By Bruce Mastracchio
This story is for Father’s Day, to all fathers out there and, especially, to the men who have been like fathersv to me.
I lost my father on June 23, 1955. It is a day that will be forever etched in my memory. The void it left will never be filled, and the hole has been there for more than 60 years. Time has eased the hurt to some degree, but the pain has never completely gone away.
I will soon be 76 and have outlived my Father by 21 years, and, thanks to my daughter, Chris, I have become a grandfather; something my own father never got to experience.
As the title of the movie once proclaimed: “I Never Sang For My Father.” Perhaps, if he is listening, this will be a chance for my father to hear my song.
He was born in 1904. The early 1900s were an interesting time to grow up in and, as the oldest in his family, he grew up rather quickly. He had the experience of growing up Italian in a small, mostly waspish, New England town, when prejudice still existed for immigrants. But, as each succeeding generation came and intermingled, became known and made friends, the prejudices started to melt away.
He grew up in a family of six children, four brothers and two sisters. They were a creative family, and he, in particular, had a lot of creativity. He was an idea man.
Unfortunately, there were always two things that constantly stood in the way of his ideas becoming reality. One was the fact that many of his ideas were ahead of their time, and the other, a seeming always factor, money!
Still, he was a man of the world, and did a lot of things that many others in the small town did not.
He traveled routinely, to Florida, California, New York. He started businesses and for awhile was quite successful with them.
He met a young Italian girl, and, after a lengthy courtship, he proposed. They married and eventually had three children. After living in the family homestead, then an apartment on Court Street, they eventually bought their dream house on Marlborough Street.
It had 11 rooms. His business was going well. They had a governess for the kids. In 1948 he got one of the first new-fangled boxes called a television set. With that addition to the house there was a sudden influx of family, friends and neighbors, who “dropped in” to have a look at this new contraption.
His thoughts and ideas were really different from most people. Travel can do that to you. It can stretch your mind. And, he traveled. He thought nothing of saying to the boys at the Fire Station on Main Street, “Hey, let’s go for a cup of coffee!” The only difference is, he would drive them to New York City to have that “cup.” In those days there was no Route 95. It was Route 1 all the way, the old Post Road.
He loved to drive. He was good at it. It was said that he was the best fire truck driver that the local fire department had at that time. Maybe, for all time. He could make those trucks do tricks.
Ah, but he loved tricks. And, practical jokes. Once he arranged a “funeral” for one of the town’s characters, getting him when he passed out from drinking, and “laying him to rest” at Hill’s Funeral Home, in an episode that became town lore.
Another time when the fire truck he was driving was stuck in Sunday traffic on Main Street near First Avenue, he simply put on the siren and as the traffic parted like the Red Sea, he drove the truck down the middle of Main and swung it easily back into its bay at the station.
Another time he tricked another town character into believing he was shooting a coke bottle off the wall across the street from the fire station (where the Cafe Fresco dining room is now ) though the “gun” he was shooting, despite its real look, only shot paper caps.
The guy never caught on to the fancy, trick shooting display until Guy (my father’s nickname) shot the gun into the air and the bottle, which was attached to a thin string, and “worked” by a teenager hiding behind the wall, took a tumble from its perch. He convinced the town character that the reason the bottle didn’t break was that he was such a good shot that he was just nicking it enough to get it to spin off the wall. He fired over his shoulder, between his legs, looking into a handheld mirror and more, while the “mark” stood there amazed.
He loved to take his family on “mystery rides.” They would all pile into his Chrysler (he loved Chryslers), and he would keep the destination a secret for a long as he could. Many of these rides were down to Maine Ice Cream in Wakefield, where a cool, delicious favorite cone put a “capper” on the mystery ride.
“YOU Scream!” “I Scream!” “WE ALL Scream!” “For ICE CREAM!”
That was one of his favorite songs, along with “My Buddy,” “Sonny Boy” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By.”
He took his family to the beach a lot too. But only at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. His thinking was that all the other families would have been there since morning and would be packing up to come home, and we would have the beach pretty much to ourselves. He was right too!
He loved taking us on rides out to Frenchtown. In those days it seemed like going to the moon. You hardly ever saw another car. He would juice the gas to the top of each rise in the road, then let up as we sailed over the top and dropped to the other side with a funny feeling in our stomachs, like the bottom had just dropped out.
“Thank You, Ma’ams,” he used to call them.
I still call them that to this day, and tried to get some whenever I had my own kids in the car. They’ve since flattened out Frenchtown Road, so you can’t get them there like you used to.
He loved holidays and was always doing something different to make them memorable. It could be offbeat, or crazy or different to imprint that day in our minds. It worked and it did. Indelible memories created by his fertile mind to do something different that his kids would remember.
He was great with cameras of all types and was a master of trick photography, double images, creative settings and poses.
He made life an adventure. He liked to travel. He was an idea man. Very creative. He lived life to the fullest and made it memorable. And, he passed it on. That was his legacy and it was a good one.
Unfortunately, his greatest lesson came with his passing. That lesson was that you are not promised next week. In fact, you are not promised tomorrow.
I will never forget that day. Or the scene. Or the words.
We were just getting close as father and son. For some reason, mostly my stubborness I guess, we had not been particularly close for the first 11-plus years. But, at this point, there were some changes in the air. He and I had gone to Providence, as he had to go see a doctor about a checkup and for a problem with his lower leg.
On the way home he said to me, “Don’t tell your mother, but the doctor said I have a blood clot in my leg, but they are going to get it cleared up next week.”
Well, as I have already told you, next week never came. Not for my father.
It was a hard lesson, but perhaps the best one I have ever learned. You are NOT promised tomorrow. I learned that lesson in 1955. June 23rd to be exact.
I will never forget that date. I was walking down Duke Street pulling a wagon full of sand for my uncle. He was standing in the door of his grocery store.
“Go on home,” he said. “Your Mother wants to see you.”
When I got home the kitchen was full of people.
The first words I heard were:
“You’ve got to be the man of the family now.”
I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. Perhaps someday I will.
In those days the deceased were waked for three days and three nights. 2-4. 7-9. I was there for all of them. My aunt, my father’s sister, had me kiss the corpse of my father. It should never be done. Don’t ever let your kids do it. It will put the lightning in you like you won’t believe.
On the night of the day they buried my father, I hit my only home run in Little League. It was as if his hand had guided that ball. There were more emotions than I care to recall. I had only played at my mother’s insistence that that was what my father would have wanted.
He really liked to watch his son play sports, especially since I grew from a fourth stringer who never saw the court during my early CYO playing days to more success in Little League. Even though there was considerably more success later, he never got to see that, or the man I was to become.
I hoped he would have liked what I have done with my life.
Of course, a lot of it is modeled after the things he liked, and did, and was. The creativity, the ideas, the lust for travel and adventure. I feel it is all due to his influence, though brief, or his genes.
No. I never got to sing for my father. So, this is my song for him. I hope he is up there somewhere and enjoying what successes his son has had in this life. He would be 114 had he lived.
I never got to hug him, at least, so that I remember. dSo, Dad, consider this story, a “hug”!
I am crying as I finish this. Sometimes, it is good to cry. But, better than that, it is good to hug! It has taken me over 60 years to learn this and I am still not good at it. So, this Father’s Day, give your father a big hug! Give your mother a big hug! Then hug everyone you can. Hug those who you love and those who love you!
But most of all – remember The Lesson, the one I learned the Hard Way: You are NOT promised tomorrow!
May you all have a Happy, hug-filled Father’s Day!