Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Diseaseby Morton Kondracke, Michael J. Fox
Morton Kondracke did not intend to marry Millicent Martinez. He thought he ought to marry an Ivy League heiress whose connections and credentials might help his career. But Milly -- a Mexican American, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Chicago kid and daughter of a radical labor organizer -- eventually captured his heart. They married, and loved and fought passionately for twenty years. Then in 1987, Milly noticed a glitch in her handwriting; a small tremor which would lead to the shattering diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Saving Milly is Kondracke's powerfully moving chronicle of his vital and volatile marriage; one that has endured and deepened despite the devastating physical and emotional effects of a chronic, progressive, and as-yet incurable disease. It is also the inspiring, remarkably frank story of his own transformation from careerist to caregiver and disease activist -- a process that has deepened his religious faith. Finally, it is an exploration of the realities of "disease politics" in the campaign to find a cure for Parkinson's, and a convincing argument for doubling and redoubling the government's minuscule investment in medical research. For any of the million Americans with Parkinson's and their families, for anyone whose religious faith has been tested by tragedy, and for anyone who loves a real-life love story, Saving Milly is unforgettable reading.
–The Wall Street Journal
“A TRULY COMPELLING READ . . . AN INTENSELY PERSONAL MEMOIR . . . There is only one Milly. And from what I learned in her husband’s splendid book, she is a treasure.”
“HONEST AND WISE . . . A love story that, without mushiness, plumbs the meaning of marriage . . . A tender tell-all that grabs one by the throat from the first paragraph to the last.”
“ONE OF THOSE BOOKS YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO READ. . . . It is a moving testimonial to a brave woman. . . . It’s a beautiful book. Do yourself a favor and read it.”
–Wisconsin State Journal
“WARM, LOVING, TENDER . . . IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT DOWN.”
–LARRY KING, USA Today
“POWERFUL, UNVARNISHED, HEARTRENDING.”
Read an Excerpt
"Marry Milly!" Joan Kehoe whispered in my ear. Then she repeated it, more insistently. We were at an Italian restaurant, Riccardo's, the favorite martini-lunch spot for reporters at the Chicago Sun-Times in the 1960s. This may have been the only dinner I ever had there. Joan had introduced me to Millicent Martinez a few months before. We were a fairly large and noisy group and Milly was sitting out of earshot as Joan importuned me. She also couldn't see the quizzical look on my face, which betrayed what was in my mind: Marry Milly? Out of the question.
Not that I didn't like her. I did. She was pretty. She was self-assured. And she was exotic, half-Mexican and half-Jewish. But she did not fit my life's plan, which was to become a big-shot Washington journalist. I figured that the person I planned to be someday should have a Vassar or Wellesley graduate for a wife, or possibly an heiressa woman whose family connections and intellectually stimulating company could help me attain the goal.
Eventually Milly overwhelmed this stupid idea. Eventually I realized that, wherever I went in life, I would regret it the whole way if she were not with me. So ultimately I followed Joan's advice. And thanks to that, I've lived a love story. But the decision took a while. And God had a hand in it.
In the first instance, though, Joan Smith, formerly Kehoe, deserves the credit. She eventually got a Ph.D. in sociology and went on to become a professorof women's studies and a dean at the University of Vermont. In 1964, though, Joan was an Irish American housewife and mother who was finishing college, abandoning her straitlaced cultural roots, and serving as spokesperson for the civil rights movement in Chicago. I was a fresh-faced twenty-five-year-old reporter for the Sun-Times who wanted to cover civil rights and politicsand meet women.
Originally I knew Joan just on the phone. She sounded so warm, I wanted to date her and was hugely disappointed to learn she was marriedunhappily, as it turned outand in her thirties. So we became friends. I sympathized strongly with the civil rights movement. The year before, one of my last assignments as a sergeant in U.S. Army Intelligence had been to watch the March on Washington and, if it turned violent, to meet up with troops waiting to be ferried in from nearby Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech with tears rolling down my face.
