by | May 19, 2024

Above: Bebe bull raking. Courtesy of the family

Frederick D. MacDonald passed away last week at 92. He was a true BTH-SOTE guy. A quahaugger his whole life, he was still pulling the bull rake well into his eighties. It wasn’t all he knew. It was all he wanted to do.

Quahauggers are like those old mountain men of yore. They are alone. They answer to no one. They work when and if they want to. Independent, rugged, individualists. Buckskin Giants of the Eastern frontier.

Pulling that bull rake for two summers, and working for Bob T’s Construction Company, were all I needed to convince me to go to college and get an easier occupation. My frail body could never have done what those guys did. I was content to appreciate (and write about it) from afar.

Bebe pulled that ‘rake way late into life. Bebe went until 86 I believe. Absolutely unreal!

Hearing of Bebe’s death jolted my memory bank, and of the role he played in one specific instance in my life and, another about the vagaries of our life here in East Greenwich, which, in some cases are hard to explain in general, and, definitely to people who did not experience them.

The first story on Bebe deals with his nickname. It came from his older brother, Melvin, who, when Frederick was born, could not quite say “Baby,” so called his newly minted younger brother “Bebe.” Baby went by the wayside, and Bebe was officially born.

Bebe’s mother, Mrs. MacDonald (Julia) was a Cassamas (Cassamassimo – changed upon arrival at Ellis Island by a Medegone (aka American), who couldn’t handle the Italian pronunciation). The Cassamases and the Uccis shared a history in Italy in the Molise-Campobasso-Abruzzo area on “The Boot.” Maybe even of the same towns of Isernia and Fornalli – those southern towns of the Mezza Giorno.

All I know is that my family was close to the Cassamas family. They lived right around the corner. My mother and Julia’s sister, Camilla, (owner of the Little Tot Shop) were lifelong friends.

Anyway, Bebe was always short. But his athletic ability was tall and he went to EG High and excelled in football, baseball and gymnastics. He also played baseball while in the service of his country (USAF). At one time I knew his first name. But, if you read my story on EG nicknames, you will know that nicknames were prevalent in EG, and I knew people all my life ONLY by their nickname. Never knew, or tried to know, their real name.

Thus the basis for my first Bebe story.

Once my wife and I moved back to EG (I have always kept a house here) we started throwing big, family/friend get-to-gathers on Memorial Day, a significant day for me.

On one particular day for that gathering I wanted to invite Bebe and his wife, Barbara. I went to the phone book to get his number. I couldn’t remember his first name! I kept forgetting if the last name began with Mc or Mac (still to this day- don’t know why)! I never did contact him!

Bebe heard about the party and when he saw me he gave me H-E-double L for not inviting him. I did my best to explain and we did have a laugh over it.

The other story deals with my senior year in high school. We had three potential championship teams my senior year, which ended up being derailed by administrative mishaps, teachers and poor relationships, communications and bad luck.

After a potential championship football season derailment, we fielded a basketball team that looked like a title team. We played bigger schools, and ended one school’s (SK) national best, at the time, 47 game winning streak. Their lineup was big, while we fielded one 6-1 player (Kovac); two 6 footers (Carcieri and Libby), a 5-10 jumper (Williams) and some little runt (5-8), who sunk 26 that night to flummox the Rebels. 

In one of our first non-league games we went against Warwick Vets (around 3,000 students to EGHS’s 250, grades 8-12). Their lineup featured at least two 6-6 kids (McCaughey and Kelly), a 6-4 and two closer to EG’s two latter midgets.

The game came down to the end with WV leading 61-59, and the Hurricanes trying to run out the clock.

Their star point guard, Jimmy Robinson (later an RIHS Athletic Official), was trying to dribble out the clock. Most of the Avengers were saddled with foul trouble. One was not. The little runt came across the court, and so the official would know it was a foul, planted young Mr. Robinson into the second row of the bleachers.

Pandemonium broke loose. A near riot was averted. But rumors were that after the game, the runt was going to catch a beating from three of WVM’s toughest football players. The Runt knew their names. He knew their names. He knew their reputations, which were already public knowledge, and it would be no contest.

Still the runt packed his gym bag and went forth to meet whatever was to be met.

IT didn’t happen. Bebe had heard about the coming pummeling and he went out and diffused the three toughs and the situation. At the best it would have been a beating, and, knowing the toughs, and their reputation, it could have been a hospitalization.

I was The Runt. Bebe, who was shorter than me (but with many, many more muscles) was my savior that night. Though I was never close to him, that night gave us a bond and we always kept it, and that EG thing of shared experiences, family ties and the like.

He always made me feel good when we met. He would say I was “the glue that held old EG together,” or, “You have done more for EG than anyone.”

And, he would always say it unabashedly.

You have to like a person like that. Anyone. Your life. My life. Anyone.

So, Bebe, this one’s for you. I am glad you got that “Golden Avenger Award” while you were still here to appreciate it.

You will be up there with your parents, my mom, Tar and the rest of the BTH-SOTE people we both knew and loved, who have gone on ahead. Hopefully, the things we had and the things we shared can be reconstructed up there.

I called Gyp, by the way, and told her. We shared some memories, a prayer and a moment of silence.

Get things going up there. I know you will. 

We will be joining you up there. When our game is done.

“The Glue”

Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich, where he experienced those 28-hour days and 8-day weeks that contained the magic that made his hometown so special. Included in all that were the numerous characters that added color to the local life and produced many of Bruce’s stories.

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Ray Giornelli
Ray Giornelli
May 20, 2024 11:54 am

Great story!! Over the last 5-7 years I could always count on BeBe to get a large supply of little necks and cherry stones to satisfy my craving for RI Quahaugs. I am pretty sure that BeBe was still working while he was either 89 or 90… Just moved into a retirement home but hope that I can recover photos of me meeting BeBe at his docking spot picking up the latest catch after the pandemic. Up until the week of May 6th we were talking of getting together to go through the same ritual while I would be on a visit to RI from 5/24 – 5/31. Our tel. conversations always covered the good old days growing up in EG. Very sad loosing such a gallant old friend.

Donna Wilson Rice
Donna Wilson Rice
May 20, 2024 12:19 pm

Thanks for that tribute to Bebe. He was such a good person and a real hoot.

Donna Rhodes Bowen
Donna Rhodes Bowen
May 28, 2024 2:38 pm

Beautifully said, Brookie! Jim worked along side of him for many years. A great guy and a true EG legend. The line at Hill’s today was long…..symbolic of the many people who were touched by him. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt tribute.


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