Stagger Lee and Dicky Cee

By Bruce Mastracchio

We came of age in the 1950s. Most of our crowd were either 13 or 14 when a dark-haired, swivel-hipped, guitar-playing young man from Tupelo, Mississippi, came before us in all his gyrating, soul-singing glory. Elvis had arrived just in the nick of time. For music, and for us.

A movie came out called Rock Around the Clock, with Bill Haley and the Comets.

Rock n’ roll was born. It was revolutionary and exciting, but disgusting to adults. We were there for its birth. For us, it was a wonderful time.

The girls got into it first. My two sisters, Karen and Gail, and their two “sisters” Elaine and Linda, were the best at the new dance steps and, as they used to practice at our house, I was often brought in as a “partner.”

It was thus I started to learn the intricate steps of the new rock n’ roll dance, the jitterbug.

I actually practiced a lot, with a broom, and basically became the first boy in our crowd to do the fancy steps and moves of this new dance craze that was sweeping the country.

Father Joe, with help from some of the parish men, had already built a teen center in place at a renovated horse barn just behind the old Our Lady of Mercy Church on Main Street. It had a big, shiny, new dance floor and a jukebox. We were in like Flynn! We would get the jukebox going and practice our moves all over the floor.

Soon, Benny, Joey, Vinny and the other guys were coming to our sessions and learning how to dance the new dances.

Besides the jitterbug, we soon had the Stroll, the Mashed Potato, the Pony and the Twist added to our repertoire.

We also found it was a good way to pick up girls. Guys who could dance were in demand. They were also in short supply, so they had their pick of the “chicks.”

Not long after that there came a show on television that would change our teenage lives forever. A young disc jockey by the name of Dick Clark started a show in Philadelphia called American Bandstand.

Shortly after we would know it on a more intimate basis, and for a lot of teens, especially the girls, it would become a daily religious experience. For some of us, we would meet it up close and personal. We would never be the same again.

The night was clear
And the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down
I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
He was barkin’ at the two men who were gamblin’
In the dark
It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven
Billy swore that he threw eight

I will remember that song forever. Good old Stagger Lee set up another life-changing experience for me. Here is why.

A couple of years after we had started in with that new rock n’ roll dance craze, Father Joe decided to have a money-raising dance for the CYO at the fairly new Our Lady of Mercy School auditorium. He also announced that he would hold some dance contests, and that the winners would get a week in Philadelphia and appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand television show.

It was exciting just thinking about it.

I could see no way that my sister Karen wouldn’t win. She was paired up with Joey M., Linda paired up with Benny, and Elaine was my partner.

The song we got to dance to was “Stagger Lee,” sung by Lloyd Price. Elaine and I had practiced a routine that we could do with our eyes closed. Fifty years later, we could still do that dance. We wowed the judges that night, and at the end, Karen and Joe, Linda and Benny, and Elaine and I had all won our way for the trip to American Bandstand!

The trip came the next spring. We all piled into Father Joe’s station wagon for the trip to Philly.

It was exciting. We got there on a weekend and did the obligatory sightseeing. We saw the Liberty Bell, crack and all; Freedom Hall; a statue of Ben Franklin; the Main Line, and a host of other sights. There was no Rocky statue back then, so naturally we didn’t see that.

Monday morning came fast. We got down to the studio and there were three lines of kids already in place. One was for guests to the show, like us. One for kids who were just trying to get in for that day, and one for the “regulars,” the semi-stars of the show who were there day in and day out and who had become national celebrities in their own right.

As we looked over, though, we were startled by an unbelievable sight. The “regulars” were putting on lipstick and powder! Not just the girls, but the boys, also! We boys were shocked! We had never seen such a thing. Though we later learned that the makeup made them look better for the TV cameras, it made little difference. It would color our perception of American Bandstand forever.

We also found out you didn’t need all that makeup to stand out.

We were representing the Our Lady of Mercy CYO and we were scheduled to give Dick Clark an award right there on national television! Imagine that. Regular kids from little old EG, the greatest little town in the center of the greatest little state, in the greatest country in the world, right up there on the national stage for the whole country to see! It was going to be “outstanding” as they used to say in the Corps.

But, we hadn’t counted on Elaine – forever to be known as the infatuated swooner and traitor – but I rush myself.

We had watched American Bandstand religiously, especially the girls. The guys didn’t watch it as much because it came on in the afternoon when we were at practice. But, we did get to see it occasionally, and we were impressed.

However, once we entered this American shrine, things were not what they had seemed.

Basketball bleachers were on the left. The dance floor, which looked huge on TV, was quite small. The records, on the wall, behind Dick Clark’s podium, had writing and scratches on them. There were three cameras to the right side by side with a red line in front of them. On the fourth side was a curtain.

On top of that, the Philly kids were not friendly and, once the music started, there was an all-out rush to get in front of the cameras. Pushing, shoving, kicking were all part of it. We guys almost got into a couple of fights and Benny was even trying to get a rumble started with some of the regulars after the show. Unreal!

But, there is a sidebar to this story. My mother, God rest her soul, wanted to see her kids on TV. She worked in Providence as a telephone operator. Somehow, she got her boss to let her off a bit early so she could see her kids on national TV, but the only place with a TV was a nearby bar. My mother didn’t smoke or drink.

So here she goes. A 47-year-old woman, into a bar. She orders a soda and sweetly asks the bartender if he would put American Bandstand on the TV so she could watch her kids dancing up a storm in front of a national audience.

She repeated that action all week.

She later told us that we could be seen no matter where we were because we were taller than most of the kids on the show. We didn’t know that as we kicked and clawed to get ourselves seen by America.

Now back to the “swooner.” On the third day we were scheduled to present our CYO Award to Dick Clark. We got to the lines with the plaque and were excited for a lot of reasons. It was Elaine’s birthday, so besides getting the spotlight as we presented Dick Clark with our award, Elaine and I would be in the “Spotlight Dance.” Just she and her partner, alone on the stage in front of the whole world.

Guess who her partner was? Me! I was excited!

But as someone once said, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“The best laid plans of mice and men, do oft go astray.” Either way, I didn’t know it, but I was doomed.

Elaine was so overcome with excitement and emotion that she passed out in the line. They had to call the rescue squad and cart her off to the hospital.

In the excitement, the plaque was put down as we tended to Elaine. In the confusion, it got lost.

The remaining five of us entered the show, but, besides concern, we were also uncertain as to what was going to happen. We did manage to get word to Dick Clark about Elaine and the plaque. Then we settled down to have as good a time as possible, under the circumstances.

Lo and behold, midway through the show, Elaine returned from the hospital. She had just been overcome by excitement, was calmed down and was fine.

Then Dick Clark announced that he had received a plaque from a CYO group in Rhode Island and he held up “our” plaque and thanked the group that had brought it.

Apparently, one of the AB crew had picked the plaque up outside and brought it to Mr. Clark. The cameras were supposed to have panned us, seeing as we didn’t get “our moment in the sun,” but apparently they missed us on the pan.

Then Dick announced that one of the Rhode Island group had a birthday and he called Elaine down. He gave her a brief interview and then asked her who she would like to dance with in the “Birthday Spotlight.” I was starting to make my way down to the floor when she said, “I want to dance with Dennis.”

I was stunned! We had worked so hard to be here. It was going to be our moment to shine in the national spotlight – two kids from EG – and she picked one of the “regulars,” her secret heartthrob, one of those rouge-wearing, lip-stick smacking, midget dweebs from the show! We were all stunned.

The music started and she got her spot on national TV. She and Dennis. I will never forgive her for that.

But, like all things, this too passed. All in all we had a good time. I think it was the first time any of us had ever stayed in a hotel. Though the AB studio was a bit of a letdown, it taught us a lesson that things are not always what they seem. Dick Clark was, though. He was every bit as advertised, witty and funny with personal charisma. We thought he would go far and he did, though he fell victim to his stardom and had a facelift that didn’t fit.

I learned a lot on that trip. It was a good time and a good learning experience. Though I knew that I would always remember that trip, once I got back to EG, I never watched American Bandstand again. Not once. Not ever.

Of course, life goes on. I am older and right now can barely walk, nevermind dance. If I can’t get back to it, it will be something I will miss. Music and dance have always been a big part of my life. Music is my life, not my livelihood, and sometimes I have to dance to keep from crying.

