As we get older, family functions/adventures evolve from graduations, to weddings, to births, to anniversaries and eventually funerals. This family event was the latter.
Paul’s uncle Don passed this past week (91 years young), and we had to fly an economy flight (Spirit Air) to Michigan, to weather that can only be described as nothing less than schizophrenic. We hoped we’d packed appropriately, and while we could have “begged off” this trip to the funeral as too far and/or too costly, we wouldn’t miss this opportunity to gather with family for a proper send off and to represent the more “enlightened” West coast Milosch’s. (Our parents escaped the stronghold of Pure Michigan early in our youths) [Side story…on our first date we discovered we had essentially grown up 10 miles (as the crow flies) from each from each other, only to meet Lifeguarding on the beaches of San Clemente. We adroitly took it as a sign, especially after we learned part of our families actually knew each other. What were the chances?! The rest is history]. Needless to say, Michigan is a touchstone for us. So we arrived at LAX via our Sam’s long term parking shuttle driver, who, by the way, had balls of steal! He was quite adept at manuevering his 11 passenger van in/out and through the swarming ant hill traffic of LAX, all without a scratch or killing someone…to include us! This man deserved a standing ovation! After dropping off our luggage (gotta schlep warm clothes…cause it was snowing there, or sleeting rain, of which we rarely see where we live…let alone snow) we headed to the TSA screening. I am pulled aside for scanning “positive” for titanium metal on my right ankle, which is awesomely amazing to me as the specificity of the results seeing that I only have one remaining screw there, as opposed to the 5inch plate that used to hold my ankle together. Once through screening we were hit with the fact we’re not in “Kansas” anymore. In fact we felt as though we’ve stepped into another world, like that bar scene in Star Wars (Episode IV – A New Hope), the Mos Eisley Cantina. I can’t help but smile at the diversity and eclectic fashion choices gathered in this area. Many a wrist and shoulder was adorned with the trappings of the 2018 Coachella music festival that past weekend. While many were festively clad, many appeared as if they have just gotten off the set of Walking Dead, as an “extra”, and with this we surmised they had waaaay too much fun. We boarded our plane and were smacked with the reality, that is Spirit Airlines. You get what you pay for, and if you don’t pay for it you don’t get it. We learned quickly why this direct flight was so cheap. It is the plain wrap of flying.
We shoehorned ourselves into our sparsely padded and unadjustable seats and settled in for the 4.5 hour direct flight. Feeling utterly parched we were excited when the beverage cart toddled down our way. “Water please”, I asked. “That will be $3 dollars”, replied the flight attendant. “W-What?”. (We knew before hand that you had to pay for snacks or sodas, but never even considered having to pay for water…WTF?!) “Ma’am, water is $3 dollars”. Shocked and snarky, I asked how much for just ice. “Oh, that’s free ma’am”. “W-What”?. “It’s free ma’am”. “Okay, then I’ll have all the melted ice at the bottom of your bag of ice”, I replied with a triumphant smile. The flight attendant laughed uncomfortably, as I’m sure that’s probably not the first time she’s heard that. “Would you like a water or not”, chimes in the other attendant, tersely. I considered having them fill my empty 40oz aluminum Costco water bottle with ice, but this bottle is way too efficient in keeping cold things cold and/or hot things hot (how do it know?), so I figure I’d be reduced to dust before the ice melted enough to actually drink, and acquiesced to the $3 dollar purchase of a 12oz bottle of Dasani water and four (free) cups of ice. The flight continued without incident, which apparently for that week was literally something to write home about.
We landed in DTW (Detroit) and were picked up curbside by Jimmy, who is for all practical purposes, the Family’s “Uber driver”, and has been for going on 63+ years. Jimmy is a character, he’s 81, supremely reliable, a train aficionado, and ardent story teller who brings you up to speed on all Michigan family happenings, to include his latest health update, and antics of his dog. Luckily traffic was relatively light and made it to the funeral home just as they are finishing the Rosary service. To our delight and surprise, they had boards displayed with numerous snapshots of Uncle Don and family over the years. I searched specifically for pictures of Paul and his uncle, most of which involve hunting trips to the cabin in the Upper Peninsula (UP).
We paid our respects, and then migrated with the rest of the family to the Oxford Tap for libations, fellowship and food.
The bar was filled with laughter and one story led into another, with each generally accompanied by a shot of tequila, whiskey or some horrible concoction called a “red-headed slut”, which ensured a somber funeral service the following afternoon. Having had “enough”, and the fact that we miraculously had a sober driver to take us “home”, we exited the dwindling but committed imbibers only to find cousin Mark and his two lifelong buddies (Rick and Brian, who are brothers) in rare form. Laughter, stories, chiding and beverages flow freely. What is an inevitable and often sorrowful occasion of losing one’s father, has been transformed into another bonding experience with friends, who help to temper the pain of loss, as only true friends can. Another hour or so of laughter, and a handful of electrolytes, courtesy of lovely Kara (Mark’s daughter), we stumbled to bed.
The following morning we are met with a fresh coat of snow on the ground and purportedly more to come.
We apparently were in what my aunt calls, “Third Winter”, of the “eleven seasons” of Michigan.
