Growing up in Cumberland, RI, I lived in a wonderful neighborhood. I have written about Broadview Acres before, but a memory spark brought back another story. While this is not specifically about the neighborhood—more about the fanciful flights of a young boy’s imagination—it never would have happened without the efforts of a kind and generous Cumberland neighbor.
At the risk of massacring his name, a gentleman by the name of Donat Fregeole lived directly across the street from me on Harriet Lane. I cut his grass—a push mower and hand clippers to start later upgraded to a power mower, but still the hand clippers for trimming—for the princely sum of $5.00 per week.
Mr. Fregeole, who seemed ancient to me (likely 45 or 50 years old), was one of those guys who could build anything. In his backyard, he had an antenna hooked up to a shortwave radio. I’d never heard it turned on, but I would admire it when putting away the yard tools.
One day, he called me over to his house and gave me a shortwave radio he had built from scratch. To me, this was one fantastic gift.
I ran home, bounded up to my second-floor bedroom, hung precariously (and away from my mother’s line of sight) out the window to attach one part of the wire antenna, ran back down to drag the wire to a nearby tree (without a grounding wire, of course) and then back up to my room to fire up the radio.
I would listen for hours to what was most likely the static screeches and transmissions of all sorts of radio transmitters and imagine them to be alien transmissions from elsewhere in the galaxy.
Occasionally, I would tune into voices. Foreign-sounding languages communicating messages I had no hope of understanding. Using all the logic that a nine-year-old could muster, I concluded they must have been Russian spies.
And, being unfamiliar with radio wave propagation, and since this was a “short” wave radio, I knew they must be close by.
It couldn’t be Mr. Fregeole. Why would he give me a radio capable of intercepting spies if he was the spy? But several other neighbors came under immediate suspicion, and I would look for any signs of Russian connections whenever I walked by the houses.
Why there would be Russian spies in Cumberland, Rhode Island, in 1965-1966 never entered my mind. This was the middle of the cold war, and of course, they were here.
On another occasion, while scanning the waves for other enemies of the United States of America, I found the frequency of a local TV station. For some reason or other, this thrilled me beyond belief. Listening to a TV station! This was magical beyond comprehension. That I could go downstairs and watch the same TV station never occurred to me.
I could listen to TV stations, Russian spies, and alien civilizations in my room on my shortwave radio, and nothing would ever beat that.
I wonder if Mr. Fregeole ever realized that his simple act of giving a young boy a shortwave radio would spark amazing adventures in my mind far beyond Cumberland, RI . Or how I would remember fondly such an act of generosity almost sixty years later.
Thanks, Mr. Fregeole; I hope you are wandering all through that galaxy you brought into my room all those years ago. And there is one other important point. During the entire time I kept the Russians under surveillance, there was not once successful attack on American soil.