But, as I always have, I will adjust, like I always have – no matter what – and the tunes will continue to reverberate through my head.

Stagger Lee told Billy, “I can’t let you go with that. You have won all my money and my brand new Stetson hat.”

Stagger Lee went home, and he got his .44 …

He said, “I am going to the barroom just to pay that debt I owe.”

Go Stagger Lee!

“Stagger Lee,” said Billy, “Oh, please don’t take my life. I’ve got three hungry children and a very sickly wife.”

Stagger Lee shot Billy, oh he shot that poor boy so hard, ‘til the bullet went through Billy and it broke the bartender’s glass.

And now I dance into the sunset, with love. Hope you enjoyed this story. As I typed it out I had Channel 924 on the TV, the Solid Gold Oldies channel.

The tunes were all there while I typed to keep from crying. And the last song they played was “Stagger Lee.”


Bruce Mastracchio weaves experiences of his youth into gold and EG News is privileged to run his pieces on an occasional basis. If you like what you read, search Bruce’s name using the magnifying glass search icon in the top right corner of the website. You will find plenty of amazing tales from “the greatest little town in the center of the greatest little state, in the greatest country in the world.”

This Was the Town That Made America Famous, Part 2

By Bruce Mastracchio

Adolph, one of the firefighters who got blown out of the Dunn house.

This is the second part of a two-part article about the East Greenwich Fire District back when it was a volunteer organization. You can find Part 1 here.

Another group of Charlie’s great photos were taken at a fire up on Kenyon Avenue near Division, where an explosion on the scene injured five firemen, including Fritz Johnson, an inductee into the EG Athletic Hall of Fame. It was a heat explosion. Gases built up inside the house and when the firefighter broke through the door the release of pressure blew all five men down the stairs of the Dunn House onto Kenyon Avenue. The only thing that saved them from being severely burned was the fact that they were wearing all their equipment and Scott air packs. They were burned in all unprotected areas and a couple spent some time in the hospital.

Remember, these men weren’t doing this for pay. They were all volunteers. They all felt it was their duty and that they were doing their community a service. That service could have cost them their lives.

Fritz laid out.

EG had a reputation as one of the most finely trained volunteer groups anywhere, and, under the direction of Chief Fred Miller (you can read about him here), they took pride in their ability to fight fires and answer any rescue call for help. They did it in a professional way and found satisfaction in the doing. Most, I guess, never gave a lot of consideration to the danger, or, if they did, they hid it well. The service opened up a window on a lot of pain and suffering but, outwardly at least, most firefighters appeared unaffected.

Of course, there were other perks, too, of being a volunteer. Most got a uniform and got to march in the local parades. Musters and Firemen’s Olympic-type competitions were fun get togethers where firefighting skills, competition and camaraderie were the bonding and binding things of young men. You also got to travel to places like Goffstown, N.H.; Newburyport, Mass.; and Marblehead and a lot of other small New England towns to compete in the musters and carnival.

It gave you a chance to compare, contrast and compete for bragging rights. At least for a year. Many times EGVFD was the best with their pumper and the big boys pumping could send that stream “a ways” down the paper.

This edition of Rems ( Reminiscences ) was dedicated to all those devoted men of my youth. To Chief Miller, one of the most selfless men I ever knew, and Don and Frank, George and Jim, Leigh and Bill. To Joe and Dick, Harry, Bob, Elmer and Lawson. To all those firefighters who made Station One such a special place to be.

And, mostly to my father, Gaeton, gone 61 years now, the best fire truck driver ever. Perhaps, this Rems will stir up the past a little for you all. The ghosts, the stories, the memories.

The Past … “and something’s burning somewhere. Does anybody care?”

Writer’s Note: I have some pictures that go with this story and some others that were in EG Magazine. You old Townies would be interested in them. If I can get ahold of some of Charlie Booth’s gory ones, I will send them along. As soon as I get my wife to reeducate me on using the scanner I will get them out to you. I am sure you will like them.

With as much love as I can muster for you all AND In the Spirit of Crazy Horse….

To read Part 1, click here.

Murder in a Small Town – The Dusza-Reynolds Story, Part 2

By Bruce Mastracchio

(Find the Part 1 of this story here.)

The Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, Aug. 31,  headline screamed out:

REYNOLDS PLEADS GUILTY TO FIVE MURDER COUNTS!
CONFESSED SLAYER OF DUSZA FAMILY  AWAITING MENTAL TESTS AT CRANSTON PRISON !

Edwin Reynolds, 27, confessed slayer of a family of five (again no mention of unborn baby), today languished in a Providence County jail cell under special guard awaiting the arrival of alienists, who will conduct mental tests.

The emotionless father of three, whose estranged wife described him as a guy “who wouldn’t even kill a chicken,” pleaded guilty to five counts of murder.  He was arraigned before district court judge James W. Leighton, in the council chamber of the East Greenwich Town Hall (since razed for a parking lot) on Main Street.

He maintained an icy nonchalance as he stood charged with the slaying of his former friend, his friend’s wife and their three children.

The judge ordered a plea of innocent given as he held the rubber plant worker for a Grand Jury hearing Oct. 23. Reynolds confessed that he beat Dusza to death and then used a chair, axe, rope, silk stocking, necktie and his hands to take the lives of the rest of the family after he learned that Mrs. Dusza told her husband of the affair she was having with Reynolds.

Then, to cover up his crime, he saturated the home, where he was a boarder, with gasoline and turned it into a funeral pyre. HIs capture came when his collie dog led police to his hiding place in a Quonset hut.

His estranged wife, Betty Reynolds, 28, expressed a wish that he never “be turned loose on society again.” She wanted him dead to her children so they would never know the horrible thing their father did.

She said she would stick by her husband to a point  but it was also learned she was making plans to move out of East Greenwich to another community.

Still later:  DRAMA PACKED COURTROOM EPISODE LASTS 8  MINUTES !

While a curious, but restless crowd gathered around the entrance to the Town Hall (I was there just one week shy of my 8th birthday). As I said I remember my Grandmother Ucci being particularly agitated. My house was down the alley just the other side of the police shed behind the Town Hall. There was a door in one of the stalls that opened up on my backyard.  Reynolds stood there, flanked by two police officers, one local, one a state trooper and was brought in to be arraigned on five counts of murder.

In the drama packed courtroom the episode lasted 8 minutes with police and news reporters as witnesses as Judge Leighton read five warrants charging Reynolds with murder. Reynolds pleaded guilty to each count.

When the legal proceedings were complete, Judge Leighton left the courtroom, and cameramen were given time to take pictures of Reynolds standing at the rail flanked by the two police officers. He was still wearing the soiled white T-shirt and dungarees he had on when captured. He calmly leaned against the rail and stared as flashbulbs popped from all corners of the small room. He made no comment and kept the same dead-pan expression throughout the proceedings.

Before he was taken out, police went out and moved the agitated crowd back enough to give a wide path from the courthouse to the waiting cars. Waiting to take the mass murderer to prison to await trial. When Reynolds appeared the crowd shook fists and yelled at him. As he was put into the car the crowd broke and surged around the vehicles.  Some to get a peak, and some to scream their thoughts at the killer at least one more time.

Edwin Reynolds was given a life sentence  but just a year or so ago, he either died, or was released from prison.

He was 92 years old.

Writer’s note: Interesting things I learned from this story were:

1. The fact that the baby’s death was not noted as another person killed by Reynolds as today it would have been included and he would have been charged with 6 murders.

2. The newspapers back then were a third again wider than today’s paper.

3. Though the headlines were big and multiple this was not spread all over the front page.

4. The reporting was succinct, factual and not sensationalized.

5. I always thought it was Dooser and could never keep straight which was the murderer and which was the family.

Hope you enjoyed the trip back to August 1950.

 

 

Muckleball in the Mud

https://mmafootball.files.wordpress.comBy Bruce Mastracchio

Growing up in East Greenwich, as I have said numerous times, was a unique experience. Three separate and distinct areas of town: a shore and cove, a Main Street, and farmlands made it different from almost anything else I have encountered. I have been in all 50 states, and talked to a lot of people so I think I have some cred in saying so. The experiences could have been had by almost anybody, but not quite like those we experienced here.

