By Bruce Mastracchio
“They” rush you through your life.
Christmas now starts in August. They skip Thanksgiving and have carols playing in November. It’s still January and they are promoting Valentine’s Day. February and they’ve got St. Patrick’s green decorating every nook and cranny.
How do you know it’s March? That’s when the Easter Bunny appears all over the place. Sometimes I wish they’d just bury me now and get it over with. They have your funeral planned before you die anyway. Ever see how the town undertaker looks at you in church? Or when he greets you at a function? He’s sizing you up for that $4,000 casket.
I mean, they don’t even let you breathe. And, the kids. The kids don’t get the chance to “be” kids. They are circumsized, scrutinized and organized and adults at 4, á la Jon Benet or Honey BooBoo or that Tiger kid.
It’s birth, a quick look at life and WHOOSH, they have you at your own funeral.
That’s what I liked about old East Greenwich. They let you live a little, and weren’t in such a hurry to rush you through your life.
Even the cops weren’t as stringent back then. They knew who they were dealing with and weren’t in such a hurry to fingerprint you. I guess that’s how “the boys” got away with the funeral. The funeral of Sam Shanty. Imagine if you tried something like that today. They’d have you up on all kinds of charges. Breaking and entering, destruction of property, and, who knows what else? In this case they might have even thrown in kidnapping! Back then it was a practical joke that elicited a lot of laughs, and lived on in the telling and retelling of the stories of town lore for a long, long time.
Again, this story is true. It really happened right here in lil’ ol’ E.G. The names haven’t been changed too much as there was no real guilt here, BUT not much innocence either. Anyone who grew up here in the 30s, 40s or 50s can probably tell you who the culprits were, or maybe not, as no one could ever figure out who The Hawkman was. For those of you who grew up elsewhere, use your vivid imaginations, or consult your smartphones.
Most all the perpetrators are dead now, as this story happened long, long ago, in another time. A slower time.
Sam Shanty had a bit of a drinking problem. Still, he was a likeable soul. He lived in what was the old shanty town, that started at the bend of Crompton Road (where the sewage treatment plant is now) and stretched down the hill to the waters of the cove.
He made ends meet by doing odd jobs and such. He always had a little money, just not much. He also had a weakness, and that weakness, is what got him into the trouble of this tale. It allowed him to attend his own funeral. It was something he never forgot. No one who witnessed it, or heard of it, ever forgot either!
Pard and his boys were your typical small town cronies. They hung around together, mostly around the local fire station, where they all served as volunteers. They often had plenty of time on their hands, and, as my little old Italian Grandmother used to say, “The devil finds plenty of trouble for idle hands.” Or something like that.
Anyway, the thing that Pard and his boys did most of was think up practical jokes to pull. On this particular day, in this particular year, their practical joke was going to spell trouble for Sam Shanty.
It was summertime. A nice, easy time of year in a small town. Sam had finished work for the day and gone to the liquor store to purchase a bottle of the “demon rum” as he liked to call it. Then he went to the courthouse steps (now the steps of the Town Hall at the top of King Street), sat down and started to swig away at his liquid refreshment.
After sitting there for a while, he decided to go down to the fire station and “shoot the bull” with “the boys.” He had finished about half the bottle before he got there, and after being at the station, and talking and sipping, he soon finished the whole thing.
It wasn’t long before he fell asleep. It was just the moment the boys were waiting for! If it weren’t Sam, it would have been some other hapless soul.
But the scenario presented itself and it just happened to be Sam Shanty in the starring role.
Across the street from the fire station on Main Street was the Hill Funeral Home (it has gone from a funeral home to a coffeehouse, to a dance studio to offices). In those days there was not a lot of need to lock up your homes or businesses, either day or night, and as usual, Mr. Hill, the undertaker, had left his doors unlocked with screen doors in place to keep the flies out. Unfortunately, he was not there. Pard and the boys knew that.
They gently lifted the sleeping form of Sam Shanty, who, by this time, was passed out, and under enough so that he did not stir. They then proceeded to carry his inert body across the street and right into the funeral home. They laid him out on the marble table in the viewing room. Pard went and got some flowers and candles, and he and the boys decorated the area around Sam’s body just like it was real funeral. Sam slept through the whole thing.
Then Pard and the boys lit the candles and put one at each corner of the marble coffin pad. They then shut off the room lights and went and hid behind the chairs, where the mourners would usually sit while viewing a real funeral.
It wasn’t a long wait. Sam started to stir. At the first movements by Sam, the boys started to make, low, ghostly moaning sounds from their hiding places behind the chairs.
Whooooooooo. Whaaaaaaahh. Moooooowaaaahh. Aaaaaaaaroooooooooooo.
Sam opened his eyes. He sat bolt upright! He looked around the room. He looked at the candles. The flowers, The marble bed. The darkness. He let out an ungodly scream!
He jumped off the marble rest, throwing the flowers that the boys had so lovingly placed in his hands. He ran through the viewing room. He ran right through the screen door that opened in. Only he was heading out. He knocked it flat. Blew it right off its hinges!
He hit the sidewalk running and sprinted right out of sight. Right out of town.
He wasn’t seen around East Greenwich again for at least a week or two.
Pard and his boys had their practical joke. Sam Shanty had his “funeral” and the scare of his life.
Frank Hill had to get a new door.
“They” rush you through your life…. “They” don’t let you breathe…. It’s a big whoosh from your birth to your funeral…. Back in old EG, things went a little slower for most people. Except for the day they held an early funeral for Sam Shanty…
That’s about it for this time. But, don’t fret. There’s more to come.
Meanwhile, be real careful out there and try to live In The Spirit.
Author’s Note: The Pard of the story was Gaeton “Guy” Mastracchio, also called Pardo after his father, my grandfather. GM, my Dad, was a very creative, innovative, artistic individual to whom I owe much for many of the same gifts. He loved practical jokes. Had he lived he would have been 110 this week. He didn’t even make it to half of that….