Monday, January 14, 2008

Milton Wolff, 1915-2008

My old friend Milt Wolff died early this morning. We had known each other ever since I joined the Thursday's Child writing group in Berkeley, which had already been going for about twenty years when I joined.
Milt became one of my close friends, and I suppose I was one of the few people still around whose friendship didn't result from his having fought in the Spanish Civil War. I was interested in this aspect of his life, of course, but I wasn't really aware of it until I had known him a few years and we worked out a deal where I got to use his computer in exchange for editing his novel about the war. The book, Another Hill, was published by University of Illinois Press in 1994.
Milt was a complicated person, who attracted many people and irritated many as well. He taught me, by his sometimes unreasonable and pigheaded ways, how to fight back when told something stupid and unreasonable. Milt liked people who could stand up to him, and it was never painful to do so. I don't often have to tell other people that they're being stupid, but now I usually can if necessary.
Most of the time, however, we had a lot of fun together, talking about writing, life, and the various things that come up randomly in conversation.
I last saw him last weekend, when we knew the end was near. He had lost a lot of weight and gone off most of his medications, but although he was too weak to get out of bed without help, his mind was pretty clear. He was torn between readiness to die and a desire to get up, do some writing, and go out for a drive and some drinks. It frustrated him not to be able to do whatever he wanted, as he'd been able to do so almost to the last.
It's easier to say goodbye when the end is no surprise (he was, after all, 92), but it's still hard.

6 Comments:

Blogger Julia said...

Hey there, just wanted to say that I understand and am thinking about you. And I'd really like to see that book sometime and read about Milton!

January 14, 2008 9:01 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Thanks for the kind thoughts. I know you understand about this.

I think the book is still in print, but you should be able to get a copy used... or in Spanish from the Spanish publisher!

January 15, 2008 2:07 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I'm very sorry to hear this. My symathies.

January 15, 2008 5:46 AM  
Blogger Rabbit Girl said...

My condolences to you.

January 16, 2008 12:13 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Milt was my great-uncle (by marriage to my grandmother's sister) and friend--and a great friend indeed for a young activist in a troubling world. You probably saw him much more often than I did, though, and you've described him very well.

He had a warm heart and an artistic temperament, and he helped to teach me not to take crap from anybody. My occasional attempts to get avuncular advice from him had results that were sometimes hilarious and sometimes touching, but almost never anything like an answer to my questions. He would far rather sing "There's a Valley in Spain called Jarama" than try to dispense pearls of elder-statesman wisdom. The present, too, was always important to him. I might try to draw him out on the nature of youth activism in the 1930s, and he would ask: "Are you getting these emails from MoveOn.org?"

He never stopped wanting to learn, argue, create and opine. When I saw him in hospice the day after Christmas, the energy and affection in the room made it impossible to take a somber tone. Several more friends came through while my family was there. The social worker who came to check on him was probably a little baffled; Milt was holding court with four visitors at once, all of us friendly to the new arrival and none of us close enough relatives to provide useful information on Milt's condition. (Milt, of course, greeted him with "Who're YOU? What? What's he talkin' about?" and then, "Okay, whatever, as long as I don't have to do any interviews. I don't do interviews any more.")

Karla, I'm afraid I can't remember right now whether you're among the many friends of Milt's that I've met over the years (I recognize your name, but perhaps from hearing him talk about you). Perhaps I'll see you at the dedication of the monument on the Embarcadero. I wish Milt could have made it long enough to see that, but I know there will be many loving friends of his gathered together there.

January 16, 2008 12:58 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Sylvia, thank you so much for your wise and vivid comments! You describe the Milt we knew and loved.

Milt mentioned your name from time to time, but I don't think we ever met. I didn't see much of Milt after I left the Bay Area in 2000. I hope I can attend the memorial.

Comments and reminiscences from others who knew Milt are very welcome here. You don't need to join Blogger in order to leave a comment, but please do add your name (or a pseudonym!) to your comment.

January 17, 2008 3:06 AM  

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