91 years is a long time to live — it's only nine years shy of an entire century, and it's the number of years my great uncle spent living on Earth before recently passing away. Since my Uncle Dan, or Din Din as some of us called him, didn't have any children of his own, my mom and her siblings were like his surrogate children and the next generation of us were just as good as his grandkids.
For almost 24 years I was lucky enough to have Uncle Din Din as a major presence in my life. Din Din taught me about a lot of things: he helped shape my understanding of family, generosity, and love; encouraged me to embrace oral history traditions when learning about his experience in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in World War II; and even though Din Din never knew it, he also taught me about the importance of news.
After living with his family and serving in the war, Uncle Dan bought a house of his own with his wife, Rose. In 1955, they put down roots and moved onto Park Avenue in Port Chester, New York.
For the 58 years that he lived there, Din Din found comfort sitting on his front porch, and the rest of the neighborhood found comfort seeing him there. Every single day without fail he sat in the same chair, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and the day's newspaper in the other, and would have conversations with passers-by about the very current events he read about.
Uncle Dan consumed almost a century's worth of news from his porch. He read everything from local headlines about town elections to important national stories on pressing issues. Those who knew him are familiar with his political allegiance (in recent years, my great uncle took every opportunity to complain about how "those damn Republicans hated Obama just because of his race and his race alone") but Din Din prided himself on keeping an open mind by reading a number of different publications, not just those he agreed with.
One afternoon in the summer of 2009, I even found him on his porch smoking a cigar and reading the New York Post. Granted, I had a byline in the paper that day, but Din Din read everything he could get his hands on because he wanted to be educated about it, even the tabloids every once in a while.
He wanted to be in the know, and he was. I saw this man read a newspaper on his porch every single day, and this inherently influenced my ideas about news consumption as I grew up. From a very young age, I thought it was normal to be knowledgeable about current events. I knew it was important to be inquisitive, and I was under the impression I should always ask questions and spark debates when necessary. I knew I could only succeed as a citizen of the world if I knew what was going on in the world around me.
Not only did Uncle Dan read about the news from his front porch, but he also saw history happen with his own eyes. He watched families on his block send their sons off to Vietnam, some of them failing to return home. He saw teenagers fall in love and their relationships blossom into something bigger than just puppy love. Din Din stood by as generations of people grew into themselves and came into their own consciousnesses. He saw people line up at the elementary school down the street to vote for a female candidate in the 2008 primary elections, meanwhile the Nineteenth Amendment had only been enacted for two years when he was born.
Uncle Din Din witnessed a lot of history on the porch of 40 Park Avenue. I can still see him sitting in his favorite chair, wearing his San Francisco Giants jacket, and holding a newspaper with a big, fat smile on his face. It's an image that'll be impossible to forget, especially to those who spent time with him on his porch.
Life isn't short so much as it just goes by really, really fast — even if you're lucky enough to celebrate 91 birthdays — and I know my uncle cherished each day he had by learning as much as he could, always with a newspaper in hand.