During my three and a half years of military service, I almost always had a buddy, which in part had something to do with survival, security, and dependency. Bern Malamud and I were never buddies; we had an instinctive friendship and were referred to as close friends, which was true. Consequently, I have been asked about him in conversations, letters, phone calls - one from as far as Italy - and even interviews - one by a Japanese scholar. I was one of four speakers at a memorial presentation for him at the MU on the OSU campus. But I have never written about him. Since I have been reviewing my Corvallis experience, I have decided to include him.
Bern was Jewish in facial feature and New York in diction. His parents were from southwest Russia; but he was American-born, New York brought up - not Fifth Avenue style - graduated from C.C.N.Y., and acquired an M.A. from Columbia. He taught English in the New York school system - mostly night classes, I believe. During World War II for awhile he worked in Washington, D.C.; because his mother was dependent on him, he was not called up for service.
In 1949 he and his wife Ann traveled West by train for him to teach at Oregon State College. She could be closer to her mother in Los Angeles, and he could experience American life away from the East Coast. Making the change in one big cultural jump - Brooklyn to Corvallis - could not be other than astonishing or alarming change and challenge. Having toured with the Army and taught my way West from New York to Ohio to Kentucky to Colorado to Oregon somewhat eased my adjustment, but not completely. I do not, however, remember ever having heard Bern indicate distress about his arrival or settling in Corvallis. Indeed, he and his family (boy and girl) adjusted very well. Once they moved East, they all considered Corvallis as their second home, and they often returned to visit.
By the time Louise and I arrived five years later, they were deeply involved socially, particularly with members of the English Department, as well as art, history, foreign languages, and chemistry. I first met him in the hall of the English Department. We must have realized immediately that we had much in common: The New York metropolitan area, Columbia University, the English writer Thomas Hardy (he wrote his M.A. thesis about Hardy's poetry, and I wrote my Ph.D. Dissertation on Hardy's epic-drama The Dynasts). But our metropolitan backgrounds put us most at ease with each other - Brooklyn and Jersey City are within view of each other as well as Manhattan.
Within a few days, the Malamuds invited us to their house for the evening. The following fall Ann spotted a house that was about to be vacated and that we moved into across the street from them. Our connection was established, and our son Peter became a friend with their daughter Jana. Our closeness continued even when they bought and moved to a house two blocks away to the point that when Bern was somewhere else, I was called in to extract a mouse whose head was stuck in the bathtub drain. My combat background indicated there was only one solution: to tug upward on the body, which went into the garbage pail, while the head went down the pipe. Even had Bern been at home, I probably would have had to serve this function. Ann, I think, had retreated to the hall and kept the curious children away. Bern was not equipped to deal with household needs. I believe I did see him cut the grass - once.