A Jewish Story about Growing Up

    April 2010            
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What Teddy Wanted

By Howard Cooper

1/ Variety Store & Bowling set
- walking into post
2/ Oak Leaf Steam Bath
-falling of edge of cliff
3/ ‘The Garden’ – Bridget Bardeau
4/ Swimming Pool
5/ Christina
6/ The store
7/ Dream – It’s all I ever wanted


What Teddy Wanted

When my father was a little boy, hunger hung tenaciously around his neck like a wraith. To an undiscerning Jewish child, it was a persistent, hapless angel he could not hope to shake. His sister said they didn’t know that there was bread which wasn’t soaked in water before it could be eaten. She said they wrapped their small bare feet in rags to keep them warm in winter and that he used to carry her on his back to the outskirts of the village to steal tomatoes from the frozen fields. Their tired Polish town was near the German border when the cursed fighting started in 1914. It was sacked and pillaged by both armies as they advanced and retreated, each time ravishing the already limited resources. Teddy was 7 when it began. He was brutally self-sufficient when it ended. He didn’t tell me any of this. I heard it second hand.

After the war it was not much better. His mother and father abandoned the older children to the indifferent custody of various relatives when they boarded the steerage of an ocean going ship for a cheap passage to Canada. Teddy was left to care for his younger brother. Neither of them knew very much about the concept of love, and when the two of them were finally sent for 5 years later they were anything but close. They never spoke to each other in adulthood and no mention of Poland was ever heard to pass from their lips. Their childhood, if such a wealthy word could be used to describe their early years, was a painful nation criss-crossed like a roadmap by anguish.

I can only lay down each word like a stencil and suggest in clumsy block letters what I imagine to be true about my father’s life in Europe. By comparison, my childhood was idyllic. It was measured by sprawling family picnics and plush TV shows for children; a reality made almost pastel by Bugs Bunny and The Cisco Kid. I have only known the kind of starvation that a chocolate bar can fix and it is no great secret that I eat good bread. No one ever asks me about Teddy, he is an all but forgotten man, but in the reeling documentary that is sometimes my imagination, I always say to an anonymous inquisitor, (I imagine he’s the angel asking questions at heaven’s gate) “I have nothing bad to say about my father.” That’s not because he was perfect. It’s because I choose to think of him that way.


from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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