Thursday, December 30, 2010

It wasn’t all blowing stuff up and mail order pistols.

A lot of it was just simply the water. I grew up close to a pair of unpolluted rivers and only a couple of miles from the beach.

In addition to this, there were a couple of pretty good ponds between my house and the river and the river was between my house and the beach.

My mother was a creature of the sea who loved the water. During season, she spent most afternoons at the beach with whichever of the 5 of us was deemed not old enough to be left alone. As a small child, I spent a lot of time at the beach.

During winter storms, we would both go to the sea to watch nature and all her fury. The both of us always got out of the car and stood there in the rain or the snow and walked the edge of the beach in awe and wonderment of the boisterous side of King Neptune.

She had earned sailing merit badge or whatever it is called as a Girl Scout and in the mid 80s a few years after Dad died she spent almost a week with me on my 25 foot sailboat being a bum of sorts. She took to it like a duck took to water, and spoke proudly of the time she had to anyone who would listen until Alzheimer’s tore her up.

Even then, the subject would come up. I guess it was one of the last things she forgot.

I guess I got my affinity for the water and eventually a career from her.

It was sometime around ’66 when I was considered Lord and Master of Rocky point, about a mile away from my house.

Rocky point was a little more than a mile inland from where the pair of rivers converged and entered the sea. There at one time had been a bridge from a long discarded railroad that had been torn down, but maybe 40 feet of it was still there and it was a place where a lot of people would fish and I would dive off of.

It was a pretty neat pace and you could expect to find someone fishing there at any hour, but it was seldom if ever crowded.

A friend of mine commented once that you’d never find an asshole fishing at Rocky Point at three AM.  He was right.

Most of the late night fishermen were there simply to think or mull things over and the fishing rod was just an excuse to go there. Over the years I would see countless men standing on the bridge just looking out seaward and smoking, deep in thought.

Jerks never fared well there as the kids would run them off pretty quickly. A man in his thirties or forties was really no match for a thirteen year old kid that swam well enough to give a codfish a run for his money.

I recall running one such dolt off. He was one of those people that was probably a wife and kid beater that thought he could get away with what he pulled at home.

He told me to do something that he really had no right to and I politely refused.  He called me up and gave me a pretty good dressing down while holding me by my shirt.

The minute he grabbed my shirt I knew that his dance card was filled up and I was going to have the last waltz.

I contritely went and ran his errand and politely put his tackle box down next to him. He growled,” That’s more like it.” When he turned and faced the railing, I simply picked up both of his feet and sent him tumbling into the drink and threw his pole and tackle box in after him.

He couldn’t swim very well and it was rather humorous watching him work his way piling to piling to get ashore. When he got ashore, he came up on the bridge and I feigned cowering fearfully until he was almost within arms reach and then I simply dove off the bridge and swam across the river.

While I had been going to run his stupid little errand, my pal had kicked the spare on his pickup to make sure it held air and then removed the valve stem from one of his tires. That way he would have a tire to change, yet because his spare was OK, he would leave after he changed the tire.

He never returned, of course.

The guy that unscrewed the valve stem later served as a medic in an airborne unit in Vietnam and later earned a PhD in genetic engineering.

A lobsterman, whom I later pulled gear for had witnessed the entire thing and when he was done with what he was doing (having watched me the entire half-hour he was working on his gear) came up to me and told me he was going to call my dad, but not to worry. The jerk had it coming.

I later figured that the lobsterman had been watching me carefully to make sure I wasn’t going through a punk kid phase and when he saw I wasn’t he went to bat for me.

That night as we were finishing dinner, the phone rang and as the voice on the other end spoke, and my father looked at me as he spoke, yet turned to chuckle, then returning to look at me. When he was through, he looked at me and paused for quite some time before he spoke.

“Next time someone lays a hand on you, you tell me and I’ll knock his jock off,” he said. “What you did is my responsibility and not yours.”

My mother asked what was going on and my father said, “Never mind.”

Later that night my father signaled me to the cellar and suppressing a smirk asked for all the details. Apparently he knew who I had given swimming lessons to because the lobsterman had told him.

He called the jerk up and told him that he had gotten off rather light. He said that had I come home and reported the confrontation that he would have gotten it a whole lot worse from him.

We were raised to be polite, but never to allow anyone to abuse us. That jerk had crossed the line.

