Last week I read the obituary of my cousin Milton,* whose family played a pivotal role in my memoir What Lies Within. He was 87 years old and left a large, loving family and a beautiful legacy behind. We lost touch more than 50 years ago, but my memories of our good times together remain.
I adored his parents, who were so kind to my mother and me when we moved from New Jersey to California. They were transplants from Philadelphia, and I’d seen them at family circle meetings throughout my childhood until they moved west to live closer to their sons. Despite being related to my father and my parents’ recent separation, they welcomed us warmly.
Their sons Stanley* and Milton lived nearby, and I had a crush on Stanley as a child. He sang at family circle gatherings and his beautiful voice might have led to professional performances today, but in the sixties, the television shows, the Internet, and YouTube did not exist to showcase talented people who could sing. Stanley could also write, and his clever musical revue, garnered a backers’ audition to try to raise funds to produce it. Today he might have begun a funding campaign, but Stanley passed away in 2010. With him went his talent.
Milton was a renowned physician, and I looked up to him and his beautiful wife Leila. I enjoyed spending time with them and their four children in their home in Downey and later in their more expansive home in Whittier. Once I babysat their children while Milton and Leila had an evening out. My cousins were only a few years younger than I, and we played and talked all evening until I had to enforce bedtimes. Since my Milton and Leila arrived home late, I spent the night at their house.
When Leila drove me home the next morning, she said, “Libby, if anything happens to your mother, you can live with us.”
I thought her offer odd and was shocked by her words. It never occurred to me that my mother might die. I knew she was ill and had been hospitalized for months, but at fifteen I could not imagine losing my mother. Too many people had departed from my life; my sister left home when I was thirteen and my father died when I was fourteen. I tried hard to forget her words, but they pervaded my thoughts for months. A naïve high school freshman, I had no idea what the future held.