Sunday, July 8, 2018

RIP Danny Malloy

Downtown Berea, Ohio, mid-1960s



     "Absolutely heartbroken 💔," the Facebook post begins. "I am a better person for knowing 'Dad Malloy'..."
     A glance at the photo. Heavier, half a century older. But that black curly hair. Those black eyes. That overbite smile. A keen little boy's face peered at me through the thick mask that time settles over us all.
     Danny Malloy was my best friend. We lived in a suburban development, brand new at the time. Ranch houses, oblong boxes, set in circles. I was on Carteret Court, he lived the next circle over, on Downing. Walk straight out my front door, hit the tree lawn as the screen door slams, cut across the circle, aim myself between Ricky Johnson's house and the Caffreys and there you were, in Danny Malloy's backyard.
     His dad was a janitor at Southwest General Hospital. Mine was a nuclear physicist at NASA. Ricky had us both beat: his dad was a fireman. That's how it was then, people mixed together. Well, they lived together, in the same neighborhood. Now that I think of it, there wasn't a lot of mixing among the adults. I doubt my father and Danny's father ever met. How could they? They went to work, came home, slept. On weekends they stayed in their own yards. 

    We kids, on the other hand, we mixed. We rode bikes, played kickball.
    Danny had 14 brothers and sisters. I read their names on the funeral notice with flashes of recognition: "Robert (Mary Ann), Sharon Mayer (Paul), Pam, Michele Batdorf (Dave, deceased), Celeste Deguzis (Jeff), Connie Schramek (deceased) (Jim), Gary (Simona), Ann Marie Weger (Rod), Mary Siskovic (Ken), Tim (Kelli), Brian (Hallie), Brenda Bednar (Steve), Laura (deceased) and Angela (deceased)."
     Bobby, the oldest—a shadow, a decade or more beyond us, that distant cool of an older sibling. Sharon and Pam too. Celeste babysat for us—she once brought her dinner over on a paper plate, covered in foil. I can still see her, cutting across the circle, holding that plate, staring at it with a child's shock at seeing the proprieties upended. You ate dinner at home. 
    Or was that Connie? No, Celeste.
    Gary was a little younger than us, and the rest were babies, their births faintly registering. Fourteen brothers and sisters.
    I had two. So naturally, Danny came over to play at my house. That's how it worked. I just assumed we represented some kind of sanctuary—my parents must have pointed that out to me. And we did what? Played. I couldn't spend 30 seconds describing those years. I was a solitary kid, given to making castles of wooden blocks—red rectangles, blue squares, yellow cylinders—and army men and Hot Wheels. I remember Danny and I ... playing with dinosaurs. Plastic dinosaurs. Creating elaborate scenarios, stories.
     I wish I had a picture. But you didn't take photographs of that kind of thing.  My parents took photos of us on vacation, as documentary proof. Tiny figures set against some historic site. Not of their kids playing kickball with their friends. Mine didn't anyway.
     I only went over Danny's house once, I'm certain of that. But the visit stayed vivid in mind. Triple bunkbeds in the bedrooms. In my memory, their dining room table was a picnic table with benches—can that be? His mother made our peanut butter sandwiches out of an enormous peanut butter jar. I had never seen one that big. His father worked at night, was tired, unshaven.
     That's really it. No dramatic moments, no break, just the gradual drifting off. He probably went to St. Mary's, the Catholic School, or we lost each other in the vastness of Berea High, heading toward our various fates. No doubt I fancied my path far, far better, heading off, seeing the world, being a writer. Though reading the heartfelt tributes from Danny's friends and co-workers, I see that wasn't the case at all. If you measure a man's life by the lives he's touched, the people he's helped, then Danny has me beat. Turns out, I was playing the wrong game all along... 
    Honestly, for years I doubted we had really been friends at all. Assumed he came over because my house was quiet and full of toys. The fact that I was also there must have been secondary. I tend to think the worst of people, which is usually a safe bet, but also how you move through life leaving the fewest ripples, a solitary boat on a vast and empty sea.
    I had a coda with Danny that made a lot of difference. I came back to Berea, maybe 15 years ago, to participate in a ceremony at the high school, and dropped my latest book off at Danny Malloy's house, and inside the cover jotted a note, the phone number of where I was staying. It would be great to see you.
     Danny showed up, met my wife. 
     "We were like brothers," he told her. 
     That shocked me. We were?
     "I still remember things you would say," he said.
     You do? I said, amazed. What sort of things?
      "You would turn to your mom and command, 'Sing for us, mother!"
     I did? My mother was a singer in the USO. Went to Europe to entertain the troops. I was very proud of that. It sounded like something I would say. And my oldest boy calls my wife "mother." I sounded like him.
     "What would she sing?"
     "Get Me to The Church on Time."
     Of course. From "My Fair Lady." Saw it on Broadway on her honeymoon in 1956. Played the soundtrack over and over. I loved that song.
      That's all I have to say. I should leave the last word to those who knew him better, such as Kathy Stein, whose post began up top.