While I had been spanked or cuffed by a neighbor or two before, this was entirely different. The man had abused me. The neighbors, on the other hand, had been looking out for me and it wasn’t abuse at all. Under those circumstances I simply took my medicine and shut up about it and prayed the neighbor in question didn’t call my parents lest I pay twice for the same deed when I got home.

A couple of weeks later I was at the Point when a station wagon pulled up and a Navy petty officer and four guys I knew that had graduated from high school got out. The wagon was followed by a pair of sailors in a pickup with an eight-foot pram.

The four guys were getting ready to enlist and were going to try out for UDT duty. The SEAL program wasn’t quite up and running yet, at least not at full steam, yet Underwater Demolition Team duty was open.

Seems the four were there to take an informal swim test.

It was figured by the petty officer that if they could swim from the point to the Highway Bridge and back they were good to go.

I told him I could do that easily and he scowled at me and told me I was too young. The man obviously wasn’t yet a father, as he had just unknowingly issued a challenge, although not much of one. I did that regularly, it was easier to swim to the bridge than walk to it. Or at least for me it was.

I patiently waited until the test got started and dove in and caught up to them quickly. I changed course and using the back eddies and the bends so as not to fight the current beat the boat which was now carrying one of the two that had washed out. When the boat was about 150 yards away, the other guy gave up and I continued, touched the bridge and rode the center of the river (and the current) back to the point.

I think I tied the boat in returning.

I treaded water and waited for the other two and the whole picture repeated itself. I had just taken the informal UDT swim test twice, back to back and had passed it. The petty officer looked a little embarrassed. The four guys looked ashamed.

I guess one of the guys gave the sailor my name and address because for the next decade we had our PO Box stuffed with Navy recruiting literature. Its part of the reason I later joined the army.

A few weeks later, I saw the Navy guy again, along with 2 more recent High School graduates. One of them was a pretty good guy that treated younger people with respect.  I liked him, so I took him aside and told him to swim with me instead of follow the boat.

He passed, and later made it through the UDT School. He’s retired now. After he got out of the Navy he went back to school on his GI bill and did well for himself. He later bought a house in my neighborhood and every time he met my mother at the post office, he would ask about me until we moved her out to the retirement villa.

I wasn’t much of a student, my sister was and one day she grew a little too cocky over dinner. My father intervened by reaching over the table and taking our plates away.

He ordered us both into the bathroom and weighed both of us and told us both we were not to come home for three days and no mooching food from the neighbors. He gave my sister a knife and a few odds and ends and told me to grab mine and beat it. I took off like a shot, grinning ear to ear.

My sister cried her way back into the house a few hours later, I wasn’t to be found and my mother grew worried.

Dad wasn’t.

Three days later, I reported in and when my mother started carrying on, my father sternly ordered me to weigh in.

He looked at my mother and triumphantly announced I had gained a pound.

My sister never rubbed my nose in the dirt again.

The Point had everything a guy needed. The river was full of fish; there were clams to be dug, lobster to be had
Simply for going for a boat ride and pulling gear for local lobsterman. I could trade clams I sold and always kept the neighbors fed in return for either steak or a couple bucks.

 When I reached age, I dug clams commercially and made $72 a week back minimum wage was $1.25/hour and paid $50 a week. It was fun work.

About two or three years ago I went back and visited the Point. The bridge I used to fish and dive off of was torn down, the dock wasn’t the same, and parts had silted and parts had washed a little deeper. My eye missed little. The shack across the river was still there, same as ever.

An old man came by walking a dog, obviously a local. I looked carefully and recognized him. Last time I had seen him he was about thirty-five. I hadn’t seen him in as many years. He was young and now he was old.

I looked at him and grinned. “Thirty-five years ago, this place was mine,” I said to him.

“Oh,” he said. “You must have known Piccolo and his kid brother! Why, those two were in the water St. Patrick’s Day and never got out until Thanksgiving!”

“I do know them both,” I replied, evenly.

“I wonder what ever happened to those two?” he asked.

“The brother has a heating and air conditioning business,” I said. “Remember how Piccolo said he was going to run away to sea with the Merchant Marines and become a hero with a chest full of medals? Well, he did. He’s Captain Piccolo now.”

He looked curiously at me and his face lit up as he recognized me. I remembered he was an old school New England character with a pretty sharp wit. I wondered if he still had it.

“That damned Piccolo always had a dry sense of humor. He was never known for being bashful.” he said. “How are you doing, Pic?”

In many ways, the Point hasn’t changed a bit.

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