I remember as a kid trying to play street hockey on those cold winter days in Ottawa. I use the term “try” because I was never good at it. In fact, I was awful and was only ever chosen to even out a team.
There was no goalie stick (who could afford a goalie stick!). We used an ordinary hockey stick to protect the goal - measured between two lumps of grey ice dug from a frozen snowbank.
Scrunched up newspaper or a *Liberty* magazine were tucked into knee-high socks worn over breeks as pads and the puck was a chunk of ice or a donation made to the game by a horse that had passed by earlier. A horse pulled the ice wagon that supplied our iceboxes. So too was the bakery wagon and the milk wagon and the trash collector’s wagon - almost the end of an era, but not quite.
A hockey stick (owning one, I mean) was a prize above all prizes. We’d tape the blade (or our dad would) with black electrical tape, then tap, tap, tap it on the icy street to make sure the tape held.
Street hockey didn’t demand skates. Footwear would do, mostly rubber boots with two or three pairs of socks underneath. It was usually all our parents could afford. We’d fold over the tops to make them look like pirate boots. If “cool” had been an expression then, we would have thought of ourselves as “cool!”
When not being used, the hockey stick was stored in the vestibule. A young person asked me recently what a vestibule was. I tried to explain that it took two doors to get into your home in the days of horse-drawn wagons. He looked at me sadly, shook his head and walked away mumbling something about senility. The young don’t always believe there was a “yesterday” - at least before colour television.
Anyway, the hockey stick was a treasure to young males in the forties. My elder brother was the actual owner of the stick. Now and then, he would let me use it, but in the beginning, it was far too big for me.
As mentioned, I didn’t play too often. Occasionally, me and another misfit kid were used as goalposts. That was the longest I ever played in any game.
A hockey stick was like an article of clothing worn by your big brother. It was a hand-me-down. The hockey stick had to last. Ours lasted. Right down until, instead of a blade, there was a pointed tooth on the end.
But that wasn’t the end of it (no pun intended). Then it became a summer thing instead of a winter thing. It changed reality into fantasy. It became a make-believe rifle for any war game or cowboy game a nine or 10 year old could imagine.
Oh, it was grand, that old hockey stick! A friend that could take all kinds of abuse and still last to bring untold hours of joy.
When it was worn down, our parents didn’t rush out to buy a new one. It had to do. Not just for one, but for two and often three kids.
My grandsons play hockey today. Not on frozen streets or open-air rinks. They play in arenas with helmets, masks, jerseys and pads, state-of-the-art skates and, of all things, state-of-the-art hockey sticks!
What it costs to deck out a kid for the hockey season now is equivalent to what my parents tried to save towards the full price of a house!
Well, it’s all relative, I guess. At least that’s what I’m told. But in those days, the years were lean. They were war years and trying to understand peace years. Years in which one had to learn to make do.
It’s hard to believe that era really existed. There’s no longer a hockey stick worn down to a tooth or taping and re-taping it to make you feel like Rocket Richard. No reminder that to struggle made life seem more real.
But there is the memory. And sometimes, when I think it was all just a dream, I remember an old hockey stick and how it was worn down to a tooth. A hand-me-down, even in memory.
OCTOBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
OCTOBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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