    "This man has touched the lives of so many for the better, including mine. He was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known, always encouraging, and he never failed to see the best in everyone. I hope my life from this point emulates that level of love and service to others. He loved his family and the Lord and I’m so glad that we will get to see him on the other side of eternity. Thanks for always being there, the motorcycle rides, and trips for ice cream. Love you and miss you Dan-the-man ❤️.  

  



14 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute. Brought to mind a couple of boy pals from my childhood - and the question: do they remember me the way I remember them? I'll never know. I'm glad you got to find out, Mr. Steinberg, and condolences on your loss.

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  2. A beautiful tribute to an old friend colored by the memories of a distant past.

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  3. Neil, When did your mother go to Europe to help entertain the troops? World War 2? My father helped put on USO shows. He was in Africa, Iran and Italy. He and two of his pals also performed doing a lip synch act to the Andrew Sisters. If you mother was in Italy during the war it would have been pretty cool if she was part of a show that my father helped set up.

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  4. Just lovely, Neil. And, yeah, I bet your memory of a picnic table is right. I was one of 12 kids, and for a while dinner at our house was at a picnic table in the (nicely finished) basement.

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  5. All but two buddies from junior high and high school drifted out of my life by the time I was in my late teens and early twenties. I recently learned that one of them died last year. He was not yet seventy, but a Facebook image made him look twenty years older. His appearance spoke volumes about failing health, and his words painted a portrait of an angry and bitter old radical...he may have taken his own life. Sadly, I hadn't seen him or communicated with him since his SDS Weatherman days, almost fifty years ago..

    The other former pal earned a doctorate in physics, and was on the faculties of several prestigious universities, but his online reviews were quite devastating. It appears that he was thoroughly disliked and disparaged by a majority of the students he taught.

    I am living comfortably with my wife of 25 years. I'm also in reasonably good health and can still enjoy life and have interesting experiences and adventures. When the vicissitudes of geezerhood get me down, and I'm feeling sad, I quickly remember my two former friends, and then I don't feel so bad.

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  6. Beautifully said. It inspired me to go on the internet in search of former 'best buddies' and a high school sweetheart. No luck. "Mails ou sont les neighes d'anten?"

    Tom

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    1. I second that emotion...wonderful tribute. And it inspired me to do the same thing. Sadly, I found what I was looking for. An old buddy I'd known since second grade died last year. But he was a heavy smoker even before we were out of high school, so I was saddened but not surprised.

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  7. Is that your boyhood home in Berea, up top?

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    1. I think I know what happened to one of those red wheels. I worked in Berea for almost a decade, and I think one of my co-workers may have acquired it, and later passed it on to me.

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  8. Very sorry to read about your loss. How poignant it must have been for you to hear how significant knowing you was to him. To me this is one of the hardest parts of getting older, inevitable though it is.

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  9. Thank you Neil, what a beautiful tribute of childhood memories of what Dan was to you, and the old neighborhood ❣️

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  10. Thank you Neil, what a beautiful tribute to who Dan was to you, and to the great memories of the old neighborhood ❣️

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