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.
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.
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.
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.)