As kids here just about every day was taken up with sports. On vacations we left the house at 7 in the morning and played and romped ‘til suppertime, then went back out again for more games or whatever adventure or plan popped up.

Most of us dreamed of playing for the Avengers, the Crimson & White of EGHS. We wouldn’t think of going elsewhere to play. Hometown born and hometown bred, most of us were. Not everyone, some still left town for the Catholic high schools, but even some of them came back.

Our training grounds were the fields and streets of EG. We played tackle football in the street, a good preparation for what was to come (another story for later).

Another earlier prep for football was a game called MuckleBall, which was indigenous (to the best of my knowledge) to Eldredge Elementary School.

A while back I introduced a version of this game to the kids in a private school where I worked. I gave them the history of it, and, of course, a little story. Not sure if they understood, but it will reach them down in the depths, eventually, just like it reaches everybody else.

So, today, in this version, I will talk about MuckleBall, and Eldredge, and the game and let you translate it anyway you want. To how you played your version or not, or whatever.

Remember, you only get to dance here for a short time, so always live in the present, and look to the future. But, don’t forget the past, especially the good times. You can learn a lot from the past, and the good memories always make me smile, especially when I am dancing my way across the mountains of the moon. It is good to smile. I have to smile, and dance, just to keep from crying.

Muckleball was a  game that was peculiar to Eldredge School and field. It was kind of like a “King of the Hill” football, and I’ve never seen or heard of it being played elsewhere, though I suppose it was. Of course, now, I have introduced it in a few other climes.

We had our own sandlot football teams. Later it was junior high school football (they wouldn’t let me play – too small), and then, of course, the ultimate for us town kids, who grew up living and dying with the legend and lore of this town.

The realization of our dream. Donning the Crimson and White and playing for the East Greenwich High School Avengers, E>G> or Grenitch as we called it.

But, muckleball was played before that. It was a training ground, so to speak, to see what you were made of. It was only played at Eldredge during our younger years and was played before school or at noontime  recess, which lasted an hour in those days. An hour really being an hour, not 45 or 50 minutes as they say today.

The rules were simple – one ball and 20 or 30 screaming kids. One kid gets the ball. Everyone else tries to muckle him. That translates to tackle him. Pulverize him. Crush him. Make him give up the ball. Once “muckled,” the ballcarrier had one or two choices. He could get up again and give it another try. Or, he could toss the ball to another victim, and give him a chance to get creamed.

For the ballcarrier the strategy was simple. If you were fast you turned on the jets and motored out of harm’s way. Of course, if you were fast enough to outrun everybody then your would hear cries of “chicken” in your ears and your only recourse would be to reverse course and run back at the pack of boys chasing you, who were just waiting to get a shot at you to knock the snot out of you.

Again if you were muckled you could get up again and keep the ball, or toss it to some other unfortunate. You could be tackled in a numerous number of ways. Some boys would hit you with a regular tackle with shoulder and arms around the waist or legs and drag you down.

Some might hit you with a “billy goat” bump to take you off your feet and others would just jump in the air and wrap you with a flying headlock to hurl you viciously to the ground.

Most  times if you were the victim of a single tackle, it wasn’t so bad. But, when a slew of boys hit you at once, it could hurt, and even result in injury. They would pig-pile you to the ground and the boys coming up behind would jump on the pile crushing those underneath.

The best players were usually the best athletes. Mick was among the best I ever saw, along with Pini and Fats. Of course, Mick was full grown in the sixth grade and he just crushed you when he ran into you. Fats was a crusher too, while Pini combined speed, quickness and toughness all in one, and could run away from you, around you, or through you, sometimes all at once. He was only 5’2” tall but started varsity in all three sports as a freshman and, not just played, but starred. Muckleball never got him. High school sports couldn’t stop him either. Grades did though. As big as Mick was he was hurt though most of his high school career. Fats never played. But others from that Muckleball Field went on to don the Crimson and do quite well.

I never saw Ducky play muckleball, but based on what I saw of him on the gridiron, I think he might have done all right. Muckleball was just a test along the road of life as you might say. One of the “rites of passage” for us EG kids. Most of us used it as a proving ground, and tough as it was it never hurt as much as tackle football on the asphalt street at Tar Ucci’s Memorial Stadium. We all wanted to prove we were tough enough to play for the Avengers. EG was the smallest school in the state, with only 90 boys at the time and, in my day,we went up against bigger schools like Cranston HS (not East), which came out with 107 players dressed to our 33. We tied them, but beat bigger schools like Woonsocket, Barrington, South Kingstown and North Kingstown, who were two and three times bigger than we were. We reveled in playing for our hometown team and as kids we couldn’t wait for that to happen.

It’s funny, I’ve been to a lot of places. Kids today don’t seem to have the same feeling for sports that we had. We knew the high school players and what they had accomplished. We knew the legends of the past, semi-pro too. We wanted to be in their shoes one day. They played the high school games at Eldredge Field, too, right where we played our muckleball games.

They walked over from the Academy and we walked with them. I used to collect all the player’s capes and pile them over me  like I was a manager, and thus, walk through the gates without having to pay.

We reveled in their season. Their ups and downs. The rivalries. We looked forward to the Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day games. It took on special meaning when we got to high school and played North Kingstown, our bigger rival from right down the road.

We owned them, even though they were a bigger school, and have owned them over the years. Since 1958, I don’t think they’ve won more than 10 times. We just expected to win and then go home and enjoy our Thanksgiving Day dinner. We relished enjoying our turkey dinner and spoiling theirs.

There was no doubt about it. Sure, the games were tough, but we’d had our training in muckleball and street tackle, and what could be tougher than that? When you’ve taken on the world how could a few paltry Skippers from NK stop you. That’s how we felt. That’s why we won.

Since those muckleball games and high school games, many fields have known my sound.Thanksgiving has been spent in California, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada (and now back in Rhode Island). But the time frames still bring back memories of Eldredge, the high school games and muckleball.

MuckleBall in the mud. In March. What could be better than that?

This story is dedicated to all of the “old gang.” To those who played muckleball, street tackle and ever donned the Crimson & White for old EG High, and put it on the line on those crisp, fall, Saturday afternoons, and especially, on Thanksgiving Day in November.

GOOOOOOOO, GRENITCH ” as Dave Baker’s Mother used to say.

Bonus:

Stand up and cheer     
Stand up and Cheer for
East Greenwich High School
For today
we may
Crimson & White
Above the rest          
Above the rest
Oh give a cheer
OUR BOYS
are fighting
For they are bound to win the fray
We’ve got
THE TEAM!     
RAH RAH
We’ve got  
THE STEAM!   
RAH RAH
For it’s East Greenwich High School’s Day!!!


Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich and had the pleasure of growing up among these colorful characters and even knowing more than a few of them. They made life interesting.

All Those Wonderful Nicknames, Part 1

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I guess that is so, as one time another local paper, that I once worked for, hired someone to do a column on Old E.G.

I saw that he was asking for help about the origin of my Uncle Tar Tar’s nickname, which is a part of East Greenwich lore, and that he wanted to know more about East Greenwich nicknames.

Seeing as, in the past, I had devoted at least a couple of articles to this topic, I decided to help out. So this edition, and two others to follow, will be dedicated to those storied nicknames of old East Greenwich.

As for Tar, there were two versions of how he got his nickname. One was that he liked to play in the freshly oiled and tarred streets down below the hill and regularly got himself covered in the sticky stuff, which my grandmother would have to wash off. The other was that when my grandmother would call him to come home her pronouncing of his given name, Anthony, sounded like Tartone, which morphed to Tar Tar. She was probably saying Antone or Antonio, but like other names throughout history, when the medegones get ahold of it, it becomes something altogether different.

A good example would be Indian names. One of my personal heroes was Crazy Horse, a war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He had a few nicknames growing up, one of which was Curly, as his hair was brownish instead of black and wavy instead of straight, unlike most of his fellow tribesmen.

After going on his vision quest he was given the name Tashunka Witko, which means His Horse Acts in a Strange and Mysterious (Mystical) Manner. Of course, the whites butchered that to Crazy Horse in their inimitable fashion.

But getting back to nicknames here in Old EG. They have always played a big part of life here and almost everyone had one. Some people had two or more.