As a brand-new reporter, my main job was to write obituaries. I was ambitious, though. So, on a day off, I took it upon myself to knock on doors in a white ethnic neighborhood on the Southwest Side to try to understand why people there disliked blacks. They told me that they'd moved from other neighborhoods where, after the first blacks moved in, crime increased and property values collapsed. They alleged that the NAACP and crooked real estate dealers were in cahoots to spread panic. Someone evidently thought I was from the NAACP and called the police, who called my boss, the city editor. He banned me from covering civil rights, though he let me cover politics.
Over the next couple of years, when I covered the Illinois legislature and then national politics, Joan fixed me up with various young women she knew. They included the first African American woman I ever dated and the first woman I ever slept withthe day after which occasion Joan sent me a congratulatory telegram.
In early 1966 she told me she wanted me to meet this friend of hers, Millicent Martinez. Given Joan's track record, I had every reason to think that Milly would be interesting and, possibly, sexually adventuresome. What Joan told me about her in arranging a dinner date sounded intriguing, too. She was the daughter of two Communists and, like Joan, was a student and anti-Vietnam activist at Chicago's left-wing Roosevelt University. Joan pronounced Martinez with the accent on the last syllable, not the second. Neither of us knew enough Spanish, or Hispanics, to get it right. In fact, for some months after I met Milly I kept mispronouncing her last name when I introduced her to people, including my parents. Finally she got fed up and corrected me.
Our first date took place at the famous Red Star Inn, a German place on Chicago's near-North Side that has since closed. Joan was a serious Marxist and yearned for a revolution in America, but her tastes were all upper-middleclass.
What struck me most about Millicent Martinez was that, at twenty-six, she already had a shock of white running along the part in her black hair. Even though Joan had arranged this dinner to fix us up, the dominant subject of the evening was that Joan was giddily in love and had to leave early to meet her new man, Larry Smith, a New York investment banker who was arriving for the weekend. Milly and I drove her to the railway station when we finished with dinner.
Afterward Milly and I went to an unromantic vinyl-and-Formica coffee shop near her apartment in Hyde Park on the South Side. Milly ordered tea. I got interested. Her name is Millicent, and she drinks tea, I thought. This is a classy radical. But it shortly became clear that she was less than radical. She told me that her pal Joan recently had enticed her into joining Students for a Democratic Society and participating in an antiwar sit-in at Roosevelt. Milly and others had been arrested, but Joan hadn't because she'd left the scene early to look after her children. Milly said she'd given the police a phony name, Rita Torrez, so she wouldn't have a record and could get a job as a probation counselor with the Cook County Juvenile Court when she graduated from Roosevelt in June. The police had discovered her real identity, though, and two members of Chicago's notorious intelligence unit, the "Red Squad," had come to visit her and tried to recruit her to inform on the SDS. She refused. One of them then sent her flowers and tried to call her for a date, she said, but she turned him down.
I was impressed by her personal involvement in matters I was, at best, only observing and writing about. I liked her politicsidealistic, but not rabidly ideological. She was on the executive committee of SDS, she said, but she was the conservative in the group, counseling others to keep demands reasonable and avoid confrontations with the police. She said that when one SDS radical brought a gun to a meeting, she had told him never to do it again. She told me that another guy's politics were so insane that he'd punched a businessman in the face on Michigan Avenue just for being a businessman.
I don't remember exactly what I told her about myself, but I must have tried to impress her with my achievements and ambitions. I was a Dartmouth graduate and now was jetting around the country writing about Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, urban race riots, and national politics and getting reasonably frequent front-page play in the newspaper. My ambition was to become a Washington or foreign correspondent. Milly was not bowled over. She clearly knew nothing about Ivy League colleges. The glamour of journalism did not seem to register with her either.
