All the Good Mudmen Eat Mud

by | Aug 8, 2014

“Stand By Me” still. Credit: Columbia Pictures Corp.

By Bruce Mastracchio

As most of you know, if you’ve been reading my stories over the last 50 years or so, or following the Rems & Mems columns, Picks was one of my closest friends while growing up here in good, old East Greenwich. I was lucky. I had eight real good friends, instead of the one or two you are supposed to be lucky to get in life, and they covered just about all the spectrum of what I have said was the three-tiered possibilities of life here in E.G. (water, town & farm ). Bubba Joe, Miguel, Roval, Batman, Deacon, Ace, Cinnamon Roll, Carse and Funna Head, plus a few more, provided me with all the fun and excitement one guy could have growing up here. Of course, age and time have now worked against those friendships and I am down to maybe a couple, if I am that lucky.
Picks was one of the most talented individuals I have ever come across in life. He had good looks, had a way with girls, was an outstanding athlete, an A student, could write poetry and short stories, could draw and paint, and, in my mind at least, could do just about anything. He was kind of a combination of Paul Newman and Matthew McConaghy.
He never got to realize his full potential. He died at age 29. Drowned off of Cape Cod at Eastham on a cold February day. They found his body six months later, two towns down on a day, and in a scene I’ll never forget.
We shared quite a few adventures, and Picks saw fit to write about one of them as a Sixth Former (don’t those preppies sound funny?) at The Groton School, a prestigious private school in Massachusetts, where most of the students have three names followed by a Roman numeral. This piece appeared in an issue of “The Grotonian,” the school magazine. Picks was 17 at the time. The Scabby Scott of this piece really existed, though probably not where we thought. Supposedly a witch, she lived in a ramble-down shack in the woods off Major Potter Road.
Picks, as usual, had a different slant on the story, which was Scabby and the rite of passage we all went through, traipsing out of town, and up to the woods to harass her.
If anyone can tell me the meaning of the title of this story, he/she will win a years supply of Truade Orange drink and a 1956 Edsel.
And so I give you: All the Good Mudmen Eat Mud, by John Lovell “Picks” Pickells!
The boys turned off the concrete highway, and the cool, powdery earth felt good underneath their hot sneakers. The road wandered recklessly through the woods, and the one they called “Andy” led the way, with two others following at his heels like nameless dogs, while Joey, the smallest of the four, trailed behind.
Joey knew all about Scabby Scott, and what a terrible old woman she was supposed to be, but he still couldn’t understand why everyone in town had to come out here like this, and throw rocks at her house. It was something everyone did though – even the guys in high school. He had heard parts of some terrific stories at Earnshaw’s Drug – like when they stole all her squash one night and she came out of her shack screaming bloody murder the whole time, and when she almost winged Big Jack Kelly with a shotgun blast one Halloween. But, in spite of the stories, Joey had never really wanted to go out to Scabby’s, and even this afternoon, when they had all left Andy’s house, he didn’t realize they were actually going to go all the way this time.
He looked back over his shoulder toward the highway, but it was already hidden by an abrupt bend in the road and a cluster of maples. He wanted to turn around right then and there and go home, but, by this time they had gone too far, and now Andy was saying that they were almost there.
Scrawny oaks sprung out of the high, thick grass that bordered the road ahead, and the full branches of a few maples cast long, dark shadows across large sections and a beer can winked at them from the side of the road. Andy and the two others tore off towards the can, all arriving at the same time, to wrestle in the dirt for possession. Joey thought they were like dogs quarreling over a bone. When he reached that spot, they were all off ahead of him, kicking the can down the road.
Joey began throwing rocks, imagining targets out of the patterns in the leaves. He threw the larger ones hand-grenade style, and listened as they dove down through the branches. All in the same instant, he spied a squirrel and flung a rock toward it. His arm froze in the releasing of it and he stood there slightly on his toes watching the arc of the rock. He didn’t understand what made him throw it and breathed a sigh of relief when the squirrel scampered away, unharmed.
In a sudden burst of motion, Joey tore off to find the others. His small, excited voice cut clearly through the late afternoon air.
“Hey, you guys, wait up !” 
It was the first time he had said anything since they had been on the dirt road, and the sound of his own voice startled him. The only answer was the still whimpering can. When he caught up with Andy and his two followers, they were huddled together at the side of the road under a thick maple. Joey was out of breath and just stood there, wide-eyed and gulping down air, while Andy pointed beyond the big tree into the woods.
Set back from the road was what they all knew was Scabby Scott’s house – only it wasn’t really a house; it was just a shack. It looked like a haphazard pencil sketch, stuck in the center of a multi-colored landscape. There was only one window that wasn’t bordered over. Immediately around the shack, the sparse grass growing between the rocks, was already brown, as if that area was contaminated. Joey wondered where Scabby could have grown the squash he had heard about.
“There she is! There’s Scabby!” cried Andy, diving into the tall grass. “I seen her behind the window!”
“Joey! For Pete’s sake. Get down!”
Joey lowered himself to his knees behind the other three, who were hugging the earth and peering at the shack through the tall grass. He still hadn’t seen Scabby. Andy and the others chose a handful of rocks. Joey hesitated. He guessed that if he had come this far, knowing that it was the thing to do and everything, there wasn’t much sense in NOT throwing the rock. Anyway, just one rock wouldn’t make that much difference to Old Scabby.
So, he threw it, and watched it hit the roof. A shingle jarred loose and flopped to the ground.
“Now, what was so great about that?” he thought.
Then, Andy’s last rock shattered the one unboarded window. They all took off running as though their lives depended on it. Joey caught up with the others around the first bend. They were all talking excitedly.
“Think she’ll call the cops?”   
“Are you kidding me?” answered Andy. “She don’t have a phone. You know, I think, I think I might have hit her behind that window.”
“Jeez, you caught her good, Andy!”
“Yeah and it was a damn big rock, too!”
“She didn’t take no potshots this time.”
“Boy, she sure did scream.”
“I didn’t hear any scream.”
“All’s I heard were rocks hitting the roof and the window crashing. Jeez, that was a shot, Andy. Jeez. What a shot!”
“You didn’t hear any screaming?”
“Don’t think so. But it happened so fast and all.”
“Well, it wasn’t very loud. More like a groan.”
“Yeah, more like a groan. I remember that! Jeez, Andy, maybe you killed her!”
Joey was scared silly. Clear out of his wits, or, at least, that was what Andy said when Joey went back to see if Scabby was all right.
When he knocked on the door to the shack, paint from the porch ceiling fell down the back of his neck. He shouted a “Hello” but there was no answer. Thinking she might be deaf or dead, he didn’t know which, Joey gave the bottom of the door a swift kick. It sprung open and revealed a large room. It was completely empty except for the cobwebs that draped the four corners, and the broken glass, and Andy’s big rock!
Then a piece of paper on the wall caught Joey’s eye. He went over to look at it. It was covered in dust and the print had faded some, but, it was readable.
NOTICE OF INSPECTION: per order of The Board of Selectmen, East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
COMMENTS: Habitation of this building is prohibited as of this date. Police take Notice!
DATE:  July 6, 1950
Joey brushed away 11 years of dust with his sleeve, but he couldn’t brush away the print.  
“Nineteen-fifty” he thought. “I wasn’t even 2 years old back then.”
At first, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He thought about the guys back at Earnshaw’s Drug. Those poor guys believed in Scabby, even more than he had. He knew how they would laugh it off, if he ever told them. He could hear their sneering remarks.
“Sure, Joey, sure. Like it happens every day. Tell us more, kid. The fans want to hear more.” 
So, Joey decided to laugh, too.
He was still laughing as he walked back to join Andy and the others. He told them how he had found Scabby on the floor unconscious, how he had revived her and told her he was sorry, that he had thought it was an empty house, and how she had cried when he said that.
The boys all nodded wisely at his story as they turned and started the long walk back to town. Their long, adventurous day was coming to a close.
Then, on the way home, Joey pointed at a squirrel perched on the tip of an overhanging branch. The rock that he threw came so close to the surprised animal that it fell off the branch and into the dirt below. It looked so awkward trying to flee into the high, thick grass that the four boys laughed.
“Jeez, Joey, that was a real shot! That was a shot and a half!”

