house and more importantly had a new son. Bob passed away raking the leaves in November a few weeks after his 39th birthday. He passed out and was never revived. It turns out he had an enlarged heart and a bad valve. My heart goes out to his wife and infant son.
In closing, I hope 2011 is wonderful year for all of you. I am certain it will be eventful…