This definitely was not love at first sight, on either side. She considered me nothing more than "clean-cut." Even after we fell in love, I didn't consider her really beautiful, though when I look at pictures taken back then I can't imagine why. She was slender, olive-skinned, and sloe-eyed. She told me that she thought her nose was too big and her legs too skinny, and I guess I believed her.
But we were interested enough in each otherand respectful enough of Joan's recommendationsthat we dated intermittently over the next few months. We went to movies, had dinner, visited Joan, and went window-shopping downtownone of my favorite cheap things to do. I dated other women, too, including a Vassar graduate I fell into a maddeningly platonic relationship with. Milly was seeing two other men, a chemist and a professor at a junior college, both of whom wanted to marry her.
Even though this was the mid-1960s, the dawn of the sexual revolution, and even though I'd hoped that Milly might be a believer in free love, the reality was different. The best I got for weeks was a kiss good-night at her door, and a rather unpassionate one at that. She put her hands behind herin her back pockets when she was wearing Levi'sleaned forward, and pecked.
At twenty-seven, I was ambivalent about sex. On the one hand, I wanted it desperately and thought about it constantly. On the other hand, I just as desperately feared becoming seriously involved with anyone I wasn't prepared to marry. Moreover, I was ridiculously inexperienced. I was the product of a Victorian upbringing. I was a fat kid and rarely dated in high school. I was scared of women in college. And in 1966 I was still so caught up in 1950s behavior codes that I couldn't stand it any longer.
So I let women dictate the rules of engagement. If a woman was willing to neck, I'd gladly neck, sometimes till dawn. If, oh so rarely, one was willing to have sex, I'd gladly oblige when fear of commitment didn't get the best of me. Or, as with Milly, I'd accept the kiss-good-night routine.
After dating for a few months, we advanced to smooching. Once I decided to press my luck and clumsily planted my hand on the front of her shirt. She shot me a look that said, "Who said you could do that?" I blushed, laughed, and suggested we take a walk.
Since we didn't have sex early on, we talked. She had a fascinating story to tell. Her mother, Ida Lederman, had had a terrible childhoodshe was sexually abused by her immigrant father and kept a virtual slave by her stepmother. She'd escaped by getting married to a Jewish artist. She left her first husband quickly and met Milly's father, Refugio Martinez, at a United Packinghouse Workers strike rally. Ida was beautiful as a young woman. Pictures remind you of Ava Gardner.
Refugio was a passionate, charismatic man with a sad, pockmarked face and prematurely white hair that he transmitted to his daughters. He'd prepared for the priesthood in Tampico, Mexico, but fled to the United States after being warned that his increasing involvement in radical politics was putting his life in danger.
Because his job as an organizer of meatpacking workers kept him moving around the country, Ida, Milly, and Milly's older sister, Alexandra, were left alone a lot. Ida was the victim of racial prejudice as an Anglo woman married to a Mexican. Once a brick was thrown through a window and nearly hit Alex in her crib. Ida later alleged that Refugio hit her when they fought and once kicked her in the stomach. They separated.
When Milly was three and Alex five, Ida suffered a nervous breakdown and ran away from home, leaving the girls unattended. They subsisted on breakfast cereal for a few days until neighbors called the police. Juvenile authorities found Alex outside their apartment building and took her to the Cook County youth detention facility, known as the Audy Home. Milly hid under a bed and was not discovered. She stayed with neighbors, who called for Refugio to come back to town. He got sole legal custody of them, and for a while they traveled with him, living in hotel rooms, until he placed them with another union organizer and his family in middle-class surroundings in Kansas City.
That family was unable to keep them, so Refugio transferred them to the care of Anita "Annie" Villarreal, a tiny woman with little money but a ferocious determination to improve her lot in life and that of other Mexican Americans. She had six children of her own and lived in a working-class neighborhood on Chicago's near-West Side. As a child, she had spent time at Hull House, the celebrated Chicago settlement, and knew its founder, Jane Addams, who urged her to stay in school. She was only able to finish two years of high school, but she absorbed Addams's social mission. She and Refugio Martinez were co-leaders of the Mexican Civic Committee, which helped neighborhood people solve their various problems, including dodging "the Immigration"the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Annie had been born in the United States. Martinez never became a U.S. citizen.
