Last week, as film and television critics were lauding the career of Roger Ebert on his 70th birthday and some people bemoaned the lack of coverage of Paul McCartney’s 70th, my thoughts were in Tucson, Arizona. Last Wednesday, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The two of them celebrated quietly, just the two of them, most likely going out to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. My mom and dad retired to Tucson in the late 1990′s after thirty years living in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted. It was there in Ohio that they raised four children and had long, influential careers in their respective fields.
My father, Budd Malchus, Sr., was a music teacher in the North Olmsted school system. He was well known as the marching band director who had his students play musical arrangements that he wrote at home, often late at night after the kids were in bed. He also had a reputation for wearing loud, orange polyester pants on game days (our school colors were black and orange) and on St. Patrick’s Day. You’ll have to ask him about that one. He was also an assistant Boy Scout leader and taught clarinet and saxophone lessons in the afternoons during the school year. After retiring for the first time, he began teaching and volunteering in Tucson after their cross country move. Although he no longer teaches in school, he regularly can be seen helping out at one of the local hospitals. He plays his clarinet in about a hundred groups throughout Tucson.
My mother, Eleanor Malchus, was (and still is) a nurse and taught nursing at a community college. Besides being a caregiver for the sick and for her own family, she is a skilled seamstress. Many of the clothes my siblings and I wore during the 1970′s and into high school were sewn by her. She made my wife’s gorgeous wedding dress and often contributed to the costumes of the singing/dancing group she belonged to in North Olmsted. As I said, she continues to work as a nurse today. Additionally, she is a member of tap dance group consisting of retirees. For that group she also sews many of the costumes. I can’t tell you how many nights I went to sleep to the sound of Johnny Carson and my mom’s sewing machine whirring.
By all accounts, Budd and Eleanor have been pillars of their communities, but to me, they’ve always just been my mom and dad.
They met at the University of Miami in the late 1950′s. As their romance blossomed, they quickly fell in love. Their college days took place during a conservative era when boys were never permitted into the girls dormitories. My mother received a small allowance from her parents in Chicago, barely enough to pay for books and meals. Some nights, my dad would help her out with laundry or buy them dinner. They would sit in his car, parked outside her dorm, and have a “date.” For some reason unclear to me (even after all this time), my mom’s parents didn’t like my dad and drove the two of them apart. After a brief separation, they realized that their love was stronger than the opinion of their relatives, and they got engaged.
Dad was a couple years ahead of my mom in school. He graduated and found a job in a small, poor Georgia town. It was there that he experienced the cruelties of a segregated South up close and personal. Each weekend, he would drive back to Miami just to spend time with his future bride. I can’t imagine making a hike each weekend like my dad did. But I understand the energy and drive that comes from a young heart full of love. Whenever he tells me about those times he sort of poo-poo’s the romanticism of their courtship. Still, there’s a twinkle in his eye when he shares those stories.
After my mom graduated college, they got married and she joined him in Georgia. She immediately found work in a hospital and a year later my older sister was born. When Dad heard about a job opening in the small Ohio city where he grew up, he did everything he could to get an interview and landed a job. Soon thereafter, they moved to North Olmsted. There, in that suburb that weathers freezing winters and muggy summers (oh, but the springs and autumns are glorious), the Malchus family expanded from one child to four, from a mobile home on the outskirts of town to a four story house that they built where I grew up and they lived for nearly twenty-five years.
Was life always perfect? Absolutely not. But their commitment to their family and each other was a model that all of their children followed. Moreover, their dedication to the betterment of others and their willingness to learn and grow was inspiring. Now in my 40′s and raising two children of my own, I appreciate the difficulties and the compromises, as well as the great rewards of being a parent and having a loving wife who understands and loves me. Additionally, you wouldn’t be reading this post if I hadn’t received the support for my aspirations and need to be a writer. I will be grateful to my folks for standing behind me for the rest of my life.
So, while the world celebrates a Beatle and a film icon for turning 70, I lift a pint to my parents (both in their 70′s) who continue to inspire me every day.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.