Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Saying goodbye to Grandpa Milt

Grandpa Milt has just entered the hospital for the last time. We've known this day would come. He was diagnosed with lung cancer around the same time Jesse relapsed with leukemia. But the last time I saw Milt was at his 90th birthday a couple of weeks ago. He was still getting around on his own, no oxygen tank yet, no cane: we danced together to Beyond the Sea, then the belly dancer cut in and did something with a sword balanced on her head. Women were always one-upping each other around him.

Milt's not our blood relative; he was my late ex-husband's stepfather. So when people ask us how we're related, it can be difficult to explain. We usually settled on ex-step-in-laws, with a laugh. He was the only grandpa my kids really knew: he took them fishing, and taught them how to build wooden toys and paint them. He smoked cigars from Ya Mother's Cigar Store. He had a summer place that he'd renovated and maintained himself, on a lake, with a paddle ball court and a dock and a row boat, and a little tool shop out back. His other hobby, besides being an unrepentant flirt, was restoring antique clocks. So you'd be napping in the summer place, a fire crackling softly in the iron stove and suddenly you're jerked awake by every possible clock sound known to man. That is, if you forgot to stop the pendulums of the two dozen or so active antiques he had on the walls. And the grandfather clock. And the cuckoos in the dining room.

He's a real Jewish farm boy: brought up near Liberty New York on a sprawling few hundred acres, back when folks still traveled by horse and cart up there. He joined the Navy to see the world, and ended up in Indianapolis during WWII, right when my dad was busy growing up just 40 miles SW of town. They could easily have crossed paths more than once.

He once asked my youngest sister to run away with him to Spain. Another time, he asked out an entire table of Southern ladies moored at our friends' Turkish place on the Upper West Side. They each gave him a kiss. We used to take him to dinner about once a month, for the pure joy of seeing a man in his eighties who lived harder than most men half his age.

He's a Commie even now. If you were sitting with him, over at the hospital right now, and brought it up, I guarantee you he'd enjoy nothing more than arguing with you about it. His wife was the daughter of one of the office holders of the CWP.

I'm glad he gets to check out with all his faculties intact. It feels more like we're losing him, this way, but at least he gets to wring these last moments out of life. I'm going to head up there in a few hours to send him off with the rest of his family. My ex-step-in-laws. I'm glad they understand how much he means to us.

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