LARGO — Kathryn Melnick loved her freedom.
She walked miles each day with her chihuahua mix, Daisy. She met everyone in her Largo neighborhood, slinging jokes in her trademark Ukrainian accent. At parties, she danced polka with kids and sipped a drink on New Year's Eve. She climbed orange trees in her yard and mowed her own grass.
"She was independent," said her daughter, Bronnie Fisher. "She was pretty sprightly and very fit for her age."
On Nov. 24, she walked to Publix and the dollar store, her family said. She bought Thanksgiving cookies for her grandchildren. Almost home, she crossed Oakhurst Road in Largo, stepping in front of an oncoming car. She was hit and thrown into the road. After time in the hospital, Mrs. Melnick died Monday. She was 83.
"And after she survived so much," her daughter said.
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She had known the opposite of freedom.
Born in a small village in Ukraine, she lived a meager life, swimming with her sisters. When she was 14, German soldiers invaded her village at gunpoint, taking children to Nazi slave labor camps. Mrs. Melnick lived in a room with 25 people. She made wooden boxes and fish barrels at a factory. She milked cows and hauled hay on a farm.
Lunch was one scoop of cooked rutabaga. Dinner, four slices of dark beet bread. Sundays, rotten potatoes. Once, when a machine pierced her finger, a doctor ripped her nail off with pliers. The girls at camp had thinning hair from malnutrition.
When the war ended, Mrs. Melnick went to a displacement camp and met a fellow survivor, Steven. They married and moved to Belgium. When they heard America was accepting immigrants, the family moved.
They bought a New Jersey farm with 20,000 chickens. Little by little, Mrs. Melnick's fun-loving personality emerged. She befriended an attack rooster on the farm, walking him on a leash and dressing him for Easter.
In 1974, she moved to Largo with her husband. Mrs. Melnick worked at Morrison's Cafeteria and Sun Coast Hospital. When her husband died 20 years ago, she chose to embrace life rather than withdraw.
She traveled with her grown children, visiting the White House and snorkeling in the Florida Keys. She went to flea markets, watched John Wayne movies and listened to Lawrence Welk and rock 'n' roll. Although her children brought groceries, she still snuck out to shop. The freedom was precious.
The day before the accident, Mrs. Melnick spoke with Fisher on the phone. She was optimistic.
"Don't worry about me, daughter," she said. "I'm okay."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.