Milly and her sister were raised by Annie and her husband, Marshall, in poverty, but with strict Roman Catholic values. There were rats in the alley and bed bugs in the mattresses and walls of their house. The girls often felt the bugs crawling on their necks in school and crunched them in bed at night, leaving tiny blotches of blood on the sheets. Milly and her closest foster sister, Loretta (Lori), set off DDT bombs in their bedroom, soaking the walls with poison to kill the bugs. Milly believes that DDT is the cause of her Parkinson's disease. She may be right. Recent research shows that environmental toxins are significant in triggering Parkinson's and may account for the fact that the average age of onset is getting lower and lower.
Despite poverty, marital difficulty, and hospitalization for tuberculosis, Annie kept the family together and resisted Ida's desperate attempts to regain custody of Milly and Alex. She considered Ida unstable. Annie was a forceful, determined person with a fierce work ethic and Puritan values. Ultimately she earned a real estate license, opened her own business, bought and managed property, and became a local political power, twice serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
At a time when Hispanics are still woefully underrepresented on television and in movies, I have often thought that tiny Anita Villarreal should be the model for a series or a film portraying the upward struggle of Mexican Americans. Not only is she a strong matriarch, but her experiences and those of her children, grandchildren, and neighborhood acquaintances make a saga that covers nearly every imaginable sort of tragedy and triumph: forbidden love, botched abortion, infidelity and divorce, drug addiction, ethnic prejudice, upward mobility, political influence, bankruptcy, jailand permanent family cohesion.
Somehow Annie managed to send all her kids to Catholic schools. The girls, including Milly, went to St. Mary's High School, where many Irish politicians and Mafia dons from all over Chicago sent their daughters. There were few Mexicans in the school, and once one of the nuns identified Milly at a school assembly as Jewish, causing a stunned hush. Nevertheless, Milly was a class officer.
When Milly was eight her father had a stroke. He was disabled and had to stop organizing. Nevertheless, he was pursued by the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service as an alleged Communist. There is little question that his union was dominated by Communists, but his FBI file shows that the only proof the authorities could muster against Martinez himself was evidence that he'd once paid fifty cents' dues to a Communist Party front group. Nevertheless, the Immigration and Naturalization Service singled him out for deportation. His case, which is mentioned in I. F. Stone's history of the era, The Haunted Fifties, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he lost.
Her father was deported when Milly was ten. She saw him for the last time through a gate at the railway station in Chicago when federal agents put him on a train for Mexico. He died within days of a heart attack. Milly described him as a powerful, generous, volatile figure who called her "Monkey" and had the smell of Camel cigarettes on his clothes when she crawled on his lap. She adored him. She told me that for years after he died she would imagine that he was in the room and that she would talk to him about things. It has always been mystifying to me how I managed to compete with that ghost.
Perhaps my advantage was that I was safe. By comparison with Refugio Martinez's life story, or even Milly's, mine was conventional and dull. My father, Matthew, was a salesman for a life insurance company no one has ever heard of. My mother, Genevieve, was a schoolteacher. They were Depression kids. My father's mother was a Polish immigrant scrubwoman at the Ambassador East Hotel, abandoned by her alcoholic husband. My father had a job as a bellhop there in high school. Once I stayed at the Ambassador East and made a speech in its famous Pump Room. I said, "Tell me America is not a great country."
My mother's family initially was more middle-class, but her father, a Jewish factory owner, died young and left my mother and her mother poor. My parents met in junior college in Chicago. My father went to work before he got his degree. My mother went to the University of Illinois, where her mother made ends meet by running a boardinghouse. My parents got married in 1936. They went on a delayed honeymoon the next year, eating peanut butter and crackers because they couldn't afford anything more.
