Celebrating 64 years of marriage, while a major milestone, isn’t all that unusual these days.
With folks living longer, it’s not uncommon to know couples married 80 years and longer.
So I was ready to tell Rose Marie Kalavsky, who inquired about a shout-out to her parents on their 64th wedding anniversary, that there was nothing I could do.
Then she began to share the story of their hard-knocks life — almost from the beginning — and how their love for each other, strong faith and commitment to family was all they could ever really count on.
I listened with an open heart as the Stow resident and retired Cleveland school teacher shared with me her parents’ love journey. One that probably won’t last very much longer.
Her father Vito Pasquale, 83, better known as Bill Patsy (Patsy was the Americanized name given to his grandfather when he arrived at Ellis Island from Italy), is under hospice care. He has had three major heart attacks and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a brain tumor and hydrocephalus (water on the brain). But he’s still alert, able to smile and regularly says, “I love you.”
That helps Kalavsky keep moving forward in the face of the wicked wind associated with such a diagnosis.
Her 82-year-old mother, the former Joan Hahn, was one of 16 children born in Youngstown. She had an almost unheard-of recovery from colon cancer, diagnosed at 23, just about six years after getting married. Mind you, this was before radiation and chemotherapy became regular tools in the medical arsenal.
“My dad used to talk about the night she was operated on,” Kalavsky said. “He said he dropped to his knees and began praying and praying. All of a sudden, he said, the room lit up.”
His daughter finds comfort in that story, knowing her father has long been a man of strong faith.
Her mother’s journey back to health was lengthy and miraculous, albeit with many painful sacrifices along the way. “Because of my mom’s illness, we children were shifted from relative to relative,” Kalavsky continued.
Joan Patsy was hospitalized for extended times. Once she had returned to health, she took a job at O’Neil’s as an assistant buyer, retiring with 26 years of service.
The enterprising Bill Patsy started two different businesses, but ended up losing both because of mounting medical bills. He later filed for bankruptcy twice to keep his family afloat.
Over the years, he worked at various grocery stores, finally retiring as a meat cutter. The family lived at North Hill, East Akron and Lordstown. The couple now call Stow-Glen Retirement Village home.
In addition to Kalavsky, they have two other children, Barbara Frahlich of Streetsboro and Valerie Kessel of Austintown; 13 grandchildren (five of whom they raised); and 27 great-grandchildren.
“Theirs has really been a journey of love,” Kalavsky asserted, adding, “All I’m trying to do now is to try to make as many of their dreams as I can come true!
“I had wanted to take him to Italy to meet some of his cousins. But he’s no longer able to travel,” she said. Given the always-in-reverse nature of the illness, Kalavsky is dealing as best she can with the new journey: “So I bring him Hershey bars with almonds. The doctor says it’s OK.”
It’s not the trip they had planned by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of departing for Italy, the family finds comfort in simple pleasures like escorting Bill Patsy and his bride to a low-key, family dinner today arranged by Grace Hospice at Bravo at Summit Mall.
The couple’s actual anniversary is Aug. 14. But “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?” has become Rose Marie Kalavsky’s new mantra.
Given what her parents have been doing all of their lives — turning their lemons into lemonade — it won’t be too hard to guess what their drink of choice will be that day.
All hail King Preston
Because it’s not possible to be in two places at one time, I wasn’t able to attend William “Preston” Henderson’s recent birthday soiree.
I wanted to be there because his mother Cylla Henderson was so feet-off-the-ground enthusiastic when she announced plans for it.
The widowed Akron mother said Preston was turning 45. Again, not a major milestone. Not to the universe anyway, but to her.
“My son is mentally challenged — Down syndrome,” she said. “He was not even supposed to live a year. He started out at 1½ pounds, 11 inches, given up on several times …
“But we will be celebrating his 45th birthday as ‘King for a Day’ with a red carpet with pictures and video well-wishes to him, and a sit-down dinner at [Akron’s] Mount Haven Missionary Baptist Church.”
Preston works at Summit County Developmental Disabilities Akron Workshop. He has been in the Weaver program since he was 3, at the workshop for at least 20 years.
Henderson said she and her daughter Meredythe dream for Preston “to live long and be happy.”
“We have made it this far by the grace of God and family pulling together in helping with him from the beginning with therapy,” Henderson said. “Medically speaking, he is not supposed to be able to walk because of his hips, Crohn’s and ankle replacement that didn’t work.”
Preston certainly was happy last Sunday, surrounded by more than 100 of those who care and were on hand to salute his mother’s unwavering dedication and love.
When I hear stories like this, my thoughts turn to Emily Perl Kingsley’s Welcome to Holland in which she talks about the adjustment to life raising a child with a disability:
“When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip — to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may even learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
“After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’
“ ‘Holland?!?’ you say. ‘What do you mean, Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.’ But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay … So you must go out and buy new guide books …
“It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around … and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills … and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts …
“If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
And all of the lovely people like Cylla Henderson’s firstborn, and the powerful lessons they teach us, without even trying, about life, about faith, and about love.
Jewell Cardwell can be reach at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.