Erev Thanksgiving. While preparing for the morning trip to Chicago I retrieved Hal’s message:

“Have you ever had a pumpkin seed?”

The recording continued: “Margie is accusing us of not having childhoods. She says EVERYONE has eaten pumpkin seeds. Call me.”

Dialing back, I confirmed our lives’ gaping hole to my crestfallen brother. Comforting him, turning my eyes to heaven, I took a vow then and there that upon return to Cleveland we would once and for all set the record straight. And so it was that on yesterday’s flight from Midway I took pen to pad, issuing the following declaration:

Dear Margie,

Love you, BUT, enough is enough.

Hal and I had a wondrous childhood fraught with life, learning, and adventure. Growing up Bogart was not always soft and touchy-feely, but the quality of our youth held life lessons we’ve carried into this millennium. And yes, we did it all while living in a house with nary an olive, a pumpkin seed, or, for that matter, a Phillips screw driver.

Not to say we didn’t eat well. Even on the mean streets of South Euclid there were cleaning ladies. Katie made grilled cheese sandwiches by stove, using a steam iron to press bread to the buttered frying pan. And while I preferred creamed cheese/banana /jelly sandwiches, Hal tried peanut butter. (Creamy only—crunchy was considered avant garde).

And another thing: I don’t want to hear any more that we’re not outdoors people. Did you ever hear about the tent in our backyard? It was 1960. The neighborhood kids came over and “camped out.” That’s right—all of them!….There’s even a black ‘n white photo of us with Bulb is holding the unstolen Adam up front. Hal stayed outside all night, (which was 10 pm in those days), but I didn’t—there were too many bugs.

Nor did we need soft, suburban overnight camps to establish our rugged individualism. We toasted marshmallows in our own backyard—OVER THE FIRE. (OK, it was the barbeque grill on wheels, but we used twigs—not metal tongs). And Jimmy Masseria had a match which we could have used but no one wanted to get in trouble.

Yes, Margie, Hal and I grew up the hard way—we earned it.

Rich kids like Lomaz and the Beachwood émigrés discovered through wood burning or erector sets. Bogarts, like most of the Rowland neighborhood, had to learn through their own devices. Consider: Have you ever got a ball out of a sewer? We have. (Let’s save time: Get a wire hanger, unbend it into a line, and then form a small circled cup at the end. Using it like a soup ladle, you then go fishing for the sphere. Time of course, is of the essence, as balls tend to get waterlogged).

We did what we had to in those days, and it made us stronger.

And we lived dangerously—yes we did! I know he doesn’t have that “bad boy” image, but did you know tough guy Hal cracked his head open three times in one year? His stoicism was epic.

First there was the afternoon we washed our Dad’s car. An argument ensued. As I chased H around the ’60 Valiant he slipped on the driveway’s soap suds…and blood gushed. Then, a bit later, with stitches all but off, it happened again. We were at Wiegand’s Lake for a Lodge picnic when I jumped out of a tree inadvertently kicking my brother in the head. More blood.

Did he complain? Not your husband! They called for a doctor in the house, but once re-bandaged, Hal refused to go home. He never lost a step. Just days later we were wrestling on the cement of Morton Cohen’s basement when I pinned H to the floor, smacking him again. More blood…and more silence.

My brother was bionic.

You see, Margie, anyone can be spoon fed a pumpkin seed. Alas, menus do not make the man, nor speak to his childhood. Just the opposite:
The man, through his childhood, creates the menu of his life.

Growing up Bogart we never owned pocket knives, never had cap guns, and never even played chess. Those, my dear, are store-bought phenomena.

Hal and I, products of a broken home, cut our own path. We were, you might say, Lewis and Clark in yarmulkes. But we had fun. Whether it was playing ping-pong on picnic tables, (using a bat as the net), or trekking by foot to school each day… or merely, like the others, climbing a fence to swing on the vine behind Rowland School, (picture Tarzan), we carved a new frontier each day.

We had the BEST CHILDHOOD ever—one we recall fondly. No bar bells or kite-flying, but the BEST!

Do we look down on those that lived on pumpkin seeds…or did archery? No, not exactly. There’s room for everyone. That having been said, we would never, EVER, ask that you to retrieve a ball from the sewer.

See you at Shabbos dinner,

4 Responses to “WHEN I WAS YOUNG”

  1. Margie says:

    Bruce, your journal entry requires a response from me. I am honored to be the topic of your current entry, I think.

    First, I want you to know that I also came up the hard way. I was not spoon fed pumpkin seeds or anything else. We had our own greenhouse and we grew pumpkins from seed. We were sure to feed the bunnies so they wouldn’t consume our produce.

    I also had great adventures as a child. I rode my bike to Old Marblehead, not in the street – on the sidewalk only the – street riding was only allowed in front of the house. It was there that I took my earnings from my chores down to the book shop to buy the latest Cherry Ames, Girl Nurse serial. And I had to cross Atlantic Ave. and pass the train station to get to school. You had to cross the street.

    My dad and I enjoyed candle pin bowling together. None of that sissy duck pin for hearty New Englanders! And after bowling we went to get penny candy from a scary, mean old lady. The shop smelled funky and was very dark. Talk about high adventure.

    Big deal, you brother cracked his head open three times in one year. (Actually, thank you for the information. It explains so much.) At my urging, our neighbor broke his arm falling off our picket gate as it was swinging (I was never blamed because I was so cute), knocked my front teeth really hard with a rough landing from a tree and stepped in a rusty nail – all in one summer! Ha!

    I had to retrieve my Ginny doll from the sewer where the neighborhood tormentor shoved it just to see if it would float. It did float, but the hair was never the same and the little doll smelled.

    Although you never owned a Phillips screw driver I am impressed that you are aware such a thing exists. What would you use it for? I didn’t grow up with a wood burner or an erector set. We used the real thing, although I was never allowed to use the power circular saw. When my dad died my sister’s husband gave it to Hector and never even asked me if I would like to have it.
    And that Bruce is the short trip down memory lane. I too had a wondrous childhood.

  2. Aunt Helen says:

    Shabbos dinner?

  3. Marc says:

    I’m impressed you “trekked” all the way to school.

  4. Pa says:

    I vill have you know that impressive as my grandsons are, they vere not the first “trekkers”. And it vas not Villiam Shatner Huffman, either.

    Ma, Helunia and I trekked all the vay from Lomza, years before any of you. Ve even stopped in Buffalo the trek vas so long.

    That is all I vant to say about it. No more. HBO has a Rock N Roll special coming up.

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