Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot auld lang syne?” Traditional New Year’s Song

The first time Larry and I met Milt at a neighborhood pool, I thought he was one of the “tribe.” Milton? Loessberg? Sounded Jewish to me. But within ten minutes, Milt informed me that he and Kathy were newlyweds and had met through their church. So much for guessing someone’s religion by a name! Standing waist deep in water, the four of us found other things we had in common: politics, travel, enthusiasm for life, and—especially for Milt and me—a love for journalism and the news.

Milt’s father was a civilian worker for the US Army when he had a heart attack. Milt’s mother was a few months pregnant when she became a widow after her husband, a civilian worker for the US Army had a heart attack. She eventually remarried, and Milt’s step-father became the only father he ever knew.

Tapping into his strong English and writing skills, Milt decided to go into journalism. During his studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Milt learned how to interview people and find out about their lives. In the end, his newspaper career focused on advertising and sales, and those listening skills helped him. “People tended to open up about their own situations, their business careers, and sometimes even their personal lives,” said Milt. “My people skills made the job interesting and increased my sales.”

Milt explored all of California as he traveled through the state for his jobs with different newspapers. Wherever he went, Milt took a camera, photographed the places he visited and mailed the pictures to his mother, who always “helped me find my best traits.” She recognized that Milt had a talent for photography. When Milt came to St. Louis for a visit, she told Milt that she had gotten in touch with a company that produces post cards. “She told them that I would be very good at supplying postcard views of nature.”

Even though he didn’t get the postcard job, Milt kept taking pictures. Building on his mother’s encouragement, Milt enjoyed photography as a lifetime hobby, He had a show in a small gallery in Affton, Missouri, as well as in other venues. He also joined the Art Association of St. Louis and nature photography club. “Photography was a way to give others pleasure and fulfill a personal need,” Milt said.

Beginning in his fifties, Milt developed macular degeneration, and his eyesight deteriorated. Thanks to modern technology, he continued his photography. “It’s amazing how many pictures in my collection have been taken with my trusty iPhone,” said Milt. “Many people have been fooled into thinking that they were taken with a professional camera because they are professional grade photos. “

While living in California Milt got married, a union that lasted 25 years. When Milt got a job offer with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, however, his wife decided to stay on the West Coast while Milt returned home. He treasured those years as it gave him a chance to reconnect with his failing mother. And—eventually—to meet Kathy.

Milt and Kathy both had lamented to a mutual friend from their church how it was hard to meet people. They were introduced in 2010 and connected quickly.Their wedding on September 8, 2012, was a joyous affair, attended by all of Kathy’s nine siblings and their spouses, officiated by Reverend Sallie Fox, and preserved in a lovely video. 

As they had done during their courtship, the two newlyweds traveled throughout the heartland of America. Their most influential vacation was a guided bus trip from St. Louis to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which allowed them to see the Old West. They were especially fascinated with Route 66, an interest that lasted their entire marriage. “I can come up with sixty-six reasons we love Route 66,” Milt quipped. The iconic highway was filled with American history:  refurnished motels, antique shops, old cars, and quality and service reminiscent of another time. “Kitch and nostalgia doesn’t exist any other place else in the world,” said Milt.

Three years after they were married, Milt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When Milt’s cancer went into remission, they made a deal that they would go to Florida for a few years, “as a four-year adventure” and would return to St. Louis when Kathy turned 65. They found a lovely home for the two of them, their cat Eddie, Kathy’s crafts, and Milt’s photos in Solivita, a fifty-five plus community near Kissimmee.

From the day they moved in, Milt and Kathy took advantage of every opportunity to soak in all Florida had to offer. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Bok Tower Gardens, Gatorland, St. Augustine, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island. If it was on the Florida map, they were headed to it. They bought a golf cart, and the two of them tooled around the neighborhood, checking out the best place to see alligators or catch a sunset. 

And we often joined them. On December 26, 2016, the four of us took long ride on their golf cart to all the homes that were decorated in Christmas splendor. No, there wasn’t any snow. But there were plenty of lights and Santas and reindeer in between the palm trees. 

By February 2017, however, Milt’s health declined as the cancer spread through his liver and kidneys. When Kathy went back to Missouri to visit her family in March, she called Milt to say she found “the perfect house.” They decided to move back to St. Louis, in part to make sure Kathy could be with family as they navigated through the last months of Milt’s illness. In June, the four of us took one last trip to City Walk at Universal. Milt was obviously in pain, but he wasn’t going to let that ruin his night. We ate Mexican food, took in the crowds, watched the roller coasters zoom over our heads. 

Kathy and Milt moved back to St. Louis that July. We communicated by email and by phone. When we Face-timed, I could see that. Milt was thin and pale. But he was still cheerful. “My father died at 32,” Milt told me. “I have had so many more years than he did. How lucky I am!”

Their last trip was by car to the annual balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in October 2017. With Kathy at the wheel, they drove on parts of Route 66. The morning of the festival, the lines to get on the shuttle buses where ridiculously long. Kathy and Milt waited 45 minutes in the freezing cold and found out they weren’t even half way to the bus. Disheartened, they finally accepted the fact that Milt physically couldn’t handle the crowd and the weather. They went back to their hotel, opened up the curtains, and—-there up in the sky were the balloons in their full glory. “The view was as good as being there,” said Kathy. The trip was a success

Even in his final days, Milt was optimistic. “I got some good news,” he told me during one phone call. “The doctor said I wouldn’t benefit from anymore treatments. I am going on pain medication, and hospice will be coming. It’s wonderful that such help exists.” The last time I spoke to Milt, he was tired and confused from the disease and the morphine. True to form, however, Milt still had an enthusiasm for life despite his weakened state. He passed away less than ten days later, on December 15, 2017.

Five years later, Kathy is settled in St. Louis. She has not been back to Route 66 but hopes to complete the trip someday. Recently, however, one of Kathy’s sister and her family recently visited Santa Monica and sprinkled some of Milt’s ashes in their bay. Milt, you finally completed your journey. May your memory be a blessing to Kathy and all who knew you.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

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