I have lived here 72 years and there are some people I know only by their nicknames, not ever knowing their first and last names. If I knew their given name at one time, I have since forgotten it. Maybe I never knew it; no matter, I always addressed them by their nickname.

You may not have known the person’s first name or last name, but you always knew his nickname. Notice I said his because I can’t remember many girls who had nicknames, though there were a few.

Nicknames were common as far back as ancient Egypt. Some nicknames from back then included – Red, Tiny, Lazy, Ape, Frog, Donkey and Big Head.

In Middle English they were known as “eke” (pronounced eck, I believe) names, which means an “also name.” These later became known as “neckenames,” and finally nicknames. They were applied to royalty and commoners alike, and, in some cases, just like with me today, all that is recalled about some of these people from history is their nickname, whether it be Little John or Richard the Lion-Hearted.

The nickname eventually got a strong toehold in America, where it seemed that groups and subcultures were vying with one another to see who could come up wit the most colorful nicknames. These colorful names were the norm during the Civil War, especially for leaders like Honest Abe, Old Snapping Turtle, Fightin’ Joe, Stonewall and others, and they have followed us right down to the present day, in all walks of life from show business to sports.

East Greenwich takes a back seat to no one when it comes to nicknames, as you will see by the following.

Once again, I dedicate this column to George King, my go-to guy when it comes to nicknames. He has helped me in the past with all those great nicknames, and as you will see in the end, will reveal some of the real names behind the nicknames. Also, to all those people who held the colorful monikers we will be donating the next three columns to. They have helped build the lore of our colorful past here in little, old East Grenitch,” the smallest town, in the smallest state in the greatest (still is, I hope despite “W”) country on the face of the Earth!

Sooo, keep the nicknames straight and maybe some rainy day (or snowy) when I have nothing better to do – and probably with the help of  “The Irish Whip” – I will reveal the real names of the people who go with them. That is, if I ever knew the real name to begin with.

The following list is a shortened version of at least one or two others I have released in the past, but it will give you a good picture of the color and the characters we had here in good, old East G., back in the day.

From Yesterday and The Cove: Friday, Jumbo, Tiny, Fats, Chub, Cracker, White Rat, Jesus, Little Jesus, Peanuts, Churchill Downs, Pumpkin, Pop Eye, Lindy, Pardo, Piccolo Pete, The Professor, Short Uncle, Happy, Tunk, Bebe, Mr. Peepers, TarTar, Jimmy Neck Tie, Baltimore Sport, Rip, Doody, Bubba, Lolly, Lollipop,Chink.

Pini, Dutch, Kit, Chipmunk, Bugeye, Pep, Suck, Buster, Beanie, Skip, Jigger, Windy, Spongey, Hump, Swamper, Joe Hump the Stump, Tish Tash, Edooch, Tippy, Horse, Waller, Puddy, Moose, Lala, Shrimp, Slim, The Admiral, Klukie, Officer 8, Stogie, Squeaky, Tubby, Sly, Angles. Jump Spark, Stinky, Drop-the-Gun, Red, Bricky, Brute, Plum, Chisel, Port, Stooge, Scabby, Zeed, Pidgy, Pork.

Cinnamon Nick, Chainsaw, Dynamite, Hacky, Scaky, Mokey, Eagle Beak, Ding, Spider, Chink, Willie Woodchuck, Diz, Fart, Webby, Web, Scup, Hi, Touchy, Deek Oakland Beach Pete, Vet, 49, Cheetah, Maggot, Junk, Kingfish, Icehouse Dottie, Fleetie, Tarzan, Goodie, Aggie, Bo Peep, Willie LumpLump, Ferret, Old Timer, Hickey, Chocolate, Sleepy, Zebby, Grumpy, Torchy, Nemo, Spit, Nuppit, Twinny, Barney Google (GooGoo), Pal, Ebby, Gabby, Comrade, Snuffy, Cap, Guy, renchy, Gomer, Butch, Misty, Mickey, Plack, Legs, Cowboy, Tuffy, Junior, Mac, Duke, Walloper, Tiger, Buffalo Hoof.

From school days and other associations: Kreegah, Chinook, Chingachgook, Nyay Hook, Lalloats, Roval, Dacon, Bats, Batman, Ray Gun, Red Dog, Wild Red, Hawkman, Picks, Thumbs, Thumbuckyone, Benny, Elfego Baca, Strunge, Nero, Frapootie, Dipper, Scat, Onions, Wink, Young Gun, Bunky, Big Ducky, Greenie, Jug Head, Jacque, Bird, Mouse, Buzzy, Chopper, Hubby, Bake, Colnel, Little Dab’ll, Ace, Big Ace Button , Chicken Breast, Mick, Oh Man! Tizzy, Fuzzy, Stash.

Fun-A-Head, Magic Wand, Cinnamon Roll, Junie, Stash, Animal, Mad Dog, Koona Bell,  Jelly Belly, Lefty, Cricket, Parakeet, Mo, Bull, Farmer, Thumby, Nyook, Peck, Swede, Nuke, Carce, Kenna, Pop, Corker, Tunka, Brizzi, Jasper, Jay, Scoop, Stormy, Teddy Bear, Bear, Buffalo, Rooster, Dare, Greek, Bale-A-Hay, Gyppy, Hip Boots, Yack Yack, Butch, Buddy, Jumper, Pinky, Gunner, Lil Dab, Goose, Two Ton, Watty, Lord, Letta Len, Skidsy, Snooky, Sport, Wax It.

Our teachers: Roofus, Archie, Iron, B-Button That Shirt! Zit, Chips, Halitosis, Kerosene, Sleepy, Cha Choom, Miss Prim, Prunilla, Bucky Beaver, Mawde, Ncaa, Garlic, Twinkle Toes, Fluff, Midget, Lump Jaw, Black & Decker, Millie, Big Norm, Muscles, Fast Looie, Sweet Willie, Redge the Ledge, Stump, Jumper Sarfe, DooDoo, Meatball, Domina, Human Jock, Killer, Coke Bottle Eyes, Glass Butt, Officer Krumpke, The Warden.

On a personal note from the home front: “E”, The Warden ( Queen ) of Misery Manor, ookie, BJ, Beege, Beej, Rooch, Tarooch, Petunia, Matilda, Maroo, Calves, Woodstock, Tigger, Chambers and The Boss.

On a more personal note: Cousin Brookside, Brookside, Brook, Brooky, Brooker, Brooks, Hawk, Red Hawk, Hawkman, Snapper, Mustang, Mustache, Strash, Stang, Stanger, Stinger, Pistachio, Eagle Claw, Juice, BruBru, BroBru, BruBro, The Brooker, Cuzzone, CuzzBru,BruCuzz, Cetan Cinye’, Gekek Niijikiwe (Native American meaning Brother of the Hawk ), Bruce Almighty (from the movie), and lately the sweetest – “GraMpa M.”

Recent entry to my circle – JDW25, Stinger, Wheels, Wheeler Dealer, Jay, JayDee, Giovanni Fragilia Delicato, Stiner Stang, JDDW, Double D.

So there you have it for now. This piece will be followed by two more. One more expansive in the nicknames and the last one giving some of the real names of the characters mentioned here above.

Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich and had the pleasure of growing up among these colorful characters and even knowing more than a few of them. They made life interesting.

The House Without a Christmas Tree – Almost!

By Bruce Mastracchio

Author’s Note:  This story was written a few years back, on a dark and windy and snowy night.

I know. I know. I’m a little bit ahead of schedule, but I have been stuck inside all day today, with the exception of some heavy shoveling, and, in fact, have been inside for over a  week with all the snowstorms, we’ve been having.

All the white stuff reminds me of Christmas, and since a few of you have been clamoring for another tale about Picks and me, I decided to do one about our traditions at Christmas.

Many people will never understand about the magic that appeared whenever the Catholic Boy and the Episcopal Kid got together, be it on the streets of Our Town, at Eastham on the Cape, or Provincetown, or Groton, Dartmouth, anywhere that VW bugs roamed and magic and mystery were in the air.

If you keep an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart, and believe, really believe, then all things are possible. When ever Picks and I got together and holidays were involved, anything was always possible.