By working tirelessly and saving, though, they made a comfortable middle-class life for themselves, my two brothers, and me. They loved golf and belonged to country clubs in Hamilton, Ohio, and Joliet, Illinois, where the insurance company sent them. While living in Hamilton, my mother got a master's degree in education at Miami University. My parents were apolitical but inculcated in us a disapproval of racial prejudice. The point was driven home when they moved to Springfield, Ohio, and were refused membership in a club because my mother's maiden name was Abrams. They were also loyal and dutiful. One of my brothers, Mike, was brain-damaged by an infection as an infant, and my parents set an example of caring that has to have influenced me when Milly got Parkinson's. My parents rarely talked about God or religion. But our family did attend Presbyterian services every Sunday, and church youth groups always were the center of my social life, such as it was.
I spent much of my youth yearning to become somebody different from who I was. I grew up chubby, unathletic, and unattractive to girls. I was an above-average student, but never at the top of any class. A radio program, The Big Story, set the direction of my life. Journalists were depicted as heroes who saved innocent men from the electric chair or sent evil officials to prison. The show convinced me that journalism offered a romantic, exciting, important life. I started working on school papers.
At fifteen I got my first paying job for a real newspaper, covering high school and college sports for the Joliet Herald-News, and I worked one summer as assistant to the sports editor. This job gave me cachet in town and in my own family. My younger brother, Dave, was a state champion swimmer, and I humiliated myself trying to match him in the water. But my Herald-News job gave me the chance to shine at something. He could win a medal in a swim meet, but I was the one who made sure the world knew about it.
I desperately wanted to go east to college, believing that was the route to fame and sophistication. Beginning in my second year of high school, I began writing off for college catalogs, and by my senior year I must have had one of the largest collections in the country outside of guidance counselors' offices. Despite all my research, I applied to Dartmouth simply because another kid from Joliet had gone there. My father wanted me to go to the University of Illinois, become a doctor, and drive a Cadillac. My mother tried out the philosophy on me that it's better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond. I said, "I want to be a big fish in a big pond." So my mother talked my father into sending me to Dartmouth.
In college I started out premed to please him, but ultimately I majored in English. Actually, I spent most of my college career working on the daily newspaper, The Dartmouth, known affectionately as The Daily D. I became its top editor but devoted so much time to (badly) managing it that I nearly did not graduate. I have little talent for making other people respond to my will, and I ended up doing most of the work on the newspaper myself. During summer vacations I got reporting jobs on small-town newspapers in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Springfield, Ohio.
After college I enlisted in the army for three years to avoid the draft and in hopes of learning Russian or Chinese to prepare me to be a foreign correspondent. The army had other ideas, though, and so I served instead as an Army Intelligence investigator in Washington, D.C., doing low-level security background checks and working weekends at the old Washington Star. After my army stint I went to Chicago in 1963 to start my journalism career for real. During all this time I dated at most one or two girls long enough to have their mothers think the relationship might be serious. It never was. And sexually I had never been further than second base.
This was not a résumé designed to produce hubris. In retrospect, it's ridiculous that I thought myself superior to Milly. I had nothing to be snobbish about. The truth must be that I was unsure about my ability to achieve my ambitions on my own. I thought that the right wife might convince me and others that I belonged on a track "to the top," wherever that was. I was impressed in those days by wedding announcements in the New York Times, especially the first and last paragraphs. I thought mine ought to start, "Mr. and Mrs. Somebody Important announce the engagement of their daughter, , to Morton Kondracke ...," and conclude: "The bride is a graduate of Vassar College (or Smith, or Mount Holyoke, or Radcliffe). The groom, a graduate of Dartmouth College, is a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times." I imagined another paragraph describing the bride's father or grandfather as maybe an ambassador, senator, or Supreme Court justice.
