As has been stated before and was general knowledge back in the day, many people in the state, and maybe even more in Greenwood Cove, hardly, if ever, left their familiar stomping grounds. People preferred to stay around their homes, their neighborhoods, their towns. Many never went outside their town and even more never went outside the state!
Brian had a different view. Some of it due to history, or genes, as his father was a traveler way back in the day, and working for Collette Tours frequently went to Florida and other distant places. Some due to tragedy.
He had taken a flight across country back when he was 12! After the death of his father, Brian was sent out to California to spend the summer with his father’s sister and her husband, a very successful businessman, who was vice president of a big West Coast company.
The trip was a big eye-opener for Brian, who saw things he had never seen before and he would never have seen in the confines of Greenwood Cove. He flew in a prop-driven airplane for 3,000 miles out and back. He ate on china, with silverware, and had choices of lobster and filet mignon to dine on.
He met the World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion (Lou Thesz) and, thanks to his uncle and aunt was exposed to movies stars (Rose Marie, Audie Murphy), went to Pacific League Coast League baseball games, visited Tijuana, and saw the North-South California High School All Star game played at the Los Angeles Coliseum before 92,000 people. He had never seen such sights but that summer exposed him to many of the possibilities in this life.
Most important. He never forgot.
He saw that travel was broadening and eye opening and from then on was not afraid to get out of his comfort zone and explore new things, meet new people, experience new adventures.
After college, Brian started teaching, did a two-year stint in the service, and then went back to teaching. However, duty interrupted again and he was asked to come back for another military stint. He went and thus sets up this story, where he runs into a young boy, a boy named Eddie Peepuls.
Brian was stationed at a Naval Air Station in Florida. On Saturdays after his work week was over he liked to go down to the nearby town and explore their quaint stores and gift shops.
There was one little mall he particularly liked to frequent.
One day as he was perusing the shops he heard a young voice say, “Mister, can I shine your shoes?”
Brian, who had on low-cut black sneakers answered, “Would like to oblige you but these are sneakers. And, it’s Lieutenant. Lieutenant McCormack.”
Anyway, Brian engaged the boy (turned out to be only 12 years old) in conversation and learned a bit about him and the area where he was stationed. The boy’s name was Eddie Peepuls. At the conclusion to their first meeting Brian had the youngster clean up his sneakers and gave him a dollar.
“See you next week,” he said upon leaving. “Yeah, see you,” answered Eddie Peepuls.
The next week was very much like the first, they greeted each other, they talked. Only this time Brian bought lunch. As they chowed down on hotdogs and fries with a soda, Brian asked Eddie about his life, his hopes, his dreams. It went on like that for pretty much the rest of the summer.
Then one weekend the area was experiencing a heavy downpour. Brian got to the little mall a bit late and found Eddie packing up his shoe shine equipment.
“Quitting early, Eddie?” Brian said.
“Sure am, Lieutenant, got to get home.”
“You’re not going to walk out in that pouring rain, I hope,” Brian countered.
“Not much choice,” said Eddie.
“I’ll take you home. Let’s go to my car and I’ll drive you home.”
They got into Brian’s ’67 white VW bug and Eddie proceeded to give directions to his home. It was on the outskirts of the city and when they pulled up to Eddie’s house it was no more than a frame with boards hammered on so haphazardly that you could see between them from one side of the house to the other. Only the roof seemed to be fairly sturdy, so at least rain was not pouring in from above. Still, any side wind would surely wet some parts of the inside of the house.
Brian didn’t know exactly what to say.
“Gee, Eddie, looks like you got some problems,” he sputtered.
“Lieutenant, everybody’s got problems,” answered Eddie, as he exited the Volkswagon
Out of the mouths of babes, thought Brian. Eddie may have been only 12 but circumstances had given him an adult view of the world.
Brian took a last look at the ramshackle shanty houses. They reminded him of the shanty town down by the water in Greenwood Cove. Same story. Different channel.
Brian’s time at the Naval Station was coming to an end and though he still made a few more trips to the mall before he left, there was no shoe shine station set up in its familiar place, and no shoe shine boy.
He never saw Eddie Peepuls again.
BUT … Eddie Peepul’s words have never left him to this day.
“Lieutenant, everybody’s got problems.”
And you know something, out of the mouths of babes. As I look around today, his words are as true as they were back then in 1967. Everybody has problems. From the president on down.
The rich. The poor. No one escapes them.
My mother used to say, “At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”
Regardless of your station in life, nobody escapes problems and definitely not the Final Problem.
Like I said, I often think of Eddie Peepuls. I hope he escaped his circumstances and went
on to some kind of success in this life. It didn’t look likely, BUT, all things are possible in this life and in this country. That’s what makes this country so great and why so many want to come here.
Eddie, wherever you are, thank you for the lesson. I hope you had a great life, problems or not. Like you said, “Everybody has problems.”
It’s how you handle them that makes the difference.
– The Lieutenant
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.