The service was held at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, a sturdy stone and brick structure “completed” around 1940 and based on a “Norman style” church the parish’s founding priest saw on a trip to Italy in the late 1930’s. This church is where just about every Milosch Family sacrament has been held. He was a proud WWII Navy veteran , an Entrepreneur, ardent philanthropist and dedicated family man. He built one of the top Chrysler Franchises in the country, and the dealership is considered one of the top 100 dealerships in the world. Most people who live into their 90’s most certainly have outlived most of their friends, and often a spouse. Uncle Don’s wife (Gerry) of 63 years died the year previous. They had met when he was in the Navy, at a USO dance, where upon his return to his barracks he announced with conviction, “I’m gonna marry that girl!”, and the rest is history. He is however survived by 6 children (3 boys/3 girls); 29 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren (with surely more than one “on the way”). He was an accomplished sailor, believing motor boats were for lazy people; a hearty outdoorsman who loved to fish, hike and hunt; a world traveler; and his greatest joy…a man who believed in Family. He was a visionary, who bought a decimated parcel of property in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for pennies on the dollar, and built a cabin that would provide decades of recreation and family fun across the “eleven seasons” of Michigan weather.
The family cabin, aptly named “Pierre’s Camp” was named as such due to the fact that Don insisted on being The Chef whilst at the cabin. It wonderfully rustic and sports a hand built fireplace and chimney from local river rock. In the latter years, “running water”, a “proper bathroom” (thank you aunt Gerry), and an antennae to ensure some form of communication with the “world” in the event of an emergency were all installed. The phone became a necessity after Don fell from a bunk and broke his neck (he didn’t know it at the time), and had to be driven several hours over less than soft/flat terrain to a hospital to be treated. He recovered fully after a stint of wearing an “erector set” halo for quite some time. This property was once devoid of trees, having been clear cut in the 60’s, and has since returned to a lush forest with sustainable growth that has provided for more than one pesky beaver and thousands of deer. He loved a practical joke, and more than appreciated the one I played on the Michigan Milosch’s nearly two decades ago, when I purported to have bagged a giant buck on my cousin’s property in Ithaca (picture and all). At that time women were not allowed at Pierre’s Camp during deer season. I however, thought it would be nice to prove women can be successful hunting as well. With the help of my wiley young children (8 and 5), Paul also actually believed my “story”, for when my children discovered that their father had not “bagged” a deer, they adroitly announced “That’s okay dad, cause mom got a big one”, and ran to get the picture I had staged with the help of my aunt and cousins. Paul was so proud, and amazed (as were the rest of the “boys” who had not been successful either, to include Uncle Don) that my “story” was told again and again. Having just purchased a new truck from the family, we had planned that when Paul returned from deer camp to drive cross country to my dad’s for thanksgiving. As we traveled, Paul continued to gush over my success and quiz me as to the details, to include why I failed to bring all the venison, or the rack from my deer. I had fashioned a relatively convincing story on the fly ( I left most of the meat with my aunt for fear of it rotting on our drive back, and my cousin’s husband was working on creating a mount for me). By the time we got to Nebraska , I couldn’t contain the lie anymore, and finally spilled the beans as to the joke I had pulled. Paul was horrified, but not surprised. The problem was that we had no way to walk back that story anytime soon, considering cell phones were not a thing, and no way in hell was I going to fork out a crap ton of change on a pay phone in an attempt to recant said story. When we finally arrived at my father’s for thanksgiving, that following Monday Paul called the dealership to “put things straight”. He was somewhat concerned that his uncle would be mad at us for having been duped. Paul’s cousin Mark (a big practical joker himself) and uncle Don were in on the call via speaker phone. As luck would have it, Uncle Don had just returned from a Chamber of Commerce lunch, and had proudly recounted my “hunting story” to all that would listen. When Paul explained what I had done, they both erupted in laughter, so much so that they had to call us back, so as not to rack up long distance charges, and frankly to do their best halt the spread of my “hunting success”. From that point on, I was “in like Flynn” with Uncle Don, and while not related by DNA, I considered him my uncle as well. For Paul, Uncle Don was as close to a father figure as one could get, considering his father had passed prior to our kids being born. Trips to deer camp and a week with Uncle Don, were always a highlight. I had the pleasure of finally, by decree of Uncle Don several years before he passed, to be the first (and ONLY) woman allowed at deer camp.
I even got to hunt out of his blind. He was full of wisdom and stories (laced of course with even more wisdom). I dare say that if he had not been stricken with Parkinson’s he would still be alive and kicking, holding and kissing his great grand-babies, metering out pearls of wisdom and encouragement to his grandchildren, and providing for his family’s legacy as only a proud, hardworking, fun-loving and devoted family man can. Even in his last days of Parkinson’s, having been confined to a wheel chair, seemingly unresponsive and unable to speak, he was still full of life. So much so, that during Paul and his brother’s last visit with their uncle this past November, Don’s homecare nurse who was dare I say, “well endowed” was leaned over in front of Don to adjust him in his wheelchair from slouching. As she leaned over him, lifted him and cinched his chair’s “safety belt”, Paul and his brother could not help but notice a distinct smile emerge on Don’s face. So much for “unresponsive”! [Let that be a lesson to those who think the “unconscious” or seemingly “unresponsive” are not “home” or “alert”.]. In any event, Uncle Don will be missed on so many levels, but his memory and commitment to family (both intimate and extended) will live on and always be cherished. It is my hope that we might all strive to live life to the fullest. To have no regrets, and/or dreams unrealized. To always be kind and help those less fortunate than ourselves. To leave a legacy of love. To cherish family, warts and all.