This wasn't just an inferiority complex married to snobbery. I had it on impeccable authority both that credentials count and that one's choice of spouse makes a big difference. I'd heard both things said by my hero, James Reston, a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner and then the Washington bureau chief of the Times. For years I carried his picture around in my wallet. When he came to deliver a major lecture at Dartmouth I heard him say that he believed people generally deserved the billing they had. I already thought titles were important. This made me do so all the more.
As editor of The Daily D, I summoned the courage to ask him to have breakfast the next morning at the Hanover Inn. There I naturally asked him how to make it in journalism. "Well," he started, "get jobs on small newspapers, work hard, and see who you marry." "That's so important?" somebody at the table asked. As if on cue, his wife, Sally, exited the inn outside our window. He said, "See that woman? If it hadn't been for her, I'd never be where I am today." The Reston dictum proved true for me, too, but it took me a long time to appreciate it.
I was impressed early on by Milly's grit and determination to triumph over adversity. Who could fail to be? Her mother was unstable, her father died tragically and young, and she grew up poor and had few peers who were going to college. Her sister Alex, finding the Villarreal home too rule-bound, had found a job and moved to the University of Chicago neighborhood. Milly followed and lived with her sister until Alex fell in love with an Englishman, Paul Wheeler, and moved to London. Milly took six years to get her degree, rising before dawn and making innumerable bus transfers to get to school and her part-time job.
I also appreciated that she had strong leadership talent. Her girlfriends in the old Mexican neighborhood organized a "gang"really just a club whose members wore fake leather jacketsand their boyfriends formed a real gang called the Latin Dons. The Dons insisted that the girls be known as the Donettes. But Milly, the girls' president, decreed they would be called no such thing. So they became the Roulettes. Milly still stays in touch with a number of them. One of them told me years later that when another Roulette was raped, the first person she sought help from was Milly, who counseled her on how to tell her parents.
One of the other kids in the neighborhood told me that, as an artistically inclined, unathletic child, he was regularly hazed as a misfit. But he was defended and encouraged by Milly. She told him that reading was just as good as baseball, and she urged him to go to art school. He told me that, for years afterward, she was his modelfor kindness, self-discipline, refusal ever to give up, and courage. Once when a group of Mexican kids was set upon by a bigger bunch of blacks, he said, Milly stayed with those who couldn't run away, offering to fight even though she was tiny and was razzed by her friends as "Skinny Minny." The confrontation dissolved, but what her friend remembers was her refusal to abandon anyone. Into adulthood, he said, "whenever I'd think something was too tough, I'd think, `What would Milly do?'"
It was clear that Milly was a person with a talent for making friends. I didn't have this talent, and didn't understand it, but I admired it. Her roommate at the time, Andi Bacal, told me recently that part of it was that Milly was so genuinely supportive of people and attentive to them. Andi was a talented artist, and Milly made her feel more so. "Wherever we would go, Milly always told friends and strangers about her oh-so-gifted artist roommate. She encouraged, praised, and elevated my artistic endeavors like a mother would do with her daughter or someone blindly in love would do for her beloved. It wasn't until years later that I realized how unusual that was between women friends." Even though Milly had been poor and Andi was wealthy, it was Milly who told her roommate what clothes to buy to look stylish and elegant. Milly had impeccable taste.
It also impressed me that, unlike me, Milly was no respecter of rank, title, or authority. Early in our courtship I took her to a smoky, boozy Sun-Times staff party where the paper's editor, Emmett Dedmon, who was in his fifties, sat on a radiator holding forth on the errors of a major new book partly about Chicago, Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Milly defended Jacobs's position through round after round of argument that left both Dedmon and me impressed by her spunk and command of the material. The more so in my case because I hadn't even read the book.
Even though Milly had gone to junior college and I had gone to Dartmouth, there were lots of books that she'd read and I hadn't, especially Russian and American novels and sociology classics. She knew more than I did about art, too, having been tutored, along with her sister, by an eccentric Hyde Park artist, Ernst Dreyfuss, a Holocaust survivor who allegedly served as the model for a character in one of Saul Bellow's Chicago stories. She was fluent in Spanish and subscribed to I. F. Stone's Weekly and the New York Review of Books. I had never heard of either.
