Well here we go, I finally get to tell a story that starts “When I was a kid.”
When I was a kid, I lived on Redbank Crescent in Oakville that was filled with kids my age. There were so many young children on our street, that parents sent the kids out of the house for the day to help keep their sanity in the house. This strategy allowed all the kids to define what fun looked like. Hide and Seek, Tag and eating other mother’s cookies filled that definition for most of the day. Mothers would yell “Supper” and all the fun would stop. Some families called it dinner, but stilled yelled “Supper” because that word seemed to travel farther. I think it was the “S” sound that seemed to have the capability of traveling at least two blocks.
As the boys in the neighbourhood grew older, Hide and Seek and Tag, were no longer satisfying the definition of fun. Families started purchasing black and white televisions and the young boys started watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. Bill Hewitt and Brian McFarlane broadcasts, inspired the local kids to play hockey. Most families couldn’t afford to join actual leagues, but we did live on a road. We quickly learned that a road could host a hockey game. You didn’t need skates, you didn’t need equipment, you only needed a stick, a ball and running shoes. We bought hockey sticks, we stole our parents tennis balls, and since most of the boys had lucrative shoe contracts with PF Flyers, we were all ready to adapt this game to our crescent.
The game started without nets. Two big stones, two gloves that were supposed to be worn in the cold, or two pop cans were used to indicate the boundaries of each teams goal. Arguments about unequal sizing of the width of the net were regular disputes after every goal. I don’t ever recall any goalie ever actually having a goalie stick, but I may be wrong with my memory of that luxury item for our games.
As Christmases passed, some boys acquired small little red framed mesh goalie nets, and those boys were always invited to play. Each game forced us to establish rules to ensure the integrity of our daily road hockey game was maintained. No shooting from the stones was the first rule. Yelling “Car” immediately stopped the action, as kids getting run over by vehicles always put a damper in the joy of the game. When the mothers got on the verandas and yelled “Supper” we would immediately invoke another rule. Because the current score was 115 to 109, we would all declare the next goal wins.
Yelling “Car” was the most annoying of our rules. Every three minutes some unmannerly parent, who seemed determined to get home for a meal with their family, interrupted the flow of a two hour road hockey game. There was one exception to this “Car” disturbance. Every street has a very pretty lady who all the boys dreamed of marrying. Our pretty lady drove a green car. When that car came down the road, we purposely were slow in moving the nets to the side of the road. All the young boys hoped she would make eye contact with them, receive her beautiful smile, fantasize for just a moment and then the game would restart.
It was not all fun and games with our daily hockey ritual. Hockey sticks would be ruined, as the thin wooden blades could not survive the constant slapping on unforgiving asphalt. Goalie nets would eventually acquire little holes in the mesh, which caused regular arguments of allowed goals. Our street could not afford to hire goal judges at the time.
Every so often a father of the kids would join in the fun. The mother would stare out the front window shaking her head in disbelief as the man was struggling to let go of his youth. The adult male always wanted to show the children how hard his slap shot was. This would be the first time a young lad would learn the value of a cup in a reinforced jock strap
The popularity of this game forced leagues to erupt all over the country, but it wasn’t the same. Ball hockey is not road hockey. There are not a lot of absolutes that I believe in, but one of them is, if you are going to adapt a game called “road hockey” to a new, improved version, the first requirement should be is that game must be played on a road.
Children were scolded if they didn’t let the other younger, less sporty kids join in. All the parents in the neighbourhood would teach the children to simply “let others play”. That conversation only happened once, because we only had to be told once if we were behaving badly.
This lesson was tested most severely when one of the neighborhood boys had a male cousin visiting for the day. Mark Downie, who lived at the very end of the street had his cousin visiting. Mark’s parents were teachers, so were always nice to him. We were nice to him because we believed all the teachers talked about the students on their streets, and we didn’t want to get a bad reputation from the adults who gave out the grades on our report cards. So we allowed that stranger to play in our road hockey game… but he had to play goalie. That was always the initiation rule to the street road hockey game. Years later we learned that cousin was Gord Downie.
We let him play because that is what kids do. We were young and had yet to learn the sophisticated terms like tolerance, transparency, decency, integrity, inclusiveness, or even democracy. We were just snotty faced boys who had learned from each parent that you must let everybody play.
Fast forward to this week, and I get the feeling that The Tragically Hip also let Gord play, because they were just decent guys who let others, who might even appear a little different or strange, join in the fun. Or maybe their parents forced the other musicians to let him in the band. I am not sure what the proper word is, to define a child’s innate tolerance of all other children. I am not sure what the right word is to capture the importance of parents having a corrective conversation with their children, when they are not behaving well. I am not sure what the right word is to describe the way Gord Downie handled his imposed short life sentence. I do believe that the cowardly lion and most Canadians would agree “Courage”, is pretty close.
Cue the Blong: A State of Mind is aspirational, naive, and a tad political. Apologies to those easily offended, which seems to be everybody these days.