And then the four boys, shoulder to shoulder, headed back towards town on the dirt road. Once there they went to Earnshaw’s where they would have another tale to tell. Another story in the legend of Scabby Scott!

. . . So, there you have it. Another look at an event we lived back in those simpler, sweeter times. Those Huck Finn days and Tom Sawyer nights. Mostly, you got to view the talents of one of the more talented boys here in the boondocks (that’s what the people in Providence thought of us back then) of old East Greenwich. Remember, Picks was only 17 when he wrote this.
Puddy says it’s about time I buried Picks and let him rest. I laughed at that. I told him that it’s hard to bury the memories of such good times, and, besides, the Japanese say, that as long as you hold someone in your memory, they never really die. It’s the forgetting of them that seals their death.
And then, there’s the photographs. I have a box full of them ( funny though, only one of Picks and me. Football, fishing, swimming and all- him filming me, me filming him). Closing the box does not constitute a funeral, because in pensive times I can always open it and bring Picks back to life again. That’s when I hear the echoes: “Jeez, Brooker, that was a real shot ! That was a shot and a half!”
POSTSCRIPT: There really was a Scabby Scott. Not too long ago some of her relatives sent me pictures of her. She seemd like a nice, old lady. It seemed too bad that year after year high school kids used to traipse up Major Potter Road to harass her. It’s funny how stories got started back then and grew! And took on a life of their own ! Just like others before me, I, too, took the trek up to Major Potter Road to harass Scabby Scott. I too shared the stories of her coming out and chasing us after we threw rocks and ran like bats out of hell from some deserted shack in the woods.
BUT, you know something ? I NEVER really SAW Scabby Scott ! Never laid eyes on her, or knew what she looked like, until those relatives sent me her pictures some 40 years later.
I’ll bet  none of the boys and girls who took the trip up MPR ever saw her either. I hope they too, encountered that empty shack and let their imaginations and rocks run wild throwing at and running from – NOTHING ! Of, course they turned it into a tale and a legend that lasted for years, just like tales and legends are want to do.
They never saw Scabby Scott in the flesh, or knew her for the real person she was. NOT a witch, BUT just like the rest of us in this world. Just a soul trying to get along the best she could.
BUT, Picks figured it out at 17. He saw it for what it was and understood. A long time before the rest of us did.
Like I said. He was a Special Kid and he taught me a lot, for which I never got the chance to thank him.
SO, Puddy et al, telling this story and the others I put out is kind of like my Thank You! If it wasn’t for Picks, and what he gave me, I might not be writing them.
With Much Love to you all and as always In The Spirit of …

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Carl I. Hoyer
Carl I. Hoyer
August 9, 2014 2:41 pm

From the way Bruce writes about him, it would have been a real privilege to have met “Picks” ! He apparently was an exceptional young man, leaving this transient life way too soon.




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