All this aside, there were lots of things Milly lacked or didn't know about. I remember being mightily put off that she couldn't name the Democratic national chairman. Also, she occasionally used bad grammar. She'd say, "So-and-so is taller than me." I'd wince and think, A Vassar girl would never say that. She'd say, "We could go to the beach today. It's raining, but." I thought that construction was cute, and years later my heart would leap with nostalgic joy when she used it. In those days, however, her manner of speaking struck me as disqualifying in a wife.
Thankfully, she did not think herself disqualified. Quite the contrary. And more thankfully, though I did not want her, she decided to come after me, with Joan as her ally. Joan put the idea of marrying Milly in my head, even though I initially expelled it. Joan also advised Milly to use her sexual wiles. One day when we were kissing Milly stuck her tongue in my mouth. This time I reacted with shock. I accused her of being "forward." But shortly afterward one thing did lead to another, and we became "involved." Still, I remained uncommitted.
I dated other women and decided to conduct a little test. I was managing the Sun-Times's election-year polling in 1966. In the pre-computer era this required meticulously calculating and recalculating statistics late into the night, using an adding machine. One night I'd have Milly help me, another night an Ivy Leagueeducated lawyer I was seeing. Who did the numbers right? Milly did.
My heart fell in love with her one windy, chilly, late-fall Saturday in downtown Chicago. I remember the exact corner. I dropped Milly off to run an errand and drove a couple of times around the block, returning to pick her up. She was waiting at the corner of Randolph and Wabash looking for me, frowning in the sunlight. She was wearing a bright yellow raincoat, below which were protruding her skinny, spindly legs. She looked simultaneously intense and fragile. I found myself overwhelmed with warmth, tenderness, and joy.
I did not tell her that I loved her, though. I was afraid that if I did I would have to propose to her. But I couldn't marry Millyshe still did not fit in with my life's plan. I was smitten physically and emotionally. Milly's breath and mouth have a subtle, faint, unique smell and taste, vaguely smoky, vaguely metallic, to which I became addicted for life. Her hands are smooth and cool, and her grip is firm. Holding her hand is like being at home, secure. But my brain still was determined not to be in love with her.
She talked me into it. I was in her apartment, fidgeting with indecision, in a bad mood, in love but determined not to be. She demanded to know what was wrong. I refused to tell her. She said, "You can't keep your feelings locked up. What are you feeling? Talk!" I resisted. She persisted. Finally I told her that I cared about her a lot, loved being with her, didn't want to lose her, but didn't want to be pinned down.
I didn't admit right away that it was snobbery, but she wheedled everything out of me. And then she pounced. "You may know more about politics than me" (typical grammatical error), "but I know more than you'll ever know about people. I'm street-smart. I know how people feel. I know what they'll do. You may be from the suburbs, but you don't know anything about people."
I said to myself, She is absolutely right. This was one of the first of probably ten thousand arguments I've had with this woman over the years, and 95 percent of the time I've eventually had to admit she was right. I still did not say, "I love you," however. Instead, I started talking about the possibility of our getting married. I didn't propose. I'd say, "If we got married, we'd live in such-and-such a neighborhood," or I'd ask, "When we get married, should we keep your Volkswagen or mine?" If she dared to take up the theme, though, I'd get furious and accuse her of trying to force me into something.
It was time to run. In January 1967, I contrived a breakup. We went skiing somewhere near Chicago. She had hardly ever been skiing and was no great athlete. On a gentle slope she careened into me, screaming. I blew up and told her it was over between us. I justified it to myself: I wanted a woman who was at home in Aspen. I even told her I wanted to be with a Vassar graduate. Years later the one college Milly forbade our daughters to consider was Vassar.
