“Honesty without compassion is brutality.”

   Bruce H.

It happens to this day—a half century later. Not as often, perhaps, but it happens. Something or someone will upset me and my kneejerk reaction will be to mutter “Irving!”  My brother will hear, give a dirty look and beseech me: “Don’t say that.”  Then I apologize.

There aren’t many threads in the family fabric that Hal and I see differently. Grandpa Irv is one. Cele’s husband, he was an integral part of us, loyally caring for “Elaine and the boys” ‘til his death from pleurisy in the mid ‘60s.

Already middle-aged, this cigar-toting, semi-retired Jewish salesman from Reading, (at the instance of his good friend Sam Levenson), landed in Cleveland, ultimately hooking up (20th century definition, please), with young widow Celia Hoffman. Their wedding soon after would produce the only grandfather Hal and I would ever really know.

A complex man, he was at once both warm and gruff.  Wearing “wife beaters”  ’round the house, playing gin with our grandma, he was directly responsible for the first color TV our family would view.  (“Why are you watching ‘Bonanza’?” we’d ask.   “Because it’s in color.”)

And he loved us. Especially us. Cele had two kids, mind you: Elaine and Bob. Our grandma, though she’d never admit it, liked Bob more. First, he was a man, and she believed so strongly in the old world caste system.  Second, he was successful.  Third—and we need to stay real:  Cele Porter never got over the fact that our mom had hearing issues. In Cele’s generational mentality, love her though she did, Mom was damaged goods.

Irv was different.  It wasn’t that he favored us over Bonnie, Gary, Debbie and Marla, but he nurtured us more. He was the quintessential grandfather– loving us, teaching us unimportant important nonsense, and disciplining only with soft frustration.  (“I’m going to potsch you on the toeteo”, he’d exclaim, more to me than H).

—And yes, even as he’d bicker with our grandma—we knew well he adored us unconditionally….

It was against this backdrop of love and warmth that THE conversation occurred… just the two of us…in his car…’63.

I was hurting. Badly.  Parents recently separated I was complaining to my grandpa,  sharing upset, needing comfort or understanding— or perhaps just an ear.

“Your father’s no good,” he told this 8th-grader.

I could scarcely believe it. Railing on, he ranted that every problem in the Bogart household was our father’s fault, that our mother would be better without him, and that things were bad but Hal and I would never have to worry—  he’d take care of us and again that our dad was a “bastard”. (My memory fades, but I think the old an got blamed for the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Perhaps not).

I recall my hurt… and my tears… and how I fought back… and screamed back.  Replay it I don’t, but picture it I do.

I didn’t know if what he said was true or if it was just his view.  I didn’t care. Kids want their parents to love and they want peace. Right, wrong or indifferent, what they don’t want is T.M.I.

They want their heroes. My Dad was my hero. Heroes aren’t perfect.

My Dad went to his grave believing had Irv not meddled, the marriage would have lived. For the next twenty years, even after meeting Harriet, the love of his life, Dad, whenever sh#t happened, grumbled “Irving”.

My brother never felt the burden of this one conversation carved forever in my past. A man I loved slamming a man I loved?  I was too young,  too raw, and whether it was truth or the consequence of family politics, I didn’t need to be shattered.

My brother’s memory of our Grandpa reigns pristine. I’m happy for that.

I don’t feel the same…but I want to.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to say everything”.

                        Al Bogart

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