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO – here goes :

I really love the holidays. Christmas is a real favorite though Thanksgiving is not far behind. Then there’s Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day (because of the parades), Halloween, Valentine’s, Labor Day, and St. Joseph’s Day. The only one I don’t celebrate is St. Patrick’s Day (used to), but that’s another story, for another time.

For me, any chance to get together with family, friends and food and I am all for it.

Of course it’s December now, and they’ve been playing Christmas carols since November, which ruins it for me. But, as the appointed day draws closer my spirits start to soar and my body and mind tense in great expectation. Picks and I loved Christmas!

The colors for December are red, green, blue and white.

And then, there’s that feeling.  That once-a-year feeling that infects us and affects us all. Like peace handshakes and Sunday smiles, it’s too bad that the feelings don’t last all year long.

But, it does exist for a short time in December, and that’s a start.

Of course, I mentioned food didn’t I? Food goes right along with December. And Christmas Eve. And Christmas. Food brings thoughts of Aunt Rose and Uncle Ted. They lived for food and family and friends. They never went anywhere and every weekend their house was filled with all kinds of food for whoever dropped by. Especially so at Christmastime.

It was at their house that I had my introduction to things beyond the staples. Their house was a weekly gathering place, but especially during the holiday season. It was a good place to be if you were young, a boy who loved to eat and liked to try new foods.

I had all those qualifications. They had all the Italian foods, drinks, and, for me, all the sweets (I am paying for those now).

There were delicious candies, cream turnovers, macaroons, eclairs, wandies, pizzelles, sfogliatelle, cakes, pies and more. The whole month of anticipation boiled down to that week before Santa came and it was always a special time. A time that sparked my heart, sparked my soul, and still does to this day. It really was. It really has. It was magic time because we made it so.

This story is dedicated to Aunt Rose and Uncle Ted, to Reverend Pickells, to Stanley and Dorothy Czerno, Father Joe, Mrs. Spanger, Mrs. Greene and all those who have been supportive over the years, and to the few of you who still believe in magic moments and keep Christmas in their hearts  365/7/24. Hope you have a Holy, Happy One. In the Spirit . . .

He was the son of the Episcopalian pastor. His friend was a Catholic Boy from  “below the hill.” They had started their little traditions quite young and had kept them up through high school and college. They would utilize the whole week before Christmas, first with shopping, then with making gifts, or buying them and then wrapping them in their special way. Sometimes using Christmas wrap, but, more often, seeing as they were both creative, using the Sunday comics, newspapers, old boxes and anything odd they could find to disguise their gifts.

On certain nights they would go caroling, and, finally, decorating the trees at each other’s houses.

On Christmas Eve they would go around to all of the Catholic boy’s relatives (close to 20 houses in all), following up on Christmas Day if they couldn’t make them all, before going to Midnight Mass at their respective churches. The Episcopal Kid up the hill to his father’s church, St. Luke’s, and the Catholic Boy to Our Lady of Mercy on Main Street.

The routine never changed. It was threatened just once. That was the time, because of the times, that there was not going to be a tree at one of the houses for the holiest and most decorated of seasons.

“Look’s like there’s going to be no tree at our house this year ,” confessed the Catholic Boy to his Episcopal friend, “money’s low and we really can’t afford one.” This was only a week before Christmas.

“No problem,” said the EK,”we’ll just go up to the woods and cut one down.”

Easier said than done. For, despite searching far and wide and high and low, not one suitable tree could be found. Things looked desperate, and one of the boys’ most precious traditions was in jeopardy.  They both thought of stealing one, but nixed that idea fairly quickly. It would not be in the spirit of Christmas they thought, though a little light fingeredness had infected both of them at other times.

They decided to try the woods once more. This time they went west to some rugged country over near Carr’s Pond Road. It wasn’t ’til they got there that they found out it was posted. By that time, with the trip and the mission and all, they let go of the idea that what they doing, and what they were going to do, was not quite copacetic.

Their goal was to get a Christmas tree so that one house would not be bare for the Yuletide. They were determined that there would be “no house without a Christmas tree,” not this Christmas. Not ever!

Those were their thoughts as they walked past the signs of  NO TRESPASSING! STATE PROPERTY – KEEP OUT! and waltzed into the woods ’til they found their tree.

It was not the usual Christmas tree. Not a needled pine. It was a blue spruce, beautifully shaped. It was perfect. They looked at one another. They nodded. In unison they said,

“This is the one!”  and they cut the tree down.

There was no big adventure to report. They got the tree back to their trusty VW bug. They tied it on and took it to the CB’s home. They stood it in the bay window, which overlooked the street, and decorated it just like they had decorated other trees over the years.

They shopped. They bought presents. They made presents. They went caroling. They decorated each other’s tree and they went on Christmas Eve to their 20 stops, where they enjoyed eggnog and goodies galore. A taste or two at each.

At 11:45 they went their separate ways. One to the Episcopal church on the hill, the other to the Catholic church on Main Street.

For years after they remembered the fun they used to have at Christmastime. They remembered that one year when one of the houses almost went without a Christmas tree. They both laughed about how they always felt that they believed in Santa Claus, even into their teenage years.

They marveled at what a magical, mystical time in was at Christmas and how they wanted to make sure that their children captured the same feelings that they held so dear.

Then, one winter day just after the Christmas season, one of the boys went out shellfishing.

He never came back.

There would be no more Christmases for him. No more wrapping. No more decorating. No more caroling. No more magical, mystical feelings.

That is something to think about.

The other boy? Well, he is the one typing this story, thinking that in the telling he can bring the other boy back to life. If just for a little while.

He really knows that Christmas has gone the way of the buffalo. At least the Christmas times he knew. Now, it’s like those peace handshakes and Sunday smiles. They really don’t mean anything. More flash than substance and forgotten an hour or so after they are given.

Christmas doesn’t begin to happen the magical week before it comes. Now it starts in October or November and . . .

Thanksgiving? Forget about it! They’ve thrown that holiday aside so that they can start on their money tree.

It would do no good to tell them about red and green. About pine trees and blue spruce. About caroling on Main Street and Marlborough and Rector.

About magic days and mystical nights. About making magic happen because you wanted it to be.

They would never understand!

. . . Remember, Picks? How we believed in Santa Claus? And Love? And Freedom?

How we sang Christmas songs on Christmas Eve and watched the drunks on New Year’s?

All on Main Street of OUR TOWN!

You wouldn’t recognize it now, or, understand it.

Perhaps it’s best you’ve gone ahead.

But, then again, it’s December once more, and somewhere in my heart there’s still a small spot that still harbors the hope that maybe, with a little effort we can bring the magic back!

Maybe, if we try real hard, we can capture it all once again. Heck, why not? I’ve got my grandkids. They can be elves. We’ll go get hot chocolate and donuts. Don the Santa hats, sing carols and hand deliver the Christmas cards.

Gotta run. There’s so much to do!

There’s shopping. And caroling. And visiting. And eating. I’ve got some disciples and that’s a start. It’s December again! It’s Christmas again! And both are places of the heart!

Hope you have a Merry and Holy One! Heck, hope you have a Magical, Mystical One like the ones Picks and I used to have.

Oh, and while you’re at it, light a candle for the Episcopal Kid. He’ll be up there looking down and smiling and saying “Go for it!” Merry Christmas, Picks !

 

Providence Gridiron Inducts Bruce Mastracchio to Hall of Fame

Bruce Mastracchio with some of his former players, at the Providence Gridiron Hall of Fame Induction Banquet. Photo credits: Providence Gridiron Club

Bruce Mastracchio loves sports, especially football. After a long career as first a player for East Greenwich and then as a coach – the Providence Gridiron Club gave a little love back, inducting Mastracchio into its Hall of Fame.

The other inductees, who were honored at a banquet Wednesday at the Quonset “O” Club, were Jim Anderson, Steve Fraser, John MacArthur, Dante Scarnecchia, and Tony Torregrossa.

“It was a magical night for me and I loved every minute of it,” Mastracchio said.

20141105-Canon EOS 7D-033

Bruce Mastracchio with Dick Fossa, Providence Gridiron president. 

Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich, a place he calls “the smallest town, in the smallest state, in the greatest country in the world.” In addition to football, he loves to write and has written many a tale about his hometown (some of which can be found here on EG News).