We did not see each other for four months. We did have indirect contact, though. She was working at the Cook County Juvenile Court. Following in her father's footsteps, she tried to organize her fellow probation officers into a union. The group also sought reforms at the Audy Home, which Milly considered a cruel place to put homeless children. The chief judge fired everyone. Someone called me. I called a friend, State Representative (and future congressman and judge) Abner Mikva, who intervened with the judge and got them reinstated.
We met again on the afternoon of what I call "The Night." It was in May 1967, the first hot weekend of the year. I went to the Point, a spit of land jutting into Lake Michigan that serves as Hyde Park's prime beach. When I got there I saw Milly sitting with a bunch of people, including the junior college professor who wanted to marry her. I avoided her and sat at a distance on some rocks.
All of a sudden she was beside me. I tried to be cold, but within minutes I found myself agreeing to take her to the movies that night to see a double feature of Beatles reruns. When we got to the theaterthe Clark, a grungy place that eventually closed downI folded my arms tightly to avoid touching her. We talked a little, and lo, sitting immediately in front of us was Milly's former roommate, Andi Bacal, who'd witnessed our romance and breakup at close hand and sympathized utterly with Milly.
Andi swung around with an amazed look on her face and said, "What are you two doing together?" She told me years later that when she saw us she regretted that Milly was with me, afraid that her friend would get hurt again. But she insisted that, after the movies, we go to her place for dinner.
We went. We sat on the floor and drank wine by candlelight. We smoked a bit of marijuana. We laughed a lot. Milly and I emerged about 2:00 A.M. It was raining. Under an umbrella, under a street lamp, we started kissing. And kissing. And kissing. And I thought, Okay, God, I give up. Andi could not have been sitting in a crowded theater in the seat in front of us by any mortal prearrangement. This was a message I could not ignore. Years later I asked Milly why she had approached me on the beach. Wasn't she afraid I'd reject her? She said, "I loved you so much, I had to take a chance." That, too, was a gift from God.
I did not propose right away, however. I even thought once in a while that maybe I shouldn't. But three things made me. One, I had a haunting vision: if I didn't marry Milly, someday I'd be a Washington correspondent and I'd see Millicent Martinez walking around the Capitol with her husband, a U.S. senator, and I would shrivel inwardly and think to myself, What a pitiful fool you are. You had a treasurethis strong, gutsy womanand you threw it away. This vision was entangled with a late-arriving mature notion on my part: if I did marry the daughter of Somebody Important and succeeded in my ambitions, how would I know it was my own doing? It was far better to marry the right woman for me, Millicent Martinez, and take our chances on what we could achieve together.
Second, I simply could not live the rest of my life remembering Milly's smell and taste and the strong way she held hands and know I would be without them. And third, Milly characteristically issued an ultimatum: you decide by I-won't-tell-you-when or we're through. Moreover, she said I had to ask Annie Villarreal for permission to marry her, so that I'd have to risk her family's wrath if I backed out.
I didn't back out. I did ask Annie. She gave her permission, although she tried to insist that we wait six months, as was appropriate for a nice Mexican girl. This we were not about to do. We spent the summer of 1967 not only planning our wedding but doing our usual thing politically and journalistically. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought his civil rights campaign to Chicago that year, hoping to force Mayor Richard J. Daley into equalizing opportunities for African Americans. King led marches through white ethnic neighborhoods, including the one where I'd knocked on doors. The residents jeered at the marchers and threw rocks and bottles. Milly marched, risking bodily harm. I covered the events, relatively safer from injury.
We got married on October 7, 1967. We wrote our own wedding ceremony, praying for peace in the world and justice in America and also pledging in the traditional way that we would be there for each other in sickness and in health. Two photographers from the Sun-Times took different wedding pictures of us at separate moments leaving the church and walking to our reception. Both show Milly and me laughing, in a state of pure joy. I can't remember who said something funny, but I do remember that I finally felt utterly confident that I had made the best decision of my life. I have never for a moment regretted it, in health or in sickness.
Meet the Author
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >