Let the Games Begin 🏀 part 1

Thunder only happens when it’s raining. Players only love you when they’re playing.
~Fleetwood Mac – Dreams 1977

Dad was coaching in a huge high-school basketball game the night I was born in March of ’66, in Oshawa, Canada, the sixth of seven children. Dad was a Gym and French teacher hailing from a tiny northern company town.  He was a successful hockey player who would have had a career in the NHL but, alas, there wasn’t much prestige in it back in the 50s and he chose to be a family man instead.puck

My mother’s brother, Uncle Reid, and my dad were close friends and playing for the Barrie Colts’ Junior ‘A’ hockey team.  Uncle Reid was from a neighbouring company town.  Periodically they would go home together.  Both my mother and her sister, Do, vied for the attentions of my father who was quite the charming young man and who had a very good fashion sense.  They met and started dating.  Mom was Dad’s biggest fan.  She loved to cheer for him at his games.  It wasn’t long before they were married and my oldest sister, Eva was born.

just married

Hockey would always play a big part of our childhood lives.  There was the skating rink every winter in the back yard and there were the mandatory shots on net that Jobe, Mark and Matt would have to take before being allowed back indoors.  I can remember screaming in agony as my bright red toes thawed out after peeling off my too-tight, hand-me-down skates.

Then there were the times when my three big brothers would play hockey and would get me to play too.  One time Matt said to Mark that he would check me.  I didn’t realize until minutes later that checking someone involved a good deal of pain.  After that I never forgot it and still have flash backs when I watch professionals being rammed up against the boards.  Those childhood games usually ended with one or all of us bawling.

hockey

My earliest memories are of us living in a rented townhouse on Main Street West in Barrie.  Luke wasn’t born yet, so I would have been younger than three and a half and would have been the youngest of six then.  The townhouse complex was called The Willows and ours had two floors, three bedrooms and one bathroom.  Part of the time we were there, Mom and Dad slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room, while Amy and I slept in a double bed in one room, Eva had her own room and the three boys were in the large second bedroom.  In another configuration Eva was behind a screen in our parents’ room, Amy and I were in the tiny room and the three boys were in the big room.  The bathroom was busy a lot of the time, with so many family members.

It was then that Amy and I used to have fun sneaking around after the lights were out.  Actually, it was Amy who would challenge me to sneak downstairs, past the living room where Mom and Dad were reading or watching TV, to steal an (gasp!) orange out of the crisper.  I had no concept of the danger I was in if I were to be caught.  Food was strictly doled out in our house of many mouths to feed. Besides that, I was supposed to have been fast asleep by then.

When I would come back, Amy would be wide-eyed and relieved sitting on the bed waiting for me.  She loved to roll the orange around and even toss it at the wall to get it all soft and juicy.  Then she would take a bight of the peel from one end and we would squeeze all the juice out into our mouths until the orange was nothing but pulp.  The best part was next:  she would then split it open and we would sink our faces into the pulp until every last bit of the orange was devoured, and only the white and peel remained.  I loved sharing a room with my fourteen-year-old sister whom I affectionately called, Amy-Wee-Wee.

Going to bed was full of adventure and good-night stories and Amy would talk about how she was going to be a singer and guitar player when she got older.  She would often sing me a song in her beautifully soft, soothing voice.  She loved to sing, In the Ghetto by Elvis and or Billy Don’t Be a Hero by Paper Lace.

Mary Hat was Amy’s best girl-friend and she used to come over to our house quite a bit.  I would sit and listen and watch as they discussed boys and hair styles and length of mini-skirts.  Often, when Amy wasn’t watching, I would steal her nail-scissors, go out into the hallway, take a lock of my hair and snip it off.  I did this so often that one day, Amy noticed that my hair was much longer on one side than on the other and I had to confess to cutting it myself.  I was scolded, but, not very badly.

Amy was so sweet to me and spoiled me rotten.  We are now heading past middle age and we are still close siblings and friends with multiple calls, texts, messages per week.  It’s only when I receive an email rather than a phone call from Amy that I know I’m in trouble.  Too outspoken or too impatient with our brothers will get me that email…

Anyway, continue reading these childhood memories at Let The Games Begin, Part 2

(Thank you to Eva Player for the feature photo. Thank you to those on google images for the remaining photos.)

A & W Days

Four of my siblings work at the same fast food place. There are some bumps in the road but also a happy ending…

Part-time jobs were an absolute necessity in the my family. We each had one, early in life, and a paper route.  There never seemed to be enough money to go around…at one point in the 70s, my eldest brother Matt was the manager of the A&W fast food joint in Barrie, Canada. He would have been 17 at the time. While in that position, he managed to hire three of our siblings: Eva age 19, Amy 18 and Mark 14 (Mark lied about his age). So, four of us were working there and those were the days of delivery to the car window by waitresses in uniform. The tray would hang off the window and would be filled with the order of those in the car: root beer, burgers, fries, that kind of thing.

One time, Matt was working with Mark and with a friend, who is now deceased due to drugs, Byron Hedgeman. Hedgeman had been cleaning the stainless steel counters with a mixture of bleach and water when a bus pulled up and there was a massive order placed. Everyone was working madly to fill the order. Sadly, the javex and water combination got wiped up in a rather cavalier way. Then, Matt slid a burger to Hedgeman who put it in the bun and the burger must have gone through the javex. The next day a man came into the front of the A&W and this man’s face was green. He had ‘bags under bags under bags’ beneath his eyes (My brother Matt tells this story and his huge sausage fingers come up to form the semi-circle under each of his eyes indicating just how sick and tired the customer appeared to be — whenever Matt does this we roll laughing because of his sausages and because of the unfortunate look on his face).

The man then tells Matt that he was deathly sick, throwing up all night, after eating the burger from A&W. Matt looks at Hedgeman and they are sure of what must have happened to this man’s burger. The javex! Matt offers the guy a couple of coupons for free burgers. The man looks at Matt and says: are you kidding? I will NEVER eat in this effing place again!! 

One very good thing came of the A&W days…Matt met June and they have been happily married since June was 19 and Matt was 20. They have two adult children and four, grandchildren.

A little while after meeting and falling in love with June, it became apparent that Dad did not approve of the relationship. Matt would spend hours talking to June on the phone. He had a basement bedroom in our family bungalow on Pearl Street in Barrie. Matt was serious about his phone calling so he got himself his own extension phone, a trick we all thought was quite outstanding because at the time, teens NEVER had their own phone.

In his day, Dad had been a very skilled hockey player and that was before the players wore helmets.  His nose was broken a handful of times and was nearly flattened to his face because of it.  Dad lived for hockey and he had an ambition to produce another serious player from one of his four sons. To that end, Dad and Mom would make us a back-yard rink every winter and Dad would force the boys to take a hundred shots a day. Of course there would always be broken kitchen windows and neighbours’ windows too, sometimes. Almost all of us could skate, holding a chair, before we could walk.  Luke was quite little but he managed to memorize hockey stats and NHL teams and rosters.  It was impressive. How’s that for true Canadians, eh? So, Matt had been doing well with his hockey. Dad bought him a new pair of CCM Super Tacks skates.

SUPERTACKS

These would have been very expensive on a teacher’s salary who has seven children. Whenever these skates were spoken of, a hush would fall over the room. They were absolutely the ticket to the NHL. They were the very best skates to own back then.

Dad, not approving of Matt and June’s relationship, sat Matt down one day and said he wanted him to move out. Matt was 17. Matt asked why. Dad said Matt was a bad influence on the other children. He then took back the skates. Matt asked why he would do that. Dad said he knew Matt wasn’t seriously into hockey if he was going to take up with a girl. Matt said it was crazy to take them back but, Dad did anyway. He took them back and put them in a well-known hiding place: under the head of his bed. Matt found them a few days later and took them back.

So Matt and June found a small apartment in a really old house in downtown Barrie. They paid $70 per month rent and Matt was making that much in one week at A&W. Matt could see that he would be needing to do something more lucrative in order to live a more comfortable life. While living in that first apartment, Matt had a pair of leather shoes, just one pair. He would wear them to work. Soon, the sole started to come unattached from one of the shoes. Always a quick problem solver, Matt found a thumb tack to hold his shoe together so he could still wear them to work. One day, he couldn’t find this all-important tack for his shoe. He was running around with his shoe sole flapping yelling,  ‘June, help me find my tack!! I’m gonna be late!’  He finally found the tack and got off to work just in time.

Matt went on to get his papers in Electrical Contracting. He worked for decades in downtown Toronto and all over the city in commercial Electricity making a very good living. He worked hard and he always had lots of work. June managed the business office and, in so doing, had the flexibility to be home to raise their two children. Sam was a honeymoon baby and ended up playing in the show (yes, the NHL – Dad got his wish but one generation removed). Sam now does commentating and consulting. Sally is a restaurateur and city counselor for her city. All this wonderful success happened due to the A&W days.

And here they are now. Such a wonderful couple who are the best of friends.