On Bolton Street

July 21, 1995|By James M. Merritt

JERRY DID my father a tremendous favor, although neither of them ever knew it. I was ignorant of it too until the day my mother told me Dad had something of importance to discuss with me. I was 12 years old.

He came into the room with all the exuberance of a patient approaching the dentist to have an aching tooth pulled; I knew it was time for the talk.

But Jerry had beaten him to it by four years. It was on the grass in Druid Hill Park as we rested after an exhausting bicycle jaunt that he revealed to me the "facts of life."

He began by describing the amazing mechanics of human reproduction and the pleasures pertinent thereto. However, he warned me that there could be devastating side effects. According to Jerry, a young man tremulously loses his virginity in a house of ill repute that operates outside the law and surveillance of the health department. However, medical engineers had created a device for his protection that Jerry described and emphasized the necessity of taking one along on every outing.

When Dad realized the extent and accuracy of my knowledge of the subject, his relief rivaled that of Atlas with the world lifted from his shoulders. The talk quickly assumed a man-to-man air and we became greater pals than ever, causing Mom to ask him "what in the world did you tell that boy?"

Jerry was four or five years older than most of the kids in the two blocks of upper Bolton Street to whom he was a "daytime" father. He organized all-day, 50-mile bike tours during which he insisted that we remain on our seats no matter how steep the incline. This would properly develop our thigh and abdominal muscles, he said. And there would absolutely be no hitching a ride up a hill by hanging on to the rear of a truck.

Traffic was light but our bikes were heavy and had but recently been blessed by the invention of the New Departure Coaster, which enabled the rider to coast without losing speed. Braking was accomplished by an easy back pressure on the pedals.

The spring that Jerry was a sophomore at City College, he took a group of us on a steamboat ride to Port Deposit. The ship had been chartered by the city high schools to take teams and rooters to the annual scholastic track meet at the Tome Institute.

What I remember about the journey was picking our way through the maze of crap games that blossomed all over the top deck before we rounded Sparrows Point and seeing how close the ship's smokestack came to hitting the railroad bridge at Havre de Grace.

The only kid on Bolton Street whom we could have done without was Ronnie or, as he preferred, Ronald. He was Jerry's age and a conceited bully who loved to harass us physically and mentally.

Then one day, he sent Lenny, Jerry's younger brother, home crying. In a little while Jerry came along with his lachrymose sibling in tow. He confronted Ronnie at Bolton and Lennor streets, our favorite gathering place.

"Lenny says you struck him," said Jerry.

"So what if I did?" sneered Ronnie.

In a flash Jerry swung his open right hand across Ronnie's face with a slap that could be heard a block away. Ronnie staggered back a step and remained rigid as a statue, his eyes glistening.

"Now, if Lenny bothers you again tell me about it. Don't you lay a finger on him," Jerry warned.

Ronnie turned abruptly and stalked toward home with a sham show of injured pride that failed to cover his abject retreat.

Jerry was a freshman at Johns Hopkins University when his family moved from Bolton Street. I seldom saw him after that. These memories were stirred recently when I spotted his name in the death notices in the newspaper -- Jerome Stulman. He must have been about 93.

James M. Merritt writes from Catonsville.

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