Above: Bruce Mastracchio, second from the right, in his lifeguard years. Note a young Alexis Meyer, to be superintendent of schools in East Greenwich just a few decades later, is looking straight at the camera, in stripes. Courtesy of Bruce Mastracchio
This is a story I have wanted to write for a long time. It has rolled around and around in my head. In the telling I will once again retreat to my small town twin, Greenwood Cove, and tell the story from there. Of course, the protagonist is Brian McCormack, the half Italian, half Scots-Irish-Indian, who grew up in Greenwood Cove and is the subject of many adventures there in Greenwood Cove, the smallest town, in the smallest town in the smallest state in what used to be the Greatest Country on God’s Green Earth. Now people are not so sure.
Recently Brian had read in the paper where, on two different occasions people had been given Carnegie Medals for just attempting to save someone from drowning.
Reading those articles jogged his memory back to another time. Another day.
The time of six in one day!
Greenwood Cove boys, especially those from the BTH, were brought up around water. The Cove, the Bay, The Bleachery, the Ocean. It was not too soon after that they were swimming by themselves. Swimming and water leads in this adventure, to one of Brian’s proudest days.
“Ninety Nine bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety Nine bottles of beer!
If one the bottles should happen to fall. Ninety eight bottles of beer on the wall.”
The kids loved that song, along with a myriad of others, as they rode the Youth Activities bus to Gordon’s Pond in the nearby city. Brian was the Supervisor for both one of the playgrounds, and, for the Swim classes put on by the Greenwood Cove Youth Activities Department.
The kids would go to swim classes twice a week in the mornings, and on the other days would go to their assigned playgrounds for a day of fun and games.
Brian accompanied the bus to Gordon’s Pond and on the non-swim days he supervised the Queen Street Playground in the BTH.
Both jobs had responsibilities. Brian had First Aid training from both the Red Cross and the local Fire Department, where he was a Volunteer, and proud of it. He also had life saving training and on this particular day it would stand him in good stead.
When it came time to be at the pond, Brian planted himself at the water’s edge and did not move while his eyes scanned the goings on as the young charges practiced blowing bubbles, taking air and kick, kick, kick.
Every day was pretty much like every other day at the pond. Until that One Day!
That One Day would always be, in Brian’s mind, The day of SIX. SIX IN ONE DAY!
It had started off normal enough. Usually after a half hour of lessons the kids would buddy up, and then be given fifteen minutes of free swim before the next set of lessons. They were NOT supposed to swim out beyond the white ropes, which ringed the area. Brian’s kids were pretty good about that, BUT the pond was shared with other swimmers not attached to the GCYAD, and there were some wiseacres in those bunches.
On THAT day at the first break Brian stood watching his charges.
Next thing he heard was “HELP!” “HELP!”
Brian looked out and saw a boy swimmer behind the rope.
He did not hesitate. He ran through the shallow water. Did a skip dive and swam quickly towards the boy in trouble. The kid was in a panic.
Brian did as he was taught in lifesaving class and did a surface dive underwater.He swam to the ankles of the panicked boy, reverse grabbed them and turned the boy so his back was to him. he then “climbed” up the boy’s back, cupped his chin and proceeded to bring him in with the carry.
Soon, one of the lifeguards was at his side and they brought the boy to shore and pumped him out.
Who can explain that day? Why? What caused it? Brian did not know but five more times that day he went out after a boy in trouble beyond the ropes.Three more times he performed the dive and turned the kid around to take him into shore.
One of the reasons may have been the teenage lifeguards, too busy chatting and not paying attention.
All he knows is that four times he reached the troubled swimmer first and a lifeguard (female) came out and helped him. Two times she got there first and he assisted. Six times in one day. Six!!!!!!
Mr. Durrett, the city recreation commissioner, came down. He was all positive praise for Brian and Vicky’s (the female lifeguard) efforts.
There was going to be a ceremony at City Hall. Brian and Vicky were going to be honored at City Hall! Newspapers! Lights! The whole kit and kaboodle for the two heroes!
Nothing ever happened!
A week later Brian had pretty much forgotten about it.
BUT, five years later he was shopping at The Center State Mall and he ran into Mr. Durrett, who he also knew as a football coach at one of the city high schools. They started to talk and Brian was reminded of the incident at the pond.
“Mr. Durrett. Do you remember that day at Gordon’s Pond when Vicky and I saved those six kids? You said there was going to be a ceremony, and medals and the like. Whatever happened to that?”
“The powers that be in Greenwood Cove contacted me and nixed it all,” Mr. Durrett said. “They thought it would make their program look bad.”
“That’s funny, ” Brian countered, “because I don’t think any of the kids we saved were from GC. They were all city kids. Maybe one was ours.”
“I didn’t think it was right either,” Mr. Durrett said, “but they insisted that it not be publicized. I felt bad about it.”
Brian thanked him anyway. For the thought.
Later on he gave it thought. He reminded himself that people are not always what they seem. People in power are more fragile than most people know. Every person has their own secret demons and people are always on guard to not show their weakness or their failings to others. Maybe, at times, they don’t want someone else stealing their thunder. Their light. Their show. They want the spotlight on them and do whatever it takes to keep it there.
Brian never pursued why. In his heart he knew why. Sad how some people are, he thought. Then he thought about what his mother might say.
“Do good, forget about it. Do bad, remember it. “
So he did.
Until 50 years later and thus the writing of this story.
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 remarkable stories.