Friends who morph into family relations are a lifetime gift. This story was told by my Uncle Jack, who started out as a boyhood friend of my dad. He became Uncle when he married Dad’s cousin, Marcia, but the brotherhood bond was forged long before the wedding. They shared the pursuit of fun well into their senior years.
I first met Bill in the mid to late 1940s. My summers were happily spent at The Bungalow, a small cottage in the Copiague Long Island American Venice neighborhood. Multiple family members shared the house, just like most of the neighborhood cottages, including the Truglio’s down the street. American Venice had a labyrinth of canals that led out to the Great South Bay. Small boats that could fit under the low road bridges lined the canals. Us city kids learn to drive a boat long before we had access to the car keys.
When I was eleven, my father bought me a new 3.5 horsepower outboard motor to go on a little boat. My friend Peter Blair had a new tippy boat with an outboard. But Peter’s older brother, Dick, could use the family’s Century, a beautiful mahogany boat with speed. Dick cruised the canals and raced about the bay with his friends, Frank and Bill Truglio. Cowboy was another friend who occasionally joined The Gang. He owned a sailboat—one of the first sailboats I had ever seen on the Great South Bay. Cowboy was memorable because one time, he towed Bill back to the canal with his sailboat!
Frank and Bill were cousins and were two to three years older than Peter and I. Being the tag along kids to this group of boys made all the difference in the world. Frank and Bill cobbled boats and small outboard engines together. All the boys had boats, and I was right in the middle of the fun and adventures.
A few years later, I got a fast little racing boat and spent most of my time zipping around the bay. One day, I saw Bill’s boat anchored on the bay. Two girls were sitting in the boat. As I got close, I saw Bill was diving under the boat. I pulled up next to his boat and found out that his propeller had come off the shaft. He was trying to find it! This was not the first or last time Bill lost a propeller.
As time went on, I became very close friends with Katie, Bill’s sister, Ursula and other Truglio friends and cousins. I spent a lot of time at Katie’s house. Since I was an only child, Katie adopted me as her brother and by default, I became Bill’s brother as well. Soon, Phil (Katie’s boyfriend who became her husband) and eventually Diana (Bill’s girl, who became his wife) joined the pack. The gang grew into this wonderful group of kids, creating their fun together. Boats always had a role.
When my father bought a Higgins speedboat, water skiing became our sport. We double skied and triple skied on wide wooden skis, and double skied with the girls on our shoulders, trying to knock each other off. It was great fun.
There was a ski school that held classes on the bay in front of American Venice.They kept a ski ramp anchored. We had no intention of paying to use the ramp, so we went out in the morning before they opened. The bay was calm and flat, perfect for ski jumping. No one knew that the wax on the ramp needed to be wet. Bill was, of course, the first one to try the jump. I drove the boat full speed and positioned him perfectly in front of the ramp. He started up the ramp, but his skis stuck to the dry wax. Bill was pulled out of the skis and flew high over the ramp! He landed in the water behind the ramp, slightly dazed.
For years our relationships centered around the Higgins. Our time in the summer was spent skiing, going to the beach at the Cove or Sore Thumb. We clammed with our feet and trapped crabs. A lot of time was spent keeping the boat running. We learned to fiberglass the deck and hull. Michael and Marcia now joined our crew.
As The Gang matured, our activities expanded. Weddings and birth celebrations filled our calendars. All of us had boats. We added fishing to our pursuits. For as long as I had known Bill, he suffered from “mal de mer”—seasickness. However, it never stood in his way. He was always the last one to say it was time to get back to shore.
Bill and my father had a special relationship, much like a father and son. When I moved to Maryland, and my father moved from the city to the Long Island bungalow permanently, their relationship gratefully grew closer. Bill would regularly check in on my parents, and my parents would visit Bill and Diana. Frequently “Uncle Tom and Aunt Jo” would baby-sit, and they spent many Sunday afternoons with the family. Bill had a way of forging friendships with many people, but my dad and mom were truly family to Bill and Diana.
In 1978, The Gang entered a new chapter—Virgin Island sailing!! Bill and I both bought boats that were in charter. We could use the boats for 10 days each winter season.That gave us an appetite for the Caribbean sailing life. After ten years of charter, we decided we wanted more. In 1992 we formed a “family” partnership with the Good News, a 41 foot ketch-rig Morgan, that now included cousin Frank. We expanded our sailing further in the Caribbean for real ocean sailing. We had great trips, and infected out children and grandchildren with the love of family on boats. We were so blessed.
These days, Bill and Katie are sorely missed. I have their stories and my memories of the love and fun we had together.
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