At EGHS, Mastracchio was All League in football twice, basketball twice and a Southern Division All-Star in baseball. He was the high school’s nominee for the Providence Journal Honor Roll Boy Award in 1960.

He was a member of the URI football team and the University of Tampa club track team. He also played for the Sigma Nu fraternity in track, basketball, softball and swimming.

Patriotic to the core, Bruce served in the United States Marine Corps with the ranks of both Lance Corporal and Second Lieutenant. He did 2 years active duty and four years Reserve and also put in two years of Army ROTC in college.

20141105-Canon EOS 7D-004

The Providence Gridiron 2014 Hall of Famers; Mastracchio is far left.

He also played amateur sports and was a 13 time All-Star in softball in the local league.

Mastracchio has coached high school sports for over 40 years, leading teams in football, basketball, baseball, track, wrestling and USMC Physical Fitness Competition squads at seven schools in five states. He had unbeaten teams in football, basketball track and PFT Competition. He guided Cranston West to an unbeaten season, its only ten-win season and first Super Bowl appearance at the time, and took Auburn HS in Massachusetts to two Central Massachusetts Class titles, two Class A Relay titles and three unbeaten seasons. His Auburn teams did not lose a league meet in seven years. His PFT teams won local, regional and area competitions and placed fourth nationally. His teams produced many All League, All State and Prep School All-America selections in California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Nevada.

Twice he received Franklin Awards from “Scholastic Coach” magazine. In 1992, he was named to the East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1997 he was named a RIIL “Coach of the Year” and in 2001 he was named to the RI Football Coaches Hall of Fame. Two times he was named Grand Marshall of the East Greenwich Memorial Day parade and was an Honorable Mention for the EG Rotary Club’s Man of the Year Award.

Very active in his community, Bruce has served as chairman of the EG Veteran Firemen’s Scholarship Committee; chairman of the East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame; chairman of the Parade Committee for both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day; on the Concerned Citizens Watchdog Group and the town’s Charter Commission. He established and leads Strong Hearts, a group which helped those in need and he has served as the nominating chairman for The EGHS Wall of Honor Committee for many years.

20141105-Canon EOS 7D-011

Hall of Famers with their spouses; Bruce and Elaine Mastracchio are in the back row, second and third from the left.

Bruce served as a liaison between the Providence Journal and the RIHSFCA to get more publicity and attention to high school athletics and also between the RIHSFCA and the R.I. Officials Association. He was also on the committee to get ball at CCRI. Coach Mastracchio originated the idea, and was the co-chairman for the R.I. College Football Fair. He also brought that idea to Las Vegas, Nevada. He originated the football Challenge Cup, brought the idea of a power system ranking for football to Rhode Island, and worked in the background on many of the projects for the RIHSFCA, including the Rhode Island–Connecticut All Star game.

In 1975 Mastracchio won the WBZ-TV Good Sports Competition for Central Massachusetts. He took over-35 title and his score was the tops for all age groups. The competition, a decathlon, consisted of football, basketball, baseball, hockey and track skills competitions plus an obstacle course.

Mastracchio was co-founder (along with George Battey), publicist, co-captain, assistant coach and two-way player for the rebirth of the East Greenwich Townies Semi-Pro football team in the early 1960s, which went 19-1 over his two years and won both Rhode Island and Southeast Massachusetts championships.

A volunteer fireman in East Greenwich, Bruce also held membership in the EG Veteran Firemen’s Association; R.I. Football Coaches Association; Mass. Track Coaches Association; National Wing-T CA; and the Cauliflower Alley Club. He held a Gold Card for over 40 years devotion to high school coaching.

Mastracchio created the East Greenwich Pendulum’s Top Ten in Rhode Island sports; the Pendulum Picks Awards and EGMAGnificents Awards given to EGHS athletes. Also, the Ucci Awards. He came up with the nickname “The Avs,” for the EGHS Avenger teams.

Aside from his family, he was the proudest of the fact that he helped hundreds of kids advance in their lives, making extra effort to help them get into colleges, JC’s, and prep schools. He raised thousands of dollars at the schools he taught helping to procure uniforms, weights, fields, etc. when budget constraints and taxpayers woes kept them from getting things through ordinary means. At one school he raised close to $500,000 over a 20-year period. He also ran two Bigger, Faster, Strong Clinics for athletes in Rhode Island and clinics on Sports Medicine, Taping and Training Procedures and Athletic Training and Injuries. He had two articles on athletics published in a national sports magazines.

Congratulations, Bruce!


Sign up for the EG News newsletter  here. You can like us on Facebook  here, or follow us on Twitter (@egreenwichnews)  here.

And, if you like what you’re reading, consider supporting East Greenwich News by clicking here.

 

 

Iron and the Rubber Pencil

I had heard of him long before I got to the Academy. He breathed fire. He ate raw freshmen for breakfast. He never slept and was stored in a closet at night.

There were all kinds of stories associated with him. He was a “tough teacher”! He’d flunk you, even if you had a 90 percent average, if he thought you weren’t working up to your capacity. He didn’t allow the boys to wear their shirts outside their pants. Shirts had to be tucked in. Collars had to be down, not standing up as in the style of the day (the ‘50s). You couldn’t have your pencils on your ear. Shirts had to be buttoned right up. Only one button, the top one, could be unbuttoned. The Marquis de Sade had nothing on this guy. He belted you if he thought you needed it and he told you where to  sit when you were in his class. High school could have been boring. “Iron” was just the challenge I needed: this fire-breathing, student-torturing, mathematics mental, metal monster named – Domenic Iannazzi! The Iron Nazi to some.

We skirmished a little during my eighth grade year. I had him in study hall, and as a coach in football and basketball. Fortunately, I did not have him for math. I got plenty of opportunities to scout him out and prepare for my ninth grade year, when we would really tangle as I would be getting him for Algebra 1. We would be battling in the new high school built on Cedar Avenue, leaving the ivy covered walls of our beloved Academy behind. It started the first day at the new East Greenwich High School. I checked my schedule. Sure enough, Algebra 1, Room 8. Iron’s room. I had him. He had me. It would be war. No teacher was going to rule me! Not Iron. Not Rodrick. Not Maude. No one!

I went to my first class with him and took my customary seat, way in the back, the furthest seat from the teacher’s desk.

Iron entered the room. He was big. Solid. Well built. He had that no-nonsense look that scares most freshmen half to death. In those days, remember, the teacher was always right. Even when they were wrong, and they held your life in their hands. I was not fazed.

The first words out of his mouth were, “Where’s MMMastracchio?”

Naturally, I just sat back, and gave him my coolest stare. He didn’t scare me. His eyes searched me out. “GGget out of that seat, boy! And, BBbutton that shirt!”

He then commanded me to come to the front and sit in the seat right in front of his desk. “And, get that pencil off your ear,” he shouted.

I made my coolest moves as I ambled to the assigned seat, one that proved to be mine for the next four years. I brushed by him and slouched in my seat. WHACK! I received what would be the first of many blows to the head (open-handed, of course) over the next few years.

“That’s for nothing, Mastracchio. Wait ‘til you do something.”

The war had started.We skirmished all out for the next two years. He did all he could to bring me around. I did all I could to make his life miserable. Iron was the assistant football coach, in charge of newcomers! That was me, and I had him for three more hours each day.

He was a good coach, and my buddies claimed they learned a lot from him as their line coach. I was a back, and got away from him for a bit of practice anyway. But not too far away. Iron handled calisthenics and drills before working with the linemen. Then he got back to us as he handled the conditioning.

I breezed and laughed as he tried to wear us down. I could run all day back then. He could not wear me out physically, and that made him mad. Mentally, though, I was taking a beating. He flunked me in algebra the first quarter. It was the first subject I had ever failed.

“What do I care how many apples the farmer has,” I used to say to him in class, “If I want to know I’ll just ask the farmer.” Iron did not understand my common-sense reasoning. His answer was instantaneous. WHACK!  I would NOT surrender.

My freshman year, Iron broke 17 of my pencils. I liked to wear them on my ear and that went contrary to his Rules.The next year he broke 24! I was determined to fix him. The answer to that lay just down the road.

