By Josh Brokaw
The Boyertown Bulletin
Bruce Rogers doesn’t believe in caging his birds—“Cages are for criminals,” he says. “My birds think the Bug is their cage.”
Rogers’ two birds—Skittles and Bonnie, both conure parakeets—ride along with the Earl Township Navy vet when he motors around the area in his 1973 Volkswagen Beetle.
“These guys are known at Wawa’s, Lowe’s, the Depot, down to Kimberton and Phoenixville—people know their name and they don’t know mine,” Rogers says. “That’s OK, though—I’m alright with being the Birdman.”
Bonnie and Skittles fight and peck sometimes—Skittles is overprotective, has a tad of the “short man disease” says Rogers—yet they’re usually happy, when inside and off the road, on their homemade perch watching Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, and Marlon Brando Westerns.
“These guys are great therapy for me,” Rogers says. “They helped me quit smoking—they’d be sneezing and spitting in my ear, and I said ‘I don’t need that.’”
Skittles and Bonnie don’t speak, at least in any language English-speaking humans can understand.
“People say ‘do you teach your birds to talk,’ and I say no, because then they’ll tell on me,” Rogers says. “I always ask ‘do you know what your dog’s saying?’”
The birds aren’t too picky in their choice of toys:
“Some people go out and spend hundreds of dollars on their birds; I give them a paper plate and a coffee filter and they’re happy for hours. They don’t bother the wires and cords—they just eat their perch.”
Though the parakeets do get a good bit of meandering in, they aren’t nearly as mobile as Rogers was in his Navy days, when he served in the VXE-6 squadron as a cargo handler. In less than two years of service, he spent time in Jacksonville, Memphis, Corpus Christi, Quonset (Rhode Island), and Antarctica.
“We mostly sat around and played cards,” Rogers says. “I slept in a Quonset hut, but it was considered sea duty, because we were on 200 feet of ice.”
Two seasons serving at the South Pole, at McMurdo Station, in the aptly named Operation Deep Freeze, wasn’t all that eventful. The Navy time did continue a tradition in the Rogers family, though.
Bruce’s father George was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, including time served on the U.S.S. Alabama. Bruce’s son Michael was on “tin cans for a while,” and also sailed on an aircraft carrier.
Birds also run in the family. Rogers has a newspaper clipping from a 1954 Oswego Valley (NY) newspaper that shows his great-grandfather George Gardner with his 50-year-old parrot Rocko, who, according to the clipping’s caption “keeps up a running conversation.”
Rogers’ current avian friends don’t talk his ear off; they’re happy enough to take a ride near every day, and only require that they sometimes be forgiven for tearing up an odd T-shirt when he’s taking a nap.
“When I went out on disability I threw my watch and my calendar away—I couldn’t give a (dang) what year it is,” Rogers says. “The V.A. told me I’m nuts, but I’m not; they told me to not overdo it when I first took off, so I built a stone wall in front of my house.”
Rogers was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2002; he had worked as a mechanical maintenanceman at American Inks and Coating, Valley Forge, for 33 years, and then spent some time working at a slaughterhouse, and then in the shop for Pro-Mark Landscaping, Zieglerville. This something-of-everything experience helps Rogers when he needs to make fixes to his Volkswagen.
“If you can color with a pencil, you can weld,” he says. “I’ve had (Volkswagen) dune buggies, hatchbacks, buses—Type 2’s—this Bug is one of the newer ones I’ve had. I drove a 1966 Type 2 to the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair, and we didn’t have the windshield cave in, but driving that was like pushing a loaf of bread through a wind tunnel.”
Rogers’ son Michael and two-year-old grandson Nicholas live in Wilmington; his daughter Rachel and one-year-old grandson Jaxon live in Boyertown. It’s his wife of nearly forty years, Tina, who keeps everyone in line.
“She keeps a pretty good eye on me, she harps on me,” Rogers says. “It’s been almost 40 years; we both have guns: I taught her to shoot: and we haven’t killed each other yet.”
Rogers’ travels don’t cover quite the wide range of his Navy days: “We’d get five people in the Bug (in Rhode Island), put some ice in the back, and by the time you get to New York City you’re ready to drive through there,” he says.
With Skittles and Bonnie, in his ’73 Bug, the Birdman still gets around in this town.
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