In fact, I saw the light when I went into Mrs. Henry’s little five & dime variety store on Main Street (where Ed’s Roost is now). The answer jumped right out at me from the candy & novelties section.  Mrs. Henry had a supply of rubber pencils!!!

The light bulb came on in my head. “Iron, you’re mine,” I said. Word spread quickly through our little high school (250 in grades 8-12). It seemed the whole school knew. Everyone but the teachers, of course. The students all waited expectantly, and I would not disappoint them.

Iron almost did disappoint though.

Usually, he’d come into his classroom like an eagle, surveying all around him, ever on the alert. He’d notice the slightest thing. Nothing escaped his gaze.

On the “day of the rubber pencil,” though, he came in a little distracted, and though I had “the pencil” displayed prominently on my ear, he missed it. I turned sideways. I moved. I squirmed. Anything to attract his attention. I jived. I juked. I did everything I could to get him to notice the pencil. Nothing!

He started the class and students went to the blackboard to explain how they solved the problems of the previous night’s homework. Those problems had always been, and still are, Greek to me. Iron went to lean against the radiator, by the window, which was just to my left. I turned so he could see the pencil in my ear, acting like I was interested in the problem on the board, which Don Carcieri (later, governor of R.I.) was explaining to the class.

I could not see Iron, but I could sense him!

He had noticed the pencil! I heard his mind and his Silent Scream – “That Mastracchio! How dare he?”  I felt him pounce. He reached out and grabbed the pencil from my ear, put it between his fingers, and, just as he had done many times before, he squeezed hard, expecting to crunch the pencil, knowing he would break it in two! Only this time the pencil did not break! This strange look came across Iron’s face as he stared at the rubber pencil in his hand. He looked like King Kong looked when he burnt his fingers in that famous motion picture. Iron just stood there with a puzzled look on his face, staring at the pencil that wouldn’t break. Our class went into an uproar. They were laughing and screeching. Classrooms 7 and 9 emptied into the hall to look in on our scene. They had known what was coming and they wanted to be in on it. They all wanted to see the 195-pound monster tied up in knots by a rubber pencil.

“Mastracchio!” Iron bellowed, as he dropped the pencil and swung his mighty right hand in my direction. This time, though, there was no Whack. I was already on the floor laughing, and laughing, and laughing. I had won! This tale was already in the all-time annals, and it was witnessed by three classes. Iron didn’t have a chance!

About midway through my junior year, our war wound down. Iron and I settled into an uneasy truce. But when it came time to think about college, well, let’s say that most of my teachers were not very encouraging. In fact, most thought I would not make it at the next level of learning. Maybe they were right. I had majored in sports and screwing around for five years. But, it was Iron who told me to go. He said I would do fine, that I would make it in college and beyond.

“This was my enemy speaking,” was the thought running through my mind. Was he putting me on?

He wasn’t. I did do well. In fact better than I did in high school, and when I started teaching I found myself using many of the same methods of my former foe. It all starts with discipline to get self-discipline, and then it’s downhill from there.

Of course, every once in a while a whack is needed, and sometimes a kiss (not literally, of course), but carrots, and honey, and sometimes, vinegar. But this guy, who turned out National Merit Scholars as a matter of course, who was the driving force in giving EGHS its reputation for academic excellence, did it in the smallest high school, in the smallest state, in the greatest country on Earth!

This mental mathematician, metal monster saw things in me (and also other students) that I did not see in myself. I even took a couple of math classes in college and scored B’s, though I never got more than a C from Iron.

Later on, when I was home-schooling some students I did a better than passable job with algebra, geometry and trig. Funny, I even surprised myself. I am now retired from teaching, but am still coaching at 70. I even worked for small computer company for a while. Life has taken a lot of interesting twists and turns since that day with The Rubber Pencil. That day when the war finally started to wind down. “Oh, and Iron, in case I forgot to tell you. Thanks a lot!

“WHACK!”

 

The Season of The Brush, A Story of High School Football, Part Two

Today’s story is the second part of a tale about high school football here in EG during the 1950s. I will retreat to my mythical Greenwood Cove for this story to protect whomever needs protection. The story is true and those involved will figure it out. The rest of you can “project,” I am sure.

And, with no further ado, I give you Part Two of “The Brush” (you’ll find Part One here):

The Greenwood Cove High School football team would start its season in early September in the Round Robin. Their opponents would be the Metro High Lions from Class B. Next would be a non-league game versus the Forestdale High Horned frogs, a Class A team. Then league play would begin with the Barringer Bullrakers followed by the Warham Wampanoags (Wamps for short); Colt High Ponies; South Kingstone Sachems; Mapleville Mustangs; Reservoir Lakers; and the Voke Tech Builders, before the traditional season ending Thanksgiving Day finale against their most hated rival, the Schooners from neighboring Fordwick High School.

Just when it seemed that the practices were paying off and The Bull had his lineup set – disaster struck! Eight starters from the previous season were declared ineligible, either for not registering, or for failing grades the previous year. Unlike down south or in Texas, academics came first at GCHS. You had to pass to play – teachers did not give breaks to errant students!

You had to earn your grades!

The team lost starting players Hub Sabbett (G); Pat Henderson (HB) – who then quit school and joined the Navy; PeeWee Carillo (QB); Bubba “The Magic Wand” Rendisi (FB); tackle Vito Pannetto; center Duddy Vader; end Linwood Sharris; and guard Dennis Miller, all of whom were contributors to the team’s success the previous year. Their loss was huge and untimely.

Still Coach Bull, due to the recent success of his gridders, had more candidates than ever. Thirty-nine prospects had reported for early practice. Losing eight still gave him his biggest squad ever and when school started he would pick up a few more. The Round Robin game gave the whole team reason for optimism. Nunzio proved a good replacement for “Quackers” (see Part One) and the “Hauggers” took the Round Robin contest 13-6 over the Blue & Gold Lions.

Brian McCormack and his buddies Nunzio Grazano, Vinny Venuto and Gil Barker had paused, before the game, at “The Brush” – a hair brush used by players the previous unbeaten season that the friends had put in a wooden box and, for good luck, buried in the wall that ran along the front of Greenwood Cove High. They stopped again after the game to give thanks for the win, feeling their prayers were answered.

The same ritual was practiced again the following week against the Maroon & Blue clad Class A Horned Frogs. The team felt pretty good after tying the bigger school 6-6.

Then disaster struck – again! Big, bad Barringer High beat GCHS 26-19 in the first league game. The loss to the Blue & Silver Bullrakers came in front of one of the largest opening day crowds in school history. All this happening despite a 19-0 halftime lead by the home team, and one of the Bull’s most impassioned half-time speeches, where he called up the ghosts of the past, and implored his charges to “not let this old, red hat down!” taking off his well-worn coach’s hat and waving it to the skies.

The heavily fired up Hauggers then proceeded to go out and blow their seemingly insurmountable lead, tanking their first league game, and leaving coaches and team and town stunned beyond belief.

But the worst was yet to come! The team lost to an easily beatable Warham Wamp outfit 6-0 when Brian, in at sub at defensive back, accidentally tackled WHS star Ray Gomes by the face mask, a part of the equipment that was recently new. The penalty set the Wamps up to score the games only TD.

Next came the Colt High Ponies, the league’s roughest, toughest, dirtiest team. They rolled over the Hauggers 35-14 behind their two speedy stars, Rollerball Rodriques and Mnny Almeideira.

Greenwood then lost to the South Sachems 27-0 and the Mapleville Mustangs 18-0 before stopping the skid when Nunzio scored a school-record five TDs in a 35-0 blanking of Reservoir High. The Hauggers got back a little more respect by crushing VokeTech 40-0, with Brian registering his first high school touchdown.

Still the league record was an abysmal 2-5 , 3-5-1 overall with the Turkey Day game coming up.

Religiously the boys kept up their tradition of praying at The Brush before each game, and though that ritual had seemingly failed them, they kept at it.

The Thanksgiving Day game was a new start. A new season. A win over the Schooners on that hallowed day would erase any and all pain from the rest of the season.

The game would be against their hated rivals, the Brown & Orange of Fordwick High, the Schooners, who Greenwood Cove had owned in the last few years, winning the last four straight Turkey Day contests over the much larger school from “down the road.”

Not only was it the biggest game of the year, it would be played before the largest crowd with, normally, 5,000 to 6,000 people showing up to watch the “bragging rights” game.

The annual struggle began at 10 a.m. Despite their holiday winning streak, the football gods were not favoring Greenwood this day. The bad luck that struck in August struck once again!

Star halfback Nunzio Grazano played his worst game of the season and the Schooners ended their four-year drought with a 24-0 victory.

Brian could not wait to get out of the locker room after the game. He raced through his shower and toweled off quickly, threw his clothes on and beat Nunzio, Gil and Vinnie out of the building. He came around the front of the school and headed toward the wall.

He tore down the stones that encased their sacred object – the source of their superstition and hopes and dreams.

He took the wooden box in his hand and raised it high above his head and smashed it down hard against the rocks. The wood casket easily broke apart and out tumbled The Brush.

Brian picked it up and looked at it briefly. This plastic and hair god to which he and his friends had pinned their hopes, stared sightlessly back, a mangle of old hair, and dirt, and lint.

Brian turned and heaved the brush across the street into the tangle of tress and bush that marked the entrance to The Bleachery Pond, another hallowed spot of his growing up. Then head down and tears beginning to flow, he started the two-mile trek back to his house and his room, where he would rest his head that night and dream other dreams as the young are want to do. As we all are want to do. Dreams where you do not lose and the gods of sport smile down and favor you with the Golden Crown!

People from that team picked up and went on. Greenwood followed that season of  “The Brush” with several successful seasons. Fordwick did not beat Greenwood on Thanksgiving Day for another 20 years and Brian’s last two years ended in victory against their hated rival.

Quackers lasted only two years at Oregon State. He came back to Greenwood and ended up as Police Chief of the town. Nunzio became a very successful businessman. V-Volt became an insurance salesman and Gil took up the trade of the team’s nickname and became a quahaugger.

One of the younger players of the team, the quarterback, went on to become governor of the state.

Another went on to follow in the footsteps of The Bull and become a high school football coach and a pretty decent writer.

Writer’s note: Yes, folks. It is all true. All happened right here in Greenwood Cove. Another story from old East Greenwich, where magic ruled, the days were 28 hours long and the weeks had 8 days. Hope you enjoyed it !

The Return of the California Kid

 clam-cakes

Clam cakes. Credit: looksandbooks.com

By Bruce Mastracchio

Before I start on this edition of Mems & Rems I want to remember Mrs. S., a nice lady from the Potowomut area for a nice note she sent and the things she said. I do get a few good comments every now and then, but, hers was one of the best and most beautiful I have ever received. I felt like Jimmy Stewart in, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

You’re right Mrs. S., we never really know how we affect the people we come across in our lives, on our journey from dust to dust. I have to admit that sometimes I get down and want to chuck this writing, thinking it is doing no good, and then a letter like yours comes across my desk and suddenly, it all seems worthwhile after all.

You letter really struck me. I am going to frame it, and when I get that get down feeling, I’ll think of you, and the affect the story had on you, and plug on for one more day, at least. I would have liked to publish your letter, but, it was personal, so, we’ll keep it that way. As a token of thanks, this M&R is dedicated to you. I hope you had a great life (Mrs. S. has since passed) and remember, with Christmas in your heart for 365, you can remain Forever Young!

This edition of M&R is also dedicated to the Golden State branch of our far-flung Mastracchio-Ucci tribe. This one, The Browns of Van Nuys. To Mike, Tom and Pete, who are still here, and to Mary and Dave, who are not.

And, especially, to Steve, The California Kid, who made us appreciate Rhode Island, and East Greenwich, all the more.

Sometimes you sit right on top of a thing. You take it for granted. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. By then it’s usually too late. Sometimes it takes a stranger to the situation to open your eyes.

He came out of the West about 50 years ago, with guns smoking and words flying. He came from LaLa Land, where everything was “bitchin’” and nothing else could compare. California was “The Best.” DisneyLand was “The Ultimate.” Music was The Beach Boys, and nothing else was close.  He came to visit us in Rhode Island, but he did not come to be impressed because he didn’t think he could be.

What could we do for him here ? In the smallest town, in the smallest state, in the greatest country in the world (at that time).

We soon found out – a lot!

He thought they had it all out there in the Land of Milk and Honey. He found out the opposite. He found that they really had it all in The Land of Quahaugs and Chowder. He discovered small town America. He discovered that he liked it. He fell in love with it. He has not been the same since.

In California they had a pool in every backyard. They did NOT have The Bleachery ! It was the first thing he fell in love with.

At first, The Rock held his attention, but, when he found out about The Rope, he had to go there at least once a day. Swimming became more than California-clean and chlorine. It became stunts off The Rope, murky water landings, snapping turtle scares and water snake stories, and adventure! He did not have that out there in the San Fernando Valley. He didn’t get that in his sparkling, clear blue, pool.

The he discovered Tar Tar’s, a mom-and-pop grocery store with a legend for a proprietor. There was the penny candy, a soda fountain, and enough characters to base a novel on. Real people. Salt of the earth people. They had nothing like that in California, where everything is glitz and glitter. More flash than substance.

When he found out about the treasures to be found underneath the store, and the games and the action around them, his eyes lit up. How could a small town like this have so much?

But, for The California Kid it wasn’t over. He discovered relatives! Ones who fed him ‘til he darn near burst. Ones who were insulted when he didn’t eat. Not medegones like he was used to in LaLaLand, where they meet you at their door and let you stand there without inviting you in.

They not only invited him in. The pulled him in and gave him Food! Foods that he not only hadn’t had before, but also foods whose names he could not pronounce.

He got exposed to braciole, manicotti, ricotta, pizza frite, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, minestrone and a whole host of others. And, the desserts, wave upon wave of desserts from wandies to pizzeles, to sfogliadele to cream turnovers and more.

And, those were just the Italian foods of his relatives. He also got coffee milk, frozen lemonade, clam cakes, chowder, Johnny cakes, gaggers and the like.

IT was a gastronomical excursion! One that he would never forget! He even got to go quahaugging, and that experience stayed with him a lifetime. Imagine being able to go five minutes from your house and dig your own “live meal.” Crabbing also gave him a thrill. There were no quahaugs in California, and NO crabs in the beautiful San Fernando Valley.

He found out that holidays were really special here. Famigilia was the big thing. That you saw all your relatives at Christmas and that Thanksgiving really meant all that plus a high school football game to put the frosting on the day.

But, despite all of that, it was The Muster, which really blew his mind.

It was held in a little town just above Boston. It was a two-hour drive of jokes and laughs and stories. He had never seen a Muster.

First the parade through the streets of the town (Newburyport, if my memory serves me), then the carnival on the edge of town, with all the smells and sounds that go with a small-town carny. It was not Something Wicked This Way Comes, but, it was close!

And, last, but not least, the pumping competition. He loved it! He lived it! And, that once has lasted a lifetime! It made a mark on his mind that will never be erased.

He had it all in California, but had missed it all in Rhode Island. He had it all in Van Nuys. He found it all in East Greenwich. And, he knew it.

Best of all, he never forgot, and today can talk about his brief stay in Rhody as if it were yesterday.

The California Kid returned to the Ocean State a while back (and since has been back five times). He wanted to revisit all those spots that had made such an impression on him such a long, long time ago.

He went to the Fire Barn. He met a host of his relatives at the family Memorial Day gathering. He watched the parade and walked the same route his relatives have walked for close to 100 years. He ate clam cakes for the first time in a long time. He still loves them.

He rediscovered The Atlantic Ocean, The Bleachery, Greenwich Cove.

He got a chance to touch the roots of his Mom and Dad.

He has now moved out of LA. He still lives in California, but now lives in a small town and hopes beyond hope that his kids will get to touch all the things he missed, while having it all.

…. Sometimes you sit right there on top of a thing. You take it for granted. You don’t know what you’ve had til it’s gone. By then it’s usually too late.

Sometimes, it takes a stranger.

Well, there you have it Mrs. S.  It’s not Bedford Falls, or Valley Falls, but good, old East Greenwich. I will take it any day. At least old East Greenwich.

The new one I am not too sure of.

As you said, live gently, care deeply and never be afraid to give, and remember, it’s friends and people who make up the story of